Watch Those Toys…for Society’s Sake?

December 24, 2007

The health scare of 2007 was definitely lead. All of a sudden, if lead came within ten yards of a child’s toy we should watch for the tell-tale signs of brain damage: excessive drooling, a sudden interest in Michael Bolton music and the desire to put Brittney Spears posters on the wall. Since we have had lead in our diet, our homes and cars and even in our bodies for at least 4,000 years, I don’t think we have to run to the garbage cans any time soon. In fact, the chemical symbol for Lead is Pb, which stands for “plumbing”. All plumbing used to be made of lead and none of our ancestors died obviously from lead poisoning.

But now the toy health scares are becoming toy mental health scares. In Seattle, a day-care center operator was noticing that certain patterns were showing up in the use of the Lego collection. Several workers at the Hilltop Children’s Center noticed something about the children’s building habits. According to one observer,

It seemed that the children at Hilltop were occupying themselves with building a Legotown, a model of a city complete with houses, shops, public buildings, and even air fields using lego building blocks. It was then that teachers Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin began to notice things that they found disturbing. There were disputes over the ownership of “cool pieces” and instances of older children bullying younger ones.

You will instantly observe that this is how all children play and therefore the workers at this day-care center should be prescribed Prozac and told to take a couple of extra days over Christmas.

However, their solution was that the children could only build publicly held buildings, cooperative housing developments that no one can claim any sense of ownership or pride in having constructed. And if anyone wants to change the structure they have to get the permission from the rest of the cooperative. George Will, writing for Newsweek calls this kind of approach to education “Ready, Fire, Aim” methodology. Or as Lewis Black observes about conservative and liberal policies on education, “Conservatives have nothing but bad ideas and liberals have no ideas.”

However, as stupid and unnecessary as the action of the day-care workers, they do underscore a point my wife and I have made for years. My wife has observed children for decades (since her undergrad degree is in Developmental Psych) and notices that the most accurate showplace of a child’s current attitudes about life will emerge in their use of toys. Toys are the tools of a child; the miniature skills and developing concepts that toys allow reveal how a child is perceiving the world around them. In some cases, this is easy to see. The child that makes everything from a carrot to a candy cane into a gun may be developing serious issues with rage. A child that draws pictures of the family and draws a second picture on the back of the page and places one parent there is definitely dealing with issues concerning that parent. The child that is always building schools with lego blocks should probably be considered for the advanced learning classes somewhere. Parents can learn a lot about what a child is thinking about the world around them by observing how they use toys, especially new toys.

Of course, not all toys reveal negative attitudes from kids. The child that uses fingerpaints on the walls of their bedroom may be designed in the framework of Martha Stewart (pre and post-incarceration, of course).

And the grandparent that buys fingerpaints and drum sets for their grandchildren have their own issues.

Merry Christmas.


  1. None of my ancestors died of lead poisoning, but some definitely had diminished brain activity.

  2. And what about the boys who play with guns and pretend many toys are guns because their fathers are in the military? If they are steeped in that atmosphere, is that still rage, or modeling what they see?

  3. You’re right, which is why I said it may be rage. It may also be what they are admiring on T.V., who they admire (ie. dad in the military). My point is that toys are the way that children begin to interact with their world. A parent will learn a lot by watching how and what a child plays with. They certainly don’t need the help of a daycare worker with a degree from Moscow University

  4. How odd you mention the drum set. Over Christmas my father-in-law said he’d get the kids a drum set. To which I offered he could keep at his house for when the grand kids visit. Ergo, no drum set. So for all you parents out there with grandparents offering to buy your kids loud and potentially market value destroying toys, offer to have them “store” the toy at their house. That will be the end of that suggestion =O)

  5. So funny. My kids opened a child care center last week with their stuffed animals. As a SAHM and homeschooler I was rather amused. Some of hubby’s coworkers are in two income families where the kids go to daycare/ school/ afterschool care. Apparently they thought it would be a good money making idea. Biggest was the business manager. Youngest and his imaginary friend were the teachers. Biggest signed all the “babies” in and even had a pay schedule arranged for the “teachers”. Ah, my budding entreprenuers.

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