Saturday, February 11, 2006

Electronics for Toddlers: That Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid, Again

by Tom Bozzo

A somewhat hand-wringing NYT article this morning noted that several companies are introducing advanced electronic devices for the preschool set at the upcoming Toy Fair in New York (the toy industry's big annual trade show). The development is presented as a breach of a wall between play and adult technology, which anyone with children and adult technology around the house realizes is about as impenetrable as a stockade fence facing down an M1 tank. Someone might have thought of that nine zillion electronic noisemaking toys ago — more than a few of which are/were marketed as interactive learning gadgets.

The focus is on a couple of Fisher-Price gadgets: a simple and rugged digital camera and a simple and rugged MP3 player.

The camera strikes me as a halfway decent idea for the upper-middle class preschooler who otherwise has everything. It's not like kids aren't drawn to complicated and non-rugged digital cameras, though I haven't detected in ours a specific interest in photography that the camera with the little clown that pops out from behind the lens doesn't currently satisfy.

The MP3 player, on the other hand, is at least two kinds of stupid. First, it's hard to imagine how it could be a good idea to get one's preschoolers to tune out any more than conventional electronic babysitters already provide. Or, they promote a "solitary pattern of play." Second, taste in putting noise-making devices in, over, or even close to one's ears seems to be something that kids grow into; a large chunk of the target market wouldn't let the 'phones near 'em even if their parents otherwise were blockheaded enough to buy it.

We will, of course, be sticking to LEGO and trains, plus whatever (else) Julia settles upon.
You know, I wouldn't let headphones near my kids yet, but it's sort of tempting to get them their own MP3 players for plugging into the stereo when they want to listen. Then I could have my iPod back!

Of course, we'll probably just spend the money on TtFTE instead....
Point well taken, Phantom. As it happens, my kids have listening habits that seldom require more than two slots in the CD changer.
My 2-year-old shows an interest in digital photography. Sure, it's emulation play inspired because she sees daddy using a camera, but I'm proud when she chooses a camera over her toy broom or kitchen playset. She likes taking pictures and she loves looking at them later on our computer.

Her major hurdle is the design of a compact digital camera. To be toddler friendly they need to add handle grips, use a switch instead of a power button so it isn't confused with the shutter button, and give auditory feedback (dogs barking or whatever) when a picture is taken. I'm tempted by the Fisher-Price model, but it's the type of thing you need to see your kid use before you know if it's really usable.

Here's a brief account of my daughter's camera use:
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