— A revolution is under way as
toy makers increasingly link their products to the home computer.
After less than a year in the
lab, many toys like the Lego Mindstorms robot kit are already in stores.
These modern Legos don’t just lock together, they allow kids to use their
computer to program a Lego robot to do everything from shuffle cards to
play bumper cars.
Lego isn’t the only toy to dip
into technology. Barbie now has a digital camera that downloads into the
family PC so scrapbooks or postcards can be edited. “Smart” stuffed animals
can be programmed from the PC to do what you want, and even to know who
you are. There’s even software that lets kids use the Internet to play
board games with friends a thousand miles away.
Rand Potter of Intel — the world’s
largest computer chip maker — is playing Santa Claus these days. He figures
out ways to use those chips in toys “so that you have the intelligence
of the PC to make your toy seem a lot smarter than it might otherwise be.”
And the future? Toys will not
only behave more like humans, they’ll have the added advantage of the Internet.
“Try to imagine what it might be like if something like a soccer ball kept
score and sent the scores to the grandparents, or a teddy bear transmitted
a hug across the world. Those things are possible,” says Mike Hawley of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
And they probably will happen.
Maybe even next year.
turned 1 this month, but she’s already spent more hours in front of a computer
than many Americans have in a lifetime.
How young is too young for a baby to be put in front of a computer? Child
psychologist Will Staso says there is no age limit. He even backs this
company’s claim that its software, Babywow, makes kids smarter.
Babywow displays words and plays sounds in several languages. “These are
sounds that a child can’t hear in a normal
says Staso. “Presenting infants with information that can expand their
knowledge base can have a positive effect on their developing intelligence.”
Other experts are skeptical. Child psychologist Robert Butterworth worries
that software might tempt overeager parents into pushing their babies too
far. “The research shows children will learn at their own pace. They know
when they’re overloaded; they look away and then they go on to something
else,” he argues.
Because many parents attach so much importance to the computer, they might
pressure the child to keep at it — “and push the child to the point that
we could start raising neurotic babies,” he adds.
Psychologists on both sides agree that as long as the experience is pressure
free, and parents watch carefully for signs of frustration, computers can
be entertaining and stimulating for babies.