November 25, 2003


As it's Christmas time and holiday time, it's also the major toy time. One thing I wanted to be sure to do on this blog was to post ideas about toys.

I went to the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio page and found this interesting info on its web site, Five Myths About Toys

If you're a high tech parent, you probably find high tech related toys hard to resist. Your cool factor among your children may also rise if they see you fondling the latest Game Boy game or figuring out how some kind of talking toy works. I love many of these toys, too. But I am already becoming tired of some of them. And I am wondering how many batteries are leaking all over our house.

If you want to know which toys (high tech or not) from last season didn't sell well, go to a garage sale. That talking ewok-yoda doll is at a lot of garage sales. People find it creepy and it doesn't seem to work very well. It's supposed to tell stories and interact with children. I think a lot of well meaning aunts and uncles bought it. Parents often have told me they and their children just can't stand it. I have found many of once hot interactive-type toys at garage sales. They seem to loose their luster fast and kids often outgrow these. On the other hand, you can almost always make something out of blocks, Play-doh and Legos.

Another major offering at garage sales are the zillions of toys from fast food kids' meals. They're fun, but kids seem to loose interest quickly. Still, I find them often quite innovative. Did you see those hand-held games McDonald's had early in the fall? I saw a lot of parents play with them. As toys, I like the meal toys sometimes more than the ones I pay a lot more for. Well, that's another post.

We are debating about buying a Leap Pad in our house. I think it's cool. My child is fascinated for moments in a store. But I purchased an earlier Leap Pad brand product and was disappointed that it broke after not a lot of use and that my child really wasn't as keen about it as I thought. My mother, who was a teacher, is reluctant to buy a Leap Pad because she thinks it encourages children to think that all books are interactive, that there are buttons on all books. Books aren't like that, she says. It's not the price that bothers her, but the principle. I don't know. Stay tuned.

November 20, 2003

assembling toys, deconstructing them

I talked with a friend about his son's birthday toys. He said he's constantly coming up to him and asking him to fix a Transformer Dinosaur toy. As I mentioned earlier in a post about Legos, many toys seem sturdier than they really are. The toys purchased at the dollar-type stores are often of such poor quality they're only good for an afternoon. But the books and workbooks you can buy there are often much higher quality.

Parents are always fixing toys these days. But as the dad and I agreed, we could use an electronics or engineer degree just to get some of these things working properly.

We have a large selection of Playmobils in our house. Still, for small fingers they are sometimes difficult to put together. But most of them have smiling faces, even though they may be "bad guys." We like that there's more imagination involved in these. Playmobil characters also have a weird sensibility when it comes to U.S. history. It's filtered through a German lens, so sometimes it's odd. But in general, Playmobils are a lot of fun to have in the house. Everything except the space toys have been very sturdy. They lead to imaginative play for girls and boys. Check the shopping links for my favorite online site to buy Playmobil. Puffins is a cute store in Madison, Wisconsin. The online site has many other of the educational-type toys.

November 16, 2003

a science & art fair

Last week we went to our school's arts and science fair. We had fun looking at the exhibits the students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade had created. I particularly liked the idea that children could submit artwork or stories as well as the traditional science fair-type project. You have to admire the kids' and the parents' involvement in these things.

Nothing, however, seemed extraordinary which is kind of reassuring. Even in this day of great technological advances and connections to more science than ever before via the web, students still have to learn the basic science project stuff. That appeals to me and it must to kids. There's still something amazing about making your own volcano, explaining how levers and pulleys work, observing bread mold, and finding out the differences among products such as soaps, diapers, and nail polishes.

I also think it's great that the creativeness of art projects is also included in the school's fair. Both science and art require you to think ahead, build on an idea, and see it through to the finish. The thinking and visualization before art is created is tremendously under-estimated. People seem to think that anybody should be able to make great sculptures with Play-doh. This, of course, is untrue. But the myth persists. Instead, art is about asking a question, considering how to carry it out, and then doing so. It's a lot about having the skills, which means practice. This seems most obvious for classical music and dance. It seems less obvious for design, painting, some types of dance and music, and writing. Intrinsic talent is a plus, but so is hard work and a discerning mind.

Another important part is knowing when to quit a project, knowing when it's done, when it's time to perform, to exhibit, to publish, to show others. A current vogue in teaching writing is to having students constantly re-write. Teachers have told me that a student can always re-write again and again. This is not true. Eventually, you have to know when to stop. Scientists probably have it easier, perhaps too easy sometimes. They know when to stop when they have answered their hypothesis. But the question becomes: was it the right hypothesis?

It's good to see children's art and science projects mingle together and the school support both equally. It will be a better day when the U.S. culture supports both equally, too.

November 14, 2003

more on those tattoo bandages

We were using a Toy Story bandage today which is supposed to be waterproof. They are really rather awkward to work with. You peel the top so the bottom sticks to your body. This goes against every other kind of bandage you've ever used. They can be waterproof as long as they stay on. But they don't always stay on so well. Maybe they are really more of a tattoo style thing.

What does seem to work, if and when you need it, is that new bandage-less goop. Great on finger cuts! Older adults and children like it. But the advanced medicine does stain white furniture purple. However, I am not great at getting out bad stains. Perhaps another aspect of high tech parenting -- figuring out what cleaners work, which ones are dangerous, which ones are just superfluous.


I am putting together a Legos Star Wars toy this morning. Legos used to be about creativity -- take these little blocks and make them into something interesting. Now they are about following directions. It's more like model-making. That's a fine skill, but it's not as creative. It's harder these days to find a set of simple Lego blocks not associated with some kind of model or pop culture tie-in.

The Star Wars toys are particularly appealing to kids younger than the box stated age of 6 and above. But that forces parents to put together these rather complicated sets. We lost the directions, too, so I had to look at the box. I am getting better at this. I am not sure if these model-style Legos are a case of good high tech toys. Yes, there is inherent value in learning how to put together small pieces and follow directions. But they also tend to fall apart very easily. Legos used to seem like a sturdy toy to me. Now they seem to be a toy ready to fall apart. Maybe that's the appeal -- kids are always putting them back together.

MegaBlocks are an interesting variation. They tend to be more on castles and adventure stories. They also have intricate little blocks.

I am looking forward to the day when I get to play with my child's Lego director's set. Of course, I haven't bought this yet. But it looks like a cool way to try to be a film director.

Well, it's back to Luke's adventures with the drones.

November 13, 2003

Starting out

I have been wanting to put together a High Tech Parent place for awhile and now finally have a moment to do so. One thing's for sure, if you're a high tech parent you don't have as much free time as you did before kids.
But technology and new media in all its forms still fascinates me. For instance, consider the weirdness of bandages. Remember when they were just that dull brown color which matched no one's skin color? Now you can get your favorite cartoon character to plaster all over your wounds. Some children think of them as stickers. The packages refer to them as tattoos. Is it right to encourage children to have tattoos at such a young age, in any form? What about all the temporary tattoos which usually last for several days? It's weird enough that my child is wearing a lizard sticker on its hand all day while shopping in the mall or at church.