Sunday, 26 December 2010

Monkey Jack-in-the-Box

Lately, I have a slight issue with the term 'educational' toy or game. Everything seems to have to be educational to address the parents and thus to get better sales numbers. But I say every toy and game is educational to some extent, even if your kid plays with bottle caps, cars or a rug doll, a wooden spoon or a ludo board game set. Some toys have (or are supposed to have) a direct educational impact on you kid - especially when they involve numbers, colors, letters or shapes. That's what people hear and that's what they therefore want for their kids and what' they believe will help their kids in school later on. I am not sure that the kids care and that the educational effect is always achieved.

So being brainwashed by this media propaganda, I was picking toys for my boys at the toy store for this year's Christmas. And I came across this little sweet thing - a sock monkey in the box. You play a funny street organ like tune by turning the handle on the side of the box and in few seconds a monkey pops out at you. Hmm, nice little nonsense, I thought, but then I couldn't resist and I bought the thing. I was wondering if it was not a waste of money, no educational addition for my kids, no real use for this little trinket, no shapes, no first words, no nothing, just a nice melody and then SURPRISE!

So when we found this little box under our Christmas tree I was kind of curious to see how will everybody react. And I was happy to find out that not only the kids but also all the adults wanted to try it, to turn the handle themselves and see what happens. Everybody grabbed the box and went round and round and then HOP! smile on their face, and again and again. So the old little trick of organ grinders with a real monkey on their shoulder still works. Little of magic and some fun. Not everything needs to educate, entertain is good enough.


  1. Hi Jitka,

    I think there are two things going on. One is that educational play has been commodified by the toy industry, so that simple things like the sock monkey which are wonderful in themselves aren't thought of as learning, despite it being a little bit of magic and fun. That's just not true, from a research point of view. Play IS learning, cognitively:

    So is just a play old sock, some cotton wool and some sticky beady eyes. So I think you absolutely did good by having fun.

    The second is that people are cashing in on the crisis in education, and the recognized need for education reform, so they start branding everything as "educational" regardless of whether it has any merits, research or pedagogy behind it. The only way can be fixed is by having serious dialog with parents and giving them the skills to discern whether a product actually has educational merit for the price that the toy manufacturers are charging. That is a slower process, to be done by many, but I believe that it will gradually happen. People over time will understand what's important and what's not an d hopefully the manufacturers will lift their game, so that educational toys really ARE educational AND fun.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The monkey sounds lovely!

    All the best,

    - Ian

  2. Ian,
    thanks for your comment, you retold my post in a more sophisticated and more opinionated and well referenced way, as always :)

    I am sending you an email with some more (skeptical:) thoughts at the same time.

    Happy New Year and all the best, Jitka