Kids can figure out how to play without gadgets

Now that Snickersfest 2007, the holiday formerly known as Halloween, is over, it’s time to get ready for “The Holidays,” as the next two months have come to be called.

The pumpkin on the porch isn’t even mushy yet, but time’s a wastin’. Throw a Santa hat on that pup, or a turkey wattle.

The toy and gift catalogs have been coming in the mail for weeks. The non-religious Christmas decorations have been in the stores since August. The TV commercials will now begin in earnest. Buckle up. Put on your helmet. Shop defensively.

The catalogs tell us what’s hot for kids this year are toys that promote fitness and other developmental skills. That, of course, is what businesses want to sell parents. No child is clamoring for an “electronic game designed to get me off the couch.”

As the child (and adult) obesity rate in the country climbs ever upward, toymakers are trying to cash in. Companies are unveiling all kinds of products, including plastic stationary bikes that are truly stationary. (Correct, kids can’t pedal them. But they can sit on them! Fun, fun, fun.) There’s also the Smart Cycle Physical Learning Arcade System by Fisher-Price. According to the company, it’s “a stationary bike, a learning center, and an arcade game system — all rolled into one!” (TV set not included, the materials note.)

According to Fisher-Price, The Smart Cycle teaches “upper and lowercase letters, numbers and counting, spelling, problem-solving, shapes, matching, creativity, spatial reasoning, motor skills and lots more!” Wow. Hire a Smart Cycle for every classroom.

Other “toys” that companies are offering: treadmills, stopwatches and pedometers all designed for kids. It’s not enough to play these days, kids must “learn something” or find a way to burn calories standing on a plastic treadmill.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a child psychologist and professor at Temple University, is an advocate of “child-driven” play, which the Academy of Pediatrics says is critical for brain development, socialization skills, physical dexterity and emotional strength.

“We need to get back to true play,” Hirsh-Pasek told the Sacramento Bee. “What does that mean? Walking and running, roughing and tumbling, drawing and playing with blocks, using toys that give you unending possibilities that can be used cooperatively with other children.”

Another sure way to get kids off the couch is to take them outside. That’s a better place for the walking and running, roughing and tumbling that children need. Playing naturally burns calories, whether your 5-year-old is wearing his pedometer or not.

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