Thursday, August 26, 2010

What you don't need to buy for kids.

I like Free-Range Kids. I like challenging the idea that parents need to spend money to stimulate their children. Einstein never used flashcards. Mozart never listened to , well, Mozart, in the womb. You may remember that the Baby Einstein company had to retract their promotions claiming their products make children smarter.

Here is an article I like, from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Pay to have littlies learn what they do anyway
Lenore Skenazy
August 27, 2010

Want to get rich quick? It's easy! Just tell parents that their toddlers are dolts. First, assure them their tykes are cute and precious, and could well turn out to be geniuses. But hint that unless their little bundles of potential get heaps of help, very soon, in the form of educational classes, toys, teaching and tapes, sorry, but all bets are off.

How else to explain the burgeoning business of baby and child stimulation? I'm not talking about early intervention for kids with issues. I'm talking about early intervention for kids with parents who have an extra buck left in their wallets.

In this ''Hurry up or fall behind!'' baby culture, along come the child-stimulation leeches - er, ''experts'' - to convince us our kids are going to sit there like lumps unless we get crackin'.

As the company Gymboree explains on its Facebook page: ''Designed by experts, our age-appropriate activities help develop the cognitive, physical and social skills of children as they play.'' In other words: we need full-blown experts to teach our kids how to play.

As if play is so complicated. As if our kids could totally blow it. (No, sweetheart! You're wiggling all wrong!) You've got to wonder how did we develop any cognitive, physical and social skills in the dark days before professional baby stimulation? How did Edison figure out that whole light bulb thing without a single ''Fun with Electricity'' video? How did Maurice Koechlin design the Eiffel Tower without taking a single Lego class? How on earth did Bach take to music at all, considering he was born a full 300 years before anyone offered the first clapping class for six-month-olds?

''The marketplace has been brilliant in convincing parents who are already anxious about their children that if they don't have these fancy toys and devices and classes, their child will be left behind,'' says Roberta Golinkoff, the chairwoman of the school of education at the University of Delaware and a co-author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.

She says: ''I find Gymboree kind of benign. But the kind of motor activities the children engage in'' - looking, listening, banging, bouncing - ''they would engage in, anyway.''

Speaking of which: have you heard about Walking Wings? These are a sort of marionette-like contraption that you attach to your kids to hold them up as they learn to walk. According to the package, the product ''helps baby learn to walk balancing more naturally''.

More naturally? More naturally than pulling themselves upright the way 300,000 years of Homo sapiens have done without Walking Wings? But see? Once again, if the industry can convince you your kid might not do something 99.99 per cent of the species does automatically, it can sell you almost anything.

Which brings us to the latest product I just heard about: Babysmartees. These are T-shirts billed as a revolutionary breakthrough because they feature 100 per cent black designs on 100 per cent white backgrounds.

What I might call ''cheap printing'' the company's marketing campaign calls ''infant stimulation'', because the black-white contrast is supposedly so compelling. And guess what? ''An infant stimulation program can improve a baby's curiosity, attention span, memory, and nervous system development. Newborn babies who are stimulated reach developmental milestones faster, have better muscle co-ordination …''

Yada, yada, Yale.

Oh, please. You know what contrasting materials you really need to stimulate a child? Life! Trees against the sky. Rocks on the beach. Ants on a sandwich. You can't get more high-contrast than - hey wait a second! Brainstorm!

Are you a new parent? Do you have $29.99? If so, have I got a product for you! It's high-contrast. It's educational! Put it on your head, your kid will laugh. Hold it a few metres away, she'll crawl towards its, maybe even walk - early! But wait! There's more!

If you brush the ants off, you can eat it! I call it the ''Baby Stimulation Get-Ahead-Now Picnic Peanut Butter Sandwich.'' And I'm open to venture capital.

Lenore Skenazy is founder of the movement Free-Range Kids and will appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House in October.


Melissa said...

Bulls-eye! I really like what the Free Range kids lady has to say, have you checked out her website ? Apparently she is known as 'the most hated mom in America'!!??

Motherhugger said...

Wow - America is so uptight!

There was an article recently by the Major of London about a couple who were reported to welfare because they let their kids walk to school. He was saying London is safer than ever, that you don't built community by living in fear, and these parents are heroes!

Melissa said...

Yes, I read that - unbelievable! I think it was on the Free Range kids site where I also read about a little boy sent home from kindy because he had taken a cheese sandwich for lunch and it didn't meet their healthy eating guidelines...what about a little freedom of choice people!! I don't know why people get so het up about other people choosing to do what seems the right thing to them when it doesn't affect anyone else!!