Child's Play

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Educational toys for children are hot, but CJ Hirschfield says let the buyer beware. Some come with more than advertised.

It’s raining, it’s pouring … and if you’re a parent, you’re probably looking for ways to keep bored kids entertained indoors.

So you may be interested in some news about toys. Good toys that have stood the test of time. And other toys that are cause for parental concern.

On November 8, three classic toys were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Two of them are played at home: the Magic 8-Ball and the Uno card game. The third “toy” is pinball.

The Magic 8-Ball, introduced in 1946, lets users ask a question, shake the ball, and then read one of the 20 answers that float to the surface. Remember “Signs point to yes”?


Uno is a fast-paced card game that can be enjoyed by everyone from young kids to old folks.

That’s the good news. Here’s the not-so-good.

Ten days before the Hall of Fame winners were announced, the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, and 22 other groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging it to investigate the preschool app market, which includes electronic games that many parents count on to entertain kids indoors. The coalition based its letter on a recent study, which examined 135 children's apps and found them rife with unfair and deceptive ads.

The group said that parents should be able to trust that when they download an app marked as "educational" or "for children," that app won't manipulate their child into watching ads or making purchases. But right now, they can't. Games claiming to be "free" may require children to make in-app purchases in order to advance. And some apps even show characters crying when kids don't spend (real) money!

The groups say that manipulating kids this way isn’t just unethical: it’s illegal. And the FTC must hold app makers accountable.

So with kids spending more time indoors in rainy weather, parents may want to carefully check children’s apps. And think about some of the classic toys inducted in the Toy Hall of Fame in past years: cardboard box, crayons, Slinky, Play-Doh. Simple toys that invite kids to be inventive, imaginative, and cooperative.

Play on!

With a Perspective, I’m CJ Hirschfield.

CJ Hirschfield is executive director of Children’s Fairyland in Oakland.