I'm all for education. I'm all for toys. But educational toys? It's just hard to imagine a moppet jumping for joy when he tears the wrapping off and finds
Yes, that's a real board game. And in it, monkeys creep their way up a palm-tree-shaped ruler. Whooee! Quarter-inch by quarter-inch they go, the better to learn one's fractions.
But at least it's interactive.
Also crowding the toy shelves this year are such mind-boosting must-haves as a motorized solar system, a Fun With Your Cat science kit ("Give your cat a personality interview!"), alphabet beanbags for all those preschoolers who refuse to play with nonliteracy-enhancing soft toys and for $40.99 a talking telescope.
How did Galileo discover that whole Jupiter's moons thing with a telescope that refused even to peep, "Yo, Gali nice work!"?
But perhaps the epitome of these games is the GeoSafari World Challenge, a battery-operated game complete with "high quality digital voice" that asks "over 7,500 fascinating questions about world countries, rivers, landmarks and more," according to the Web site.
Forget why a game has to have a digital voice (chess seems to have enjoyed a rather long run without one) what's with the 7,500 questions? How fascinating is that 6,784th query about the Pulap Atoll? And won't the kid be about 63 by the time the game is over?
All of which leads me to the biggest question: why? Why do so many parents think that normal toys and games aren't educational enough? Believe me, my sister learned plenty playing plain old Monopoly: adding, strategizing, bamboozling siblings five years younger than she. She played hard, paid attention and now she owns a vast villa while I rent a modest apartment. Coincidence? I think not.
Similarly, any girl who ever played with Barbie learned an extremely crucial physics lesson: Wear heels all your life, and eventually your foot will freeze into the shape of an ice cream cone. That lesson alone is worth a year at Yale.
Boys who played with Mr. Potato Head learned lifelong grooming skills. (Need proof? Just look at the middle-aged men in your office.) Model planes taught them to think they could fix anything. MatchBox toys taught them to judge a man by the quantity of his cars. And anyone with Silly Putty learned how to read the comics backward.
Those are all important lessons, yet they did not come from educational toys. They came from what we used to call "fun." And it is precisely that silly, old-fashioned commodity I wish for all children this holiday season.