The good and the not-so-good – a toy guide for the holidays

The December Patient Parenting column is always about the season’s toys. Toy choices parents make are so important, as toys are the tools of learning for a child. There is so much potential for a child’s play time to be infused with excitement, and an enrichment and enhancement of learning.

There are the best toys of the year (last year’s Leap Frog), the “hottest” of the year (2009s Zhu Zhu Pets), and the worst ( I would put Zhu Zhus here, also)! And there are just good toys, which I find to be safe, interesting, physically interactive (not button-pushing) and creative.

This year, there are the usual princess and fashion dolls. There is a likeness of boy band sensation One Direction, fairy dolls and Lalaloopsy, a singing, dancing, talking and spinning-hair doll trying to teach diversity.

Then, there is the Furby doll, maybe the “hottest toy” this year. It is the updated 1998 furry interactive toy robot, evolving into a unique personality based on how the child plays with it. Batteries required.

The LEGO world now is including extensions of Lord of the Rings, Monster Fighters, Ninjago Samuri and Fangpyre Mechs, Super Heros and some other city creations – a lot more aggressive than when my boys built pirate ships and space creatures. This is a good example of how the culture of children can be changed from the creativity of ships and space to violence and hostility by toy companies and marketing.

There are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in full combat gear, Spider-Man Rapid Fire Shooters, Avenger’s Hulk and Gamma Smash Fists, Dark Knight Launch and Attack Batman, Transformers Prime Weaponizer and Battle Game, Star Wars Maul masks and Mandalorian Fighters, Beyblades Stealth Battlers and Destroyer Domes, and even Nerf Vortex Blasters, Retaliators, Rampage and Elite Hail Fire Blasters. The names of these toys are scary enough – need I say more?

Hot Wheels has the new Terrain Twister, a radio-controlled car that takes on all terrains. There are also many trucks, cars, boats and airplanes – all radio-controlled. All a child has to do is press buttons, no more using his or her body for anything!

The electronic tablet toys are many and varied. iTikes Discover Map works with Apple products and lets kids explore the world through six distinct maps of music, cultures, countries and more. There is an iTikes microscope and a digital art canvas. There is now a “zapped” Monopoly and many Nintendo Wii U game systems. Again, just stay inside, sit around and use your fingers to play.

Good Housekeeping has come out with the Best Toy Awards of 2012,

ArchiQuest Architectural Elements – Fifty wooden blocks come in fresh shapes and bright hues to stack up and knock down.

Fortune cookie maker – Kids mix and roll real dough, form it around fortunes they write, then bake.

Hexbug Hive Habitat Set – Children customize a bi-level maze, then have mechanical bugs run amok.

Power Trains Auto Loader City – Kids assemble 18 realistic-looking feet of track for a five train motorized locomotive.

Glow Crazy Doodle Dome – Children’s sketches disappear on the inside of tent walls using a green light.

Techno Source Code – A twistable chain of interlocking blocks that, when kids follow the coded formula, forms a bright flamingo, scorpion or robot.

Micro Chargers Loop Track - These are tiny, collectible cars kids can shoot to incredible speeds.

E-Rangers Headquarters – This is a command center for older kids with a swiveling LED spotlight for imaginative scenarios - the working solar panel instills eco-friendly ideas.

LEGO Friends Adventure Camper – This is a motor home that comes complete with two dolls, bikes and a surfboard.

Crayola Marker Airbrush – This toy uses markers to create spray paint. Includes 12 markers and four stencils.

Ravensburger 3D Building Set - joining curved, flat and hinged puzzle pieces to form famous sites, including Empire State Building and Big Ben.

Wild Planet Night Sight – Head-mounted infrared goggles provide children with a 50-foot view in the pitch dark.

Colorfall – This shows children how to arrange tiles in ways that, when knocked over, reveal artful designs.

I also like Magna Tiles. These are solid colored, magnetic tiles where children can explore geometric shapes, symmetry and other basic math concepts. They help improve logical thinking and math reasoning skills, introduce spatial problem solving tasks, and my grandchildren love them.

It’s interesting to see what the toy companies think kids will like each year at holiday time. Have they thought of safety? Creativity? Durability (both in interest and physical strength of product)? Imagination? Can the toys be used in many different ways? Interaction (and I don’t mean with a finger, but with the child’s whole body)?

Let’s cut out the junk-toy diet of cheap, plastic, automated, noncreative and dangerous toys. Respect children a bit more and really look at their interests, strengths and talents, and introduce them to toys that extend these qualities in some meaningful ways.

Happy playing and learning.

Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years. She currently has an early childhood consulting business, supporting child care centers and families. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.

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