Manufactured Toys Useless, Research Finds

Hey aydifnretb
Readers — As I prepare to speak Thursday night as kickoff for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s conference in Boston (public invited!), here’s some toy research I can get behind. It comes to us by way of Fred Schueler & Aleta Karstad, who describe themselves as an “unemployable naturalist couple, whose unschooled daughter and her friends were designated the ‘Free-Range girls’ in the mid-1990s.” This study was conducted on their grandson. You can read about the family’s Free-Range exploration of Canada here. – L.


Bishops Mills, Ontario. 22 Dec 2012. A recently released study, conducted by the Centre for the Study of One Thing and Another, has found that, at least for 7-month old male children, manufactured toys have no recreational benefits when compared to objects just found around the house.

In the study, Norway Spruce cones, beer glasses, partially emptied bottles of dietary supplements, and cardboard boxes with holes in the bottom were compared with a variety of molded plastic objects marketed as toys for young children. Attention was measured as the duration of mouthing and handling, and of regretful looks when the object was removed. In every case, the household objects held the attention of the subject for longer periods than the manufactured toys. Grandfathers, used as a control, held the subjects’ attention slightly longer than the found objects.

When advised of these results, Flimsy McFluster, CEO of Mettle Toys, a well-known international toy trafficker, said, “I guess we’ve been doing it wrong all along. I’ll recommend to our share-holders that we discontinue sales and production. We’ll be sending all our current stock to incineration.It won’t take much retooling to switch to making useful objects, which we now know will give the children more pleasure than our current line of geegaws.”

Deborah Saywhat, head of the Canadian Toy Manufacturers Association, said that her organization was planning a merger with the Canadian Junk Dealers Association, and would henceforth spare the public their distressing annual evaluations of toys, “which this new research has shown are worthless.” – Mom & Dad

Lamaze Freddie the Firefly Baby Toy

You mean…I’m no more fun than a pinecone?

41 Responses to Manufactured Toys Useless, Research Finds

  1. forsythia March 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    I used to hand my son a pot, lid, and wooden spoon. When I went down to do the laundry, I’d know where he was! My younger kid liked his pull-to-make-music firefly toy, though … I’d hear it every morning when he woke up.

  2. vjhreeves March 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Anyone who has ever given a toy to a child only to have them ignore it and play with the box already knows this.

  3. Erin March 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    I have two young sons, and this has definitely been true for them! The younger one, of course, has access to a lot more toys since he has an older brother, but is similar in his choices of playthings. I found that baby-oriented toys in particular were quite useless to them. By the time they were old enough to be interested in toys they were bored by the “stimulating” baby stuff.

  4. christina f March 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Parents have watched kids play with objects found around the house or outdoors for years, but we won’t stop believing that a manufactured toy is better.

  5. Lola March 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    For us, babies start playing with all sorts of kitchenware (the salad rinser and tupper wares being their current favourites).
    Baby stuff is great for the elders to start practicing inverse engineering. However, it has become really difficult lately to find mechanical baby toys, you know, the kind you have to wind up. It’s all microchips and stupid recorded voices.

  6. Dan March 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    The Five best toys of all time: Stick, Box, String, Cardboard Tube, and Dirt.

  7. Rowan March 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Well now I have a rebuttal when people ask why my kids mostly play with junk mail.

  8. Julie March 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    My son used to play with a hand-me-down set of metal measuring spoons. 8 years later and I still get comments along the lines of, “I remember when he was a baby, sitting there with his measuring spoons.” I guess it was odd enough for people to remember, but he was far more interested in those than just about anything else.

  9. Kelly March 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    We used a combination of stuff. Whatever he seemed to be looking at during the time. There were toys that he seemed to like quite a bit too and they tend to be a bit more convenient to clip to a diaper bag.

    Some of his favorite stuff now at 2 are lego’s, books, stickers, spoons, straws and various tools (mostly screwdrivers). He’s also pretty into little cars and fake food though. (He’d like the real food better I’m sure but that’s too messy even for me.)

  10. Yan Seiner March 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    I am fortunate that I come from a country where wooden toys are still made. We bought a lot of wooden blocks, trains, etc. Our kids had buckets of them, and made all sorts of things.

    They still do (sometimes) – my 12 year old will occasionally build a woodblock maze for his snake. πŸ™‚

    Our rule was “no batteries”.

  11. Papilio March 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Which country is that? Your name seems German (although I’m not quite sure about the Y…)?

