Blockheads at Melissa & Doug

Filed under:Toys, Children's — posted by Anwyn on July 26, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

I was long on the lookout for some really good wooden blocks. You know, the??classic kind??with the letters in colors on two sides and other stuff on the other sides. Specifically, I wanted ones with pictures that matched the letters. These aren’t them.

Unfortunately I didn’t catch the cognitive dissonance of these blocks until I got them home. I let my son play with them for a while anyway, as he was already learning his letters through other means and I didn’t think these blocks would necessarily affect him. Within the last two days I caught him saying something like “A is for duck” (paraphrased because I can’t remember which wrong block he was actually parsing). Blocks are now removed from toy rotation, I’m on the lookout for a new set, and an email has gone to the manufacturer to ask, basically, what they were thinking.

Notice in the link this reviewer:

It doesn’t bother me that the block letters don’t match the subsequent pictures displayed on each cube; I like the freestyle approach.

I trust she will appreciate the freestyle approach just as much when her son’s teacher is sending home notes about his poor reading. But wait, she goes on:

I also don’t plan for him to play with these for the rest of his life; I figure by the time he’s really learning his letters and sounds he’ll have moved on to more challenging toys. So my current expectation for these little blocks is being met.

Her son was one at the time she wrote this. My son is nearly three and still enjoys stacking and knocking down the blocks, has learned his letters, is starting in on the sounds letters make, and was starting to be misled by the “freestyle” approach to phonics. It’s nice that the blocks fulfill her objectives now, but wouldn’t it be a bit nicer if she didn’t have to be on the watch to remove them from the rotation when her son does begin learning his letters? That’s really the question: in a product with both letters and pictures, so ideally suited to link one to the other, why would you put a stumbling block (har!) in the kids’ way by deliberately making letters and pictures not match?

And just for grins, there’s one more wrinkle to the story: a very few of the blocks do have matching pictures and letters, and a few others have letters and pictures that could match if you stretch a bit. The “A” block has an apple (but an “N” and a dog for its other picture-letter set); the “L” block has a leaf (but a “Y” and a pretzel for its other set). The “B” block has a cow, which I can stretch to “bovine,” but the other set is “O” and a pineapple.

But by far my favorite block is the one containing the picture of an elephant. Its letters? “E”–and “R.”

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace