Yule Hype For 'Educational Toys'

These days it's not enough for toys to be fun, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

One trip down the toy aisle and you'll discover what most parents already know -- every toy is a "learning tool."

Kathy Perkins has two young girls and admits she's been taken in by the trend.

"This Christmas it really hit me. I remember calling my husband from the store and saying, 'do you think these things are really worth it, do they need another leap pad book, we have like four?'"

"Leap Pad," a popular electronic toy, claims to help kids read. Emily Perkins likes it but it wasn't on her Christmas list.

"My mommy got me this. She just got it. I didn't tell her to get it," said Emily.

From Baby Einstein videos, to the Mozart Musical Cube to some Game Boys, toys now claim to do everything from "stimulate the senses" to prepare for advanced mathematics.

"So basically any toymaker can claim that their product is educational?" asked Hughes.

"Absolutely, there are no guidelines. It's sort of a Wild West setting," replied Dr. Kyle Pruett of the Yale Child Study Center. "And I worry about the moms and days who walk in sort of feeling like, 'you know I've got a limited amount of money, God I want my kids to be ready for school!'"

Toy makers have jumped on that parental anxiety -- and because younger and younger children want more technical toys, Barbie dolls and action figure sales have slumped while video game sales soar. There's even a computer like game for 2-year-olds.

But a growing number of early childhood experts are taking a critical look at so-called educational toys. One study found children didn't remember shapes shown on a screen but easily remembered after being shown by a person.

Author Claire Lerner worries these toys may even be detrimental to kids.

"They aren't going outside," she said. "They're not learning to use their bodies. They're not getting exercise, they're gaining weight, they're not interested in social situations."

That's part of the reason this Christmas at the Perkins house is going to be different:

"We started playing games together and I realized that that is what made my child the happiest is when we sat down together and played games," Perkins said. "And I realized good ole 'Chutes and Ladders" -- they are counting, taking turns and oh, if things don't go right, learning how to deal -- problem solving."

Fewer bells and whistles and more time as a family.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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