    I read a story some time ago about someone who wanted advice on which toy to buy for a first birthday. Answer: doesn’t matter, the child will probably end up playing with the wrapping paper anyway…

  12. Yan Seiner March 19, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    @Papilio – Czech Republic. The name is an anglicized version of Jan.

    Here’s a store that specializes in selling these toys; they’re upscale and market largely in tourist areas but they have some awesome stuff.

  13. Jenny Islander March 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    IME, the only manufactured toys that held my babies’ attention rewarded stuff they wanted to do anyway. Baby wants to yank? Give her something that winds up and plays a tune if she yanks it. Baby wants to wave and kick? Put tiny rattles on her arms and legs so that she gets rewarded by the gentle sound of beads when she does.

  14. Ray March 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Good one Lenore. πŸ™‚ Mettle Toys, Centre for the Study of One Thing or Another, .. .


  15. hineata March 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    @Yan – a real snake? Please God no.

    Though snakes probably shouldn’t be consuming batteries, so a good thing not to have them around..

    What is it with you people? πŸ™‚ …Bears, lions, snakes….Next you’ll have bison in your living rooms, LOL!

    Has no one heard of lambs? Cute, cuddly things, with the added advantage that they can be eaten when they get too big.

    Though my husband tells me snakes are quite tasty too…:-)

  16. hineata March 19, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    On topic, love the letter! And so true. My dad spent months doing up a rusty old tricycle for my second Christmas. At the last minute he decided he’d make a little wooden ‘nail the peg through the hole’ game for me too. He made a cool little wooden hammer too.

    So of course, come Xmas day, I crawled through the tricycle to get at the peg toy….He was so brassed off, he was still telling the story thiry-plus years later, LOL!

  17. Brenna March 19, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    Julie, measuring spoons and cups were my kids favorites toys. When I wanted some time in the kitchen, I’d just get out the sets, and they’d stay occupied while I cooked. Much more effective than any plastic toy. Even now, my seven year old loves to play with my kitchen utensils. Unfortunately, she wants to play with water with all of them, but still, better than having her watch tv!

  18. Warren March 19, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    Yes Ray, as funny as this was, it proves that people do not really comprehend everything in an article.

  19. hineata March 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I think, Warren, it’s safe to say that everyone gets that it’s a spoof (everyone for whom English is a first language, and probably most for whom it’s not).

    It’s fun anyway, and makes some very valid points.

  20. Emily March 19, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    This would have been great for April Fool’s Day. Also, found objects make great dog toys too–I had a friend in undergrad who had a dog, and his dog had all kinds of rubber chew toys, stuffed toys, etc., but his favourite “toy” was an empty 2-litre pop bottle.

  21. Yan Seiner March 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    @hineata: Actually my kids’ pets were very free range – at least the selection process was. The kids did research into the pets, had to come up with budgets, figure out where to put them in their rooms and so on.

    My daughter picked bearded dragons, my son a corn snake. Both are relatively easy to take care of, and need little attention. (The beardies more than the corn snake.)

    The dog was a family decision, and he takes the most attention.

  22. Papilio March 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    @Yan: Ah – now THAT name I know. So you’re trying to write phonetically in English? Tough call :-O

  23. Marie C. March 19, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    My favorite toys growing up were my grandma’s set of mismatched tupperware pieces and any other hard plastic cups and whatnot that she didn’t want in her kitchen anymore. Also, pretty much any colored piece of paper that was at the bank or post office, much to my mom’s annoyance.

  24. Kim March 19, 2013 at 10:25 pm #

    My now 5-year-old daughter’s favorite toy as a baby was what we called her “redneck rattle”. We put some pennies in an empty plastic prescription bottle (with a childproof lid, of course!) and she LOVED it. Eventually, she amassed quite the collection of them…some with different coins, some with metal nuts and washers, some with small pebbles. She spent more time playing with them than with most of her purchased toys.

    And no, she never once managed to get the lids off of the bottles (I don’t think she even tried to) or choked on any of the things inside.

  25. hineata March 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    @Yan – if you say so, LOL! Am so glad we have no snakes here – well, only the two-legged kind :-).

    But seriously, good on you for letting your kids choose. A bearded dragon sounds particularly cool. Something like a tuatara, (NZ native dinosaur- really) maybe…though of course we’re not allowed to keep those as pets either.

  26. Bob Good March 19, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    When I was five or six my mother used to stop at a lumber yard in town to get small pieces of wood they were left after trimming lumber to size. She brought them home to me so that I could use them like blocks and also nail them together int marvelous structures. Imagine a mother trusting her six year old with hammer and nails these days!

