By now you all know I am passionate about my work. But, I don’t think I’ve had a week where I can tell you so emphatically that my blood is boiling!
Our lead story today highlights a toy kitchen being showcased at the 2020 Toy Fair New York this weekend with so many problems I’m not sure where to start. The traditional children’s kitchen environment that allows them to practice executive function, life skills, words and concepts – like preparing, serving and cleaning up after a meal, thoughtful planning, taking turns, completing a task—has been co-opted by KidKraft’s corporate greed. With an embedded Alexa listening and talking at kids as they play, AI is not only interrupting important learning, but collecting data about whether a child likes pizza, lettuce or anything else they happen to say.
What angers me most is the deliberate, strategic manipulation of parents and children, despite what we know about the potential harm of voice assistants. By now, the digital toy industry knows parents are stressed about screen time and doing their level best in their busy lives to combat it.
Instead of creating more cool non-tech toys and marketing the heck out of them, they have found a way around the current fears by using Alexa to keep kids digitally surveilled while they play.
Imagine this scenario – KidKraft realizes that parents want more tech-free toys. They muster all their creative capital to make cool unplugged toys (sorry, world, at this point they might even be plastic). They rely on excellent products, not data, to increase their business.
What’s that? I hear you saying, “OK, Jean. What planet are you living on?”
Well, right here on this planet, we have developmentally conscious toy companies like Melissa and Doug, who are “committed to making products that inspire open-ended thinking and encourage kids to see new possibilities.” Their Wooden Chef’s Pretend Play Toy Kitchen is sleek, complete with a pretend fridge ice dispenser, a microwave and backsplash tile. This is not your mother’s toy kitchen, but it does create the same simple environment kids need for genuine play, exploration and social activity.
The KidKraft Kitchen costs $300. The best quality wooden kitchen for the lowest price is by Elves and Angels in Maine, which costs $234 including shipping. And to really encourage pretend play around cooking, children don't actually need to have the kitchen because any cabinet or flat surface will work with pretend food and cookware. Parents can save the mini sizes of cereal boxes, condiments and juice jugs.
When you encounter companies like Elves and Angels or Melissa and Doug, reach out to them and ask them to join the Network. Let us know who they are. (And if any of you are attending or can attend the Toy Fair in NYC this coming week, please report back!)
We are a small, but mighty force who, against the odds, are creating a powerful community of advocates.