Before my nephew had his first birthday in June, I asked my sister, Linda, what I should give the little guy. Immediately she answered, "Educational toys."
So, as a conscientious first-time aunt, I spent weeks hunting for the perfect gift. Finally I found a phonics train that would teach him the alphabet, improve his language skills (no, he can't talk yet), and be so much fun that he'd scream when Mom put it away.
So what if the train was designed for 3-year-olds. You can never start too early, right? (See story.)
But what Linda and I have since learned is that educational toys often teach the adults, not the baby.
My sister loved the train when it first arrived at their home.
"It's so cute," she gushed to me over the phone. "It sings a song about each letter, and there are two frogs on the last car that repeat 'We're off the tracks' if the trail derails."
My nephew loved the toy, as well. But it wasn't the songs he adored. He liked knocking the train off the tracks.
All day long, Linda heard, "We're off the tracks, we're off the tracks, we're off the tracks...."
She got so annoyed she started talking back to the frogs. "You're on the tracks, I just put you there. Start moving and you'll fall into place."
My nephew, of course, finds this quite entertaining. His giggling has improved vastly in the past few weeks, but he hasn't learned one letter song.
That may change when he gets a bit older.
But for now, his mother is happy that his new favorite toys are balls and trucks - the kind that don't make any noise.