Note: This review was written about the previous edition of the book. The Amazon link is to the September 2014 edition.
There are a lot of books on parenting out there. As a first time parent, I wanted to do the best job I could without getting caught up in the feeling of failing because I wasn’t doing it right according to Sears or Spock or whoever. I read technical books on how often babies needed to eat and when I might need to call 911 but avoided most behavioral texts.
My dad got me a signed copy of Smart Toys because he is acquainted with the author. The book is well organized into sections on what kids should be playing with based on their age. It lists toys and how children can be expected to interact with them, as well as what developmental areas they are exploring and developing during their play. Blocks are apparently, the best damn toy you could ever give your kid, going by their multifaceted developmental benefits.
The book could be used as a shopping list, sent to helpful relatives at gift time, or really just a way to evaluate what the heck your kid is doing. By the later chapters (the book covers newborns to teenagers) the amount of information presented can be overwhelming and also redundant, as some toys span multiple age ranges. It would be best read in chunks relating to the age range a child is currently in and perhaps the next one.
The most important take away from the book, which the author reiterates several times, is that toys are not important, play is important. Children do not need tons of toys, they need time and space to do what they want to do. They need parents to be available and supportive, but also for them to get the hell out of the way and let them explore what they can do. I really appreciated the CTFO (chill the f*&$ out) message to parents. If your kid wants to play with a cardboard box all day, let them do it, they’re not going to miss out on Harvard if they don’t play with a LeapPad.
My biggest beef with this book, which overall I really liked and am keeping to refer back to as my child grows, is that is felt a bit old fashioned. I got the impression the author was not completely up on current research. It’s a huge field, toys and kids and development and play, and there is no way one book is going to be able to distill the entire field. Dr. Auerbach completely dismisses console gaming, and even descries it as potentially harmful while encouraging age appropriate gaming on a PC. Well I call bullshit on that. She specifically speaks to joysticks in her dismissal of console gaming, which points to how well she is acquainted with the state of console play.
I recommend this book highly to parents, auties and uncles, grandparents, friends of people with kids, and friends of kids as a useful and informative guide to toy buying and use. Take what is written with a grain of salt. My toddler is getting building blocks this holiday season and I can’t wait until she is old enough to play Little Big Planet with me.