The Irritations Of Modern Life: 50. Educational Toys

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The Independent Culture
IT IS never too early to begin educating a child. You're expected to stimulate your newborn baby with mobiles, mirrors and squeaking balls. "Ah, she loves it," mother coos as baby gurgles up from her baby-gym. "And look, it's educational! It says so on the box."

Toy manufacturers understand our obsession with education. Toys are no longer marketed as "ideal gifts for fun". Anything from a musical mobile phone to a talking dinosaur is promoted as good for your child's intellect.

There's no doubt that traditional toys, like sandpits and even bowls of water, provide practice in manual dexterity and conversation. Now they can be purchased under the "educational" banner - at a price. Even children's classics have been repackaged. Noddy, the eternal tempestuous toddler, once preferred cruising with Big Ears to hanging out in the classroom. Now he has been outed as a supporter of the National Curriculum Key Stage One. And how the tills are ringing at the toy shops - sorry, Early Learning Centres.

Still, parents can be comforted by the notion that their offspring aren't numbing themselves with a techno-trinket: they're getting a head start. So what if the parents work 60 hours a week, and the au pair can't speak a word of English? The toy box is brimming with interactive eye candy, training your child to talk with an American accent at the press of a button.