recess radio program

1/15/04
Electronic Toys
    by Koren Stembridge

Two and a half years ago, when our son J.J. was about 5 months old a well-meaning friend brought us an electronic "Kick and Play" as a gift. We loaded in the batteries, and placed our sweet son underneath the contraption, and showed him that if he kicked the buttons, he would activate a series of lights, sounds, and animations. Then we stood back and watched. He started slowly with a few tentative kicks, but within minutes, he was absolutely berzerk, kicking the toy with a ferocity that was alarming. We both thought back to Psych class and Pavlov's dog, only we couldn't figure out whether J.J. was kicking the toy to be rewarded, or to try to turn it off. It was at that moment we decided that our son would not have any battery-operated toys - at least not for a while.

Now that he is three, it has become harder to withhold these playthings. At school, many of his friends talk about the toys they have at home, and all their battery-powered bells and whistles, so it is not unusual for J.J. to come home quoting some product endorsement or another. And since we regularly play at friends' houses, he is more and more exposed to them.

Just the other day, J.J. was having a ball cooking up a rubber hotdog on a big plastic, (I kid you not) talking barbecue grill- so much so that I felt maybe we should rethink our decision. But when he picked up the play cell phone and started trying to have a conversation with Elmo he was disappointed and commented: "Mama I am talking to Elmo - and Elmo is talking too - but he is not answering my question. Elmo is NOT listening to me!" and with that he put down the phone and said he was ready to go home. In the car, I turned on one of his favorite CDs, but he said - "Please, no noise right now, mama." So we rode home in silence.

It was a relief to come back to our house, and to watch J.J. settle in with his own toys -believe me he has a lot of them. There are blocks, legos, art supplies, toy cars, animals, and trains - and of course shelves and shelves full of books. These toys require him to be the creator, the narrator, and the animator. They leave him room to make his own music.

We still believe that keeping things low tech is right for J.J. - which probably means I'll have to endure another couple of years of jokes on the part of our friends when they bring their children to our house to play - "Where are all of J.J.'s toys? Oh, now I remember, he can only have toys if he whittles them himself!" "Let's all sing "kumbyah" and read Foxfire!" But all the while, to myself I'll be remembering those beautiful sounds of silence.

Copyright 2004 Koren Stembridge

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."