Why I Don’t Buy Learning Toys

Learning toys are such a part of modern childhood. We can lace letters of the alphabet and work on that hand-eye coordination while sneaking in letter learning. We can buy “learning phones” that look like a tablet and have all sorts of buttons which make sounds. Baby rattle microphones highlight just how well our little darlings can screech when excited. The list is endless in our modern plastics age.

Just a piece of paper can become an amazing airplane.

What are the kids actually learning from these toys? They are parlor tricks meant to amuse momentarily but not create a quality engagement. That mini tablet doesn’t teach children about animals. It shows them how to smash buttons to make sounds which might sound like a random assortment of animals which western society deems appropriate. Does a kid really need to know what a tiger sounds like? At what point in their entire life will they meet a tiger outside of a zoo? How about an elephant?

It is important to build a deeper world where children can learn about variety and differences. Why not just go see a tiger? Say you don’t even live near a zoo, I’m sure you have a creek nearby, right? Can you explore the wonderful world around you instead?

I’m afraid of seeing more children who can tell me what a tiger looks like and sounds like but can’t name the type of tree in their front yard. 

We have globalized childhood and created an arbitrary list of approved learning marks. Children must understand that the cow goes moo, the chicken cluck cluck (which by the way is culture specific) and that the best way to lean is through “learning tools”.

What happened to the real world? That thing that we threaten kids is looming on the horizon is all around them from the moment they are born. Even city kids have parks, gardens, zoos, children’s museums, and city life to explore.

So what do kids play with if we take away all the battery operated, injection molded toys? These are some of our favorites that have survived the test of time.

Blocks-this is the ultimate modern toy. Simple wooden blocks are a foundation for learning. Stacking, aligning, creating, designing, destroying and so much more. They don’t need to be painted or fancy, just simple. Even a set of tree ring cuts can do. One of our sets of blocks is on its third generation.

Race Cars– such a small and inexpensive toy that can be a pocket toy, a dirt friend, a fast race car zooming across the room, a physics tool, etc.

Lego– Now you’re thinking “I thought she was against plastic toys!”…to an extent. Lego are just fancy building blocks with years of possibilities. You can create pulleys, cranes, cars, houses, and other make-believe worlds with the same bricks.

Simple Dollies– boys and girls can benefit from the social interaction that takes place with a dolly. Not a fancy Barbie with accessories and a dream boat mansion but a real simple dolly that can be a friend, a play mate, a little one to run around with and explore with. We can learn to take care of someone, to talk about our bodies, to learn how to have conversations, and so much more.

Other favorites: Musical instruments -Nature -Climb a tree -Walk around the neighborhood and talk -Learn to do household chores -Learn to cook -Create art with found objects around your home and yard -Make a pillow and blanket fort -go to an animal shelter and pet the fur babies -make a lemon-aid stand -learn to Geocache -go to the library…

The possibilities are endless. Once you show kids that they don’t need to run to the store to find fun, they can open their minds to the world around them. Time to go climb some trees for this family!




  1. boxes and recycled containers! I always ask the parents of my preschool class to bring me their used containers so we can repurpose them for classroom play. The uses the children can find for them are endless.

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