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Moms Talk: Are 'Educational Toys' Worth The Money?

Join the online conversation, parents--what kind of toys do you buy, and why?

Moms and Dads, give us your wisdom (in the comments section below) on whether or not to buy "educational toys" for your children.

The marketing messages start when your child is still in the womb. "Listen to this music and raise your baby's IQ," they say.

When the baby is born, the pitches urge you to buy black-and-white mobiles and Baby Einstein and Baby Mozart DVDs to develop your baby's brain. Then there are construction toys and puzzles that teach numbers, shapes, letters, animals, continents and quantum physics (OK, just kidding about the quantum physics). 

For older children, you can get architectural building kits of the Eiffel Tower, talking globes, marble runs, Brain Quests, auto design kits and toys that project the planets on the ceiling of a darkened room. 

Some parents love these kinds of toys: others just buy the traditional Barbies, remote-controlled cars and action figures.

What kind of toys do you buy, and why? Scroll down to the comments section, below, and tell us! 

Scott K March 09, 2011 at 12:40 PM
All things being equal, we'll always opt for the more educational toys. I mean, who wouldn't? The issue of course, is that all things are NOT equal. Add the term "educational" to a toy and you'll see a price bump. Some toys ARE worth the extra money. You're on the internet right now! Use it. Google the toys, see some reviews and ratings. Many a toy has been crossed off our list (or added, as some reviews suggest) after reading some of the reviews online. A couple of sites to help you along the way: http://www.toyportfolio.com http://www.drtoy.com and of course, good ol' Google. I use the name of the toy, in double quotes, followed by the word 'review' or 'rating'. So, for example, I typed in this: "remote control iron man" review And got a great heads up on a toy my little boy loved when we passed it in the store. For those who are grasshoppers in Google-fu, the double quotes tell Google to just look for that phrase, meaning those words, somewhere on the site, in that order. Now. At the end of the day, it comes down to who your child is. The challenge is to buy a toy for where your child is now, developmentally, not where you want her to be. NO toy is educational if it's not played with. And accept that you'll strike out, toy-wise more than a few times over the life of your child. Play is educational and most effectively so when it includes a parent. THAT's the best educational toy money can buy. I'm just sayin'. Scott K. Moms Council/Niles Patch
Sherrone March 09, 2011 at 06:06 PM
We definitely take the word "educational" into account, but we still look at the quality of the toy, in general, as well. We consider the goal that the merchandising claims, look at what the toy actually does, and make a decision as to whether or not we think it's right for our kids. I completely agree with Scott that the involvement of a parent is key. In order for your child to get the most out of a toy or activity, a parent should be there encouraging that child and helping make the most of "teachable moments". Also, I believe that too much of the toys now are electronic. When I sat down with my then-2-yr.-old son and a box of blocks, he said they needed new batteries! That was a wake-up call to me that I need to include toys in my children's lives that require more thought and imagination. So, now we have, what I think, is a good combination of fun, educational toys that are more electronic and computerized along with basic, traditional toys that encourage imaginative play. --Sherrone T. Moms Council/Niles Patch
Kathy Ruhnke March 09, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Indeed, educational toys are great but not everything labeled "educational" actually is. We've bought our share of them. For instance, we got some of the Baby Einstein CDs and played them when we put our daughter to bed when she was an infant. They ("they" = marketing people?) say that the CDs develop young brains and build a solid base for mathematical skills. She liked listening to the music but do the Einstein CDs have an inherent benefit over, say, Enya or the B-52's? [both of which she also listened to]. I doubt it. Like Scott, I rely on reader reviews of toys (and many other products) to guide our purchasing decisions. I've also had good luck with toys/games marked with a Parents Choice Award. And some of the most valuable toys are the ones that have engaged imagination; 2 that have stood the test of time in our house are colored wooden building blocks and the old-school Tinkertoys - the latter bought for $1 at a garage sale. My daughter's current favorites are arts/crafts activities, and her Leapster 2, which is educational ; we buy cartridges that address skills she's now working on (like arithmetic). She is also receiving vision therapy at a developmental optometrist, so I'm now seeking out toys and games that help with that, like bead stringing, etc. To that end, and to add to Scott's recommendations, I like many of the offerings at www.fatbraintoy.com. I can vouch for their excellent customer service, too.
Pam DeFiglio March 09, 2011 at 11:36 PM
I can see how your son saying the blocks needed batteries would be a lightbulb moment, Sherrone. As for myself, I have been a complete sucker for educational toys--from the crib mobiles with face and mirrors to alphabet blocks to a wood mini-puzzle where each piece was an individual letter, and the letters fit together to form words. I got my daughter kits to make a telephone and an electric motor; my son got one where he could complete electric circuits. Did it work? Well, she's in high school and he's in middle school and they're getting very good grades. That's all good. Does it make their lives better? I suppose it helps, but I think a wonderful life is made up of many things, and good grades are just one of them. And two sites I like for toys that are both educational and fun are mindware.com and hearthsong.com.
Tricia Williams March 11, 2011 at 06:47 PM
As parents we all want the best for our children and for them to be the best they can be and that's how advertisers get us to buy their toy. Each child is different and has their own likes and interests. More important than selecting an "educational" toy may be picking something that fits the needs of that particular child. When our kids were little, we certainly did fall for the crib mobiles, number, shape & letter puzzles, and other toys that were so-called educational. But at the end of the day, it's probably more important to read, talk and listen to your child than spend money on educational toys.

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