  27. Donald March 20, 2013 at 3:44 am #

    Toy manufacturers target parents. They design a toy that they think the parents would like. This study wouldn’t surprise them at all.

  28. Andy March 20, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    @Yan Seiner Bearded dragons are great. Just our of curiosity, do you buy cockroaches for him or raise your own? Are your kids able to handle feeding alone?

  29. Sansha March 20, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    This is why my son had a heap of ‘real toys’ and my daughter got whatever was handy. I soon noticed that he was far more interested in random stuff than the very expensive BPA and lead free educational enrichment materials I so lovingly acquired.

    I want to be part of a study where I get to record ‘regretful looks’.

  30. Yan Seiner March 20, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    We use crickets, not roaches. Crickets chirp, roaches are nasty. πŸ™‚ My daughter keeps a cricket cage where she raises them, and once in a while we buy an infusion of fresh ones.

    Part of the deal was that the kids would take care of their pets. They got them when they were 9 and 11. My son got his snake a year after my daughter got her beardie. Now they’re 12 and 15, so feeding them is not a problem.

    But yes, they make really good “toys” in that you have to take care of them, and feed them, and clean them, and they in return provide lots of entertainment.

  31. A Dad March 20, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    My kids had the most fun with the large boxes we received packages in.
    They would make them into houses, cars and many other imaginary playscapes.
    After a couple of weeks we’d have to take them away as the cardboard would wear out. Boy, that always made the quite upset.
    Manufactured toy – low
    Stuff found around the house (especially the kitchen) – big thrill.

  32. Beth March 20, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    I did buy my kids toys, and I’m not going to join the mompetition and say that I didn’t! They had great fun and played creatively with almost everything – I have even, horrors, kept the favorite manufactured toys in case I’m blessed with grandchildren.

  33. Karissa March 20, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    My kids have always had TONS of manufactured toys. They love to play with their computers and video games and barbies and baby dolls and the bazillion other things in their rooms.

    They also love to read, do arts and crafts, play board games, play with the dogs, jump on the trampoline, swim in the pool, camp with their troops, climb trees, ride bikes.

    They don’t really seem to favor one set of options over the other, it just depends on their moods.

    I’ve always been amused, though, that my now 9yo dd’s favorite toy as a toddler was the lid from the sour cream carton.

  34. Coccinelle March 20, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I didn’t understand before I reach the last sentence “You mean…I’m no more fun than a pinecone?” that it’s so clearly a Free Range thing. Most people would not let their baby touch any of the stuff they own if it’s not approved for babies the right age so that HAVE to purchase all that stuff!

    It’s really sad when you think about it because how are they supposed to experience the real world if they can’t touch it? It’s the same thing with older kids. How are they suppose to experience the real world if they can go in it? awww so sad.

    I have a relative that would not let her baby in the vinicity of any stuff smaller than a toilet paper roll. But a toilet paper roll is so big! I can’t understand how a small child can choke on stuff big like that! It’s really sad because almost all the toys the grand-parents saved are now useless.

  35. Katie March 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    I agree, but the even bigger silly money waster is all these structured classes for babies and toddlers.

    Also I bet the household stuff is actually safer than all these toys made in China.

  36. Jenna March 21, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Where I could I find a copy of this study? Just interested in reading it! Thanks πŸ™‚

  37. Lissa March 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    @hineata: There are probably parents nowadays that would hear that story and feel pity for you because your dad refurbished a rusty old tricycle instead of running out and buying you a shiny new one. *Sigh*

    There are several photos in my baby book of my dad pulling me around in a contraption that amounted to nothing more than an empty Luvs box with one of his belts looped through the handle.

  38. Buffy March 23, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    When my son was little, his very favorite toys were the Fisher Price castle and pirate ship, plus the “men” who came with them. He played with those for hours, making up stories and giving the characters different voices. It was fascinating to watch.

    I don’t think he would have felt the same joy in playing nor I the same joy in observing his play, had I just handed him measuring spoons and cups.

  39. Coccinelle March 23, 2013 at 11:10 am #


    I think you forgot we are talking about 7 months old or so babies…

  40. Heidi March 27, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Three years in a row my daughter asked for and received a large cardboard box for Christmas. One year she asked for one for her uncle too so he would not color on hers. Duct tape, crayons and wrapping paper tubes have always been a big hit at our house. And I remember hours of play with those wooden spools that wire comes on. We used them as picnic seating, and rolled around the yard lumberjack style, and pretended we were hospital patients in wheelchairs. Somehow that didn’t stop me from buying plenty of plastic flotsam throughout the years, my loss I suppose.

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