One nation divided in the toy aisle

9 Dec

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART: Americans are divided on many things, politics and social issues come to mind. Now, there is a new divide to discuss. Ginia Bellafante has written the New York Times article, The Great Divide, Now in the Toy Aisle:

Earlier this year, at the 109th Annual American International Toy Fair, held at the Javits Convention Center as one of the culture’s most convincing cases for childlessness, a former investment banker named Jill Todd displayed “The Tuneables,” an interactive DVD series she had created through her company, the Music Intelligence Project. The daughter of two musicologists, Ms. Todd developed the project in conjunction with her parents as an instructional system in melody, rhythm and tone — the fundamentals of music leveraged as a means to enhance cognitive function. Nearby, but easily obscured by the acres of primary-color plastic, was a booth for a company called Fat Brain Toys, whose games and puzzles in logic and sequencing came with an impressive lineage, some of them designed by the celebrated inventor Ivan Moscovich, a Holocaust survivor.

Walking into one of the three branches of Toys “R” Us now in the Bronx, you would find nothing from either of these ventures. Just as we are unlikely to unearth dilled artisanal long beans from the farms of northern Vermont, we are unlikely to find these sorts of diversions — small-batch toys aimed at the parent for whom it is never too early to begin LSAT drills — in large retail chains. Instead, they are the provenance of independent toy stores that maintain a presence almost exclusively in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods….

In the way that we have considered food deserts — those parts of the city in which stores seem to stock primarily the food groups Doritos and Pepsi — we might begin to think, in essence, about toy deserts and the implications of a commercial system in which the least-privileged children are choked off from the recreations most explicitly geared toward creativity and achievement.

Play is important to children for many reasons.

Let’s make this short and sweet. Park your kid in front of the television and you will probably be raising an overweight idiot. Tara Parker-Pope has a great post at the New York Times blog. In the post, TV For Toddlers Linked With Later Problems Parker-Pope reports:

Toddlers who watch a lot of television were more likely to experience a range of problems by the fourth grade, including lower grades, poorer health and more problems with school bullies, a new study reports.

The study of more than 1,300 Canadian schoolchildren tracked the amount of television children were watching at the ages of about 2 and 5. The researchers then followed up on the children in fourth grade to assess academic performance, social issues and general health.

On average, the schoolchildren were watching about nine hours of television each week as toddlers. The total jumped to about 15 hours as they approached 5 years of age. The average level of television viewing shown in the study falls within recommended guidelines. However, 11 percent of the toddlers were exceeding two hours a day of television viewing.

For those children, each hour of extra TV exposure in early childhood was associated with a range of issues by the fourth grade, according to the report published in the May issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Compared with children who watched less television, those with more TV exposure participated less in class and had lower math grades. They suffered about 10 percent more bullying by classmates and were less likely to be physically active on weekends. They consumed about 10 percent more soft drinks and snacks and had body mass index scores that were about 5 percent higher than their peers.

Well duh, people. You probably already knew this. Guess why you have feet attached to your legs? So, you and the kids can walk around the neighborhood and the park. Better yet, why don’t you encourage your children to play.

Moi wrote about one aspect of play in Critical thinking is an essential trait of an educated person:

The Critical Thinking Community has several great articles about critical thinking at their site. In the section, Defining Critical Thinking:

A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.

The Result

A well cultivated critical thinker:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and

  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to
    interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;

  • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought,
    recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and

  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.  (Taken from Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008).

The question is how to teach critical thinking skills.

David Carnes wrote the excellent Livestrong article, How to Build Critical Thinking Skills in Children.

Critical thinking skills are typically developed over a long period of time through educational exercises designed to develop them. Because critical thinking is a lifelong habit, critical thinking skills are best developed during childhood.

Step 1

Having your child read passages of some length in which the author argues a point and then reaches a conclusion that others may dispute. Although political commentary is ideal for this purpose, it is best to choose a passage that does not require background knowledge that your child is unfamiliar with.

Step 2

Quiz your child after each passage to make sure that she understands the facts upon which the argument is based. Although the memorization of facts does not constitute critical thinking, it is the starting point from which critical thinking may proceed.

Step 3

Make your child think analytically. Analytical thinking involves the ability to recognize patterns and separate ideas into components, according to Elizabeth Shaunessy, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of South Florida. Ask your child questions about the passages he reads that are designed to test these abilities. For example, you might have your child rank several passages according to their degree of relevance to a particular topic touched upon by all of them.

Step 4

Encourage your child to think synthetically. Shaunessy describes synthetic thinking as the ability to generalize, reach conclusions and use information in a new way. Have your child read several passages about related topics, and then ask her a question that is not directly answered by any of the passages. Your child will then have to use the information in the passage to answer the question without parroting the author’s thinking.

Step 5

Test your child’s ability to make judgments. Evaluative thinking is the ability to choose the best among several options that each have advantages and disadvantages, and to examine opinions for bias. Have your child read “for” and “against” passages on the same subject, and ask him to choose which one he agrees with and say why. Then ask him to take the opposite point of view and give arguments that an opponent could use against his opinion.

Step 6

Engage your child in an activity that is interesting and that regularly employs critical thinking skills. This activity need not be verbal–it may be mathematical or even musical. Dave Rusin, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Northern Illinois University, notes that music always has an underlying mathematical structure. If your child has an interest in music, you could encourage her to compose her own music using either musical notation or computer software that graphically represents musical structure.

Many parents don’t understand the value of certain toys in developing creativity in their children. Chain toy stores want stock what will sell and produces a profit. The missing piece is better parental education about early learning.


The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development

Why Play Is Important For Child Development?

Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills              

The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds

  1. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd,

  2. and the Committee on Communications,

  3. and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health

Next Section


Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children. This report addresses a variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play. This report offers guidelines on how pediatricians can advocate for children by helping families, school systems, and communities consider how best to ensure that play is protected as they seek the balance in children’s lives to create the optimal developmental milieu.

Where information leads to Hope. ©                    Dr.

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