Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Lessons

OK, Christmas is over. Let's see what we've learned.
First off, we've learned that it is a bad idea to purchase presents for the kids that are sold as educational toys. The give-away here is that "educational toys" is an oxymoron on par with "family vacation" and "computer literate." The only thing educational about most educational toys is that they teach parents not to buy them more than once.
This year I bought my daughter a machine which promised it would grind coarse, semi-precious stones (read: gravel) into beautifully finished, smooth jewellery which can be made into ear rings, necklaces, key-chains and such. The picture on the box shows a little girl gleefully gluing what appears to be a gorgeous tear-drop piece of polished amethyst into a necklace setting which will go perfectly with her new ear rings. On the table next to the child is the educational grinding thing which has apparently just produced a shimmering heap of precious, polished stones.
What an opportunity to teach our budding young scientist something about how nature works, I thought. I’ll get it for her. It'll be fun. The sketchy instructions on the box indicated that you just pop the rough stones (included) into the mill, add water and grinding powder, and voila! A little while later: gem stones!
Well, the little while later is 14 days - for the first grinding. Subsequent grindings will take at least a week each through increasingly finer grades of sand until the stones are finished and ready to be turned into jewellery, which I optimistically estimate may be by this time next year. Even the makers of the product admit sheepishly (in the six-language instruction booklet) that the person using this product has to keep in mind they are trying to accomplish in a short period of time what takes Mother Nature millions of years. Provided the little plastic "educational toy" has not burned out its little plastic educational electric motor before then, my daughter may be able to use the stones to make next year's Christmas presents.
Which brings us to games. There is a special place in Christmas present Hades for people who design board games requiring multi-paged booklets of instructions to play. This year my children received games with instructions that go something like: "Each player takes one token and places it on the board in opposition to the other team players. The first player on the left of the person sitting closest to the fireplace rolls the green set of dice first to indicate the beginning of the first 'Rune'. The last player to agree to be the 'Slider' or 'Big Snit' must cast the single yellow die while the other players use the egg-timer (enclosed) to time the length of the move. If the 'Scooter' does not roll a complete 'vortex' in the first three rolls, or before the egg timer runs out, he or she must move into the labyrinth and begin over. Except on every second Tuesday, in which case the 'Master of Midgaard' must shout 'Cork!' twice and..."
Well, you get the point. The games have names such as "Daunting", and according to their boxes, are suitable for children aged eight and up, but not, clearly, for their parents. My children received three such games this year.
So this year's educational toys and board games have taught me that next year it's baseball bats, soccer balls and wooden spinning tops. At least with those, you know what you are getting and how they work.
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