The IDEAS section of Minds-On Toys is dormant for the time beingóbut not for long, and not for want of ideas. In fact, there's an experiment in progress, a forum in its formative stages... we're just awaiting developments. The next step is up to you.

The focus: educational toys, considered from any and all vantage points. Below, a sampling of perspectives to spark some discussion.  Care to comment, or branch in some other direction? 
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Twenty years ago toys were mainly intended as Christmas gifts and nothing else... All of this has been changed and it has been changed by the recognition of the fact that children have brains as well as instincts and inherited properties... Certain far seeing men in the American toy trade realized the potential purchasing power existing in Johnny after he passed his tenth birthday and now we, of the toy trade, keep step with Johnny until he goes to college and even thereafter. His brain has been recognized. Johnny of twelve or fifteen is a thinking, reasoning personality with the ideas of manhood and of business surging in his brain. He wants to do things, he wants to create things, and it is in the toys which cater to these tendencies that an enormous field has been opened in the trade.

Editorial in Playthings (January, 1920), p227

I was emphasizing fun in education considerably before most educators thought of it. The pioneers of that idea in the school system were running up against stone walls of opposition at the time, and for some years thereafter. ...

"Our new educational idea, which is the result of a study of child psychology, is developing a new angle of vision upon education. We find that the element of fun and pleasure has a wonderful effect in stimulating the inventive faculties which lie dormant in the child. Why not develop them in a sort of subconscious way?" [from "A Hint To Parents" in a 1914 booklet for dealers] ...

When schools became interested in our construction and educational toys, we discouraged them as much as we could. For years our schools seemed to be conducted on the theory that real learning was painful, and anything enjoyable couldn't possibly be instructive. We were afraid that if kids saw our things in school, they'd think they were just as deadly dull as the rest of school and would have nothing to do with them.

A.C. Gilbert with Marshall McClintock, 
The Man Who Lives In Paradise (1954), pp135-6

The selection of toy materials should never be haphazard nor casual. A good toy leaves room for the free exercise of a child's imagination. It can be used in different ways. It is handsome in shape and color and is good to touch, beautiful in line, and interesting in texture. It is sturdy and will take heavy use. ... We especially like the way Joseph Lee put it in his book [1919] Play in Education: 'Toys, not fiz-jigs; it is the child's own achievement, not that of the clever man who made the toy, that counts. A toy with very small children is chiefly a peg to hang imagination on. It is the child's alter ego, to whom he assigns the parts that he cannot conveniently assume himself. And literal resemblance to their originals is the last thing he requires in his subordinates. An oblong block will be successively a cow, a sofa, a railway train, and will discharge each part with perfect satisfaction to its impresario. Too much realism is indeed a disadvantage.'

Frank and Theresa Caplan, The Power of Play (1973), p43

Though most educators emphasize the cognitive, educational, or motoric worth of toys, it is as probable that toys' solitary function is actually like that of "homework," that is, to habituate children to the "solitariness" of a preoccupation with personal "imaginary" skill. But toys are also remarkable in the modern world because they are decreasingly self-evident tools. The more traditional the society, the more likely the toy is a simulacrum of an adult occupation (a miniature spear, a doll); the more modern the society, the more likely it is a negation of everyday realism. It is fundamentally inversively symbolic. One can consider, as a simple example, the Play Path toys of the Johnson and Johnson Company, most of which have more to do with the mental fantasies of the great genetic philosopher Piaget about infant cognitive development than about the more mundane forms of reality. The infant toys even look like Bauhaus plumbing. At the other end of the age span, children are being increasingly immersed in the virtual realities of video games, computers, and virtual worlds. These are all admittedly crutches for the development and standardization of fantasy, but they also permit the promotion of internal (and therefore unpredictable) solitary fantasy.

Brian Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play (1997), p155

Design Instructions for Software to Impress the Naive Parent: 
(1) Treat the child as an "answering machine": Computer asks question, child answers, computer says right or wrong. This causes naive parent to think: "learning." Don't worry if the questions are trivial and repetitive. 
(2) Hold attention: Use comical graphics... sound effects... music... and zany responses to click on hidden spots. This causes some naive parents to think: "stimulation." Others think: "Great. It kept him quiet for half an hour." 
(3) Don't worry about whether the effects have anything to do with what is supposed to be learned. 
(4) Don't feel guilty: There is no evidence anyway that even the best drill-and-practice with numbers at preschool ages will affect learning of mathematics later."

Seymour Papert, The Connected Family: 
Bridging the Digital Generation Gap
(1996), p39

Much research confirms that overloading children with input leads to disorganization of behavior. Excessive stimulation also causes them to withdraw as they try to shield themselves from a stimulus deluge, thereby creating conditions that, paradoxically, are much like stimulus deprivation! These findings help us understand, from a brain-development perspective, the detrimental impact of excessive adult tutoring on young children... They also raise grave concerns about the recent proliferation of expensive commercial early learning centers, in which infants are barraged with letter and number flashcards and slightly older toddlers are drenched in a full curriculum of reading, math, science, art, music, gym, and more. Rather than optimizing early neurological growth (as proponents claim), these efforts to jump-start young children can inflict considerable harm, robbing them of a healthy start on the road to maturity.

Laura E. Berk, Awakening Children's Minds (2001), p25


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