Are Educational Toys Just Commercial Products In Disguise?

Filed under: Opinions

Barney flash cardsThe Scholastic Book Fair has stood the test of time. Just about every school has one -- not to mention those monthly Scholastic Book Club brochures you find crumpled in your child's backpack. Some things have changed, though. Over the past year there's been quite a lot of other stuff for sale along with the books.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a consumer watchdog group, wants Scholastic to stick with Harry Potter books and leave out the action figures and wands. The group says that the venerable educational publisher is "using its classroom book clubs to push video games, jewelry kits and toy cars."

The most irritating item we've seen for sale was some Pokemon package that included a monthly subscription. Without reading the fine print, you buy it and your kid is signed up for a lifetime membership in something that seems only slightly less weird than being a Raëlian.

But maybe Scholastic is just doing what other toy makers have been doing for years -- sneaking commercial stuff into your house under the guise that said toy is "educational." Here are some examples (special thanks to some of my fellow parents for their input):

LeapFrog. Educational? Kinda. But a product that reminds you exactly what product you are using every time you turn it off? ("Thanks for learning with Leap Frog!") Can you say, corporate branding?

Ads that appear before videos. Why are kids forced to sit through ads for the Purple Dinosaur Whose Name We Do Not Speak before an Elmo DVD? Speaking of The Purple Dinosaur Whose Name We Do Not Speak, what exactly is so educational about him? The costume looks like something you could pick up at Wal-Mart, the voice is vaguely disturbing, and neither he nor his compatriot Baby Bop are really teaching anything. Somewhere, Mister Rogers weeps.

Baby Einstein. Once your kids are older than 18 months or so, memories of this series fade. But you know what stays? The logo. And the ending of every video: "Hi, I'm Julie Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Company." Then she reads what sounds like a corporate mission statement. Clearly it worked. Clark sold her company to Disney in 2001 for an untold amount (millions). The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood doesn't like Baby Einstein either; although former President George W. Bush does -- he mentioned the products in a State of the Union speech in 2007.

Are there any toys your kids play with that you think are less educational than they appear? Send in your suggestions and we'll publish a list with your choices.

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