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 Dr. Silly® at The Toy Fair 2004

 Another FAIR and another chance to talk to you about children and toys. I have been attending this enormous trade show for the past ten years. 
 I look for new products that I think support child development and family life. Sadly, there are less and less items that fit the needs of children and those who care for them.
 As I walk around the several floors of international merchants, I meet and talk with sales personnel, owners, hopeful inventors and even costumed characters that circulate the Fair promoting a specific line of toys. There is always a general atmosphere of levity and good will. For many adults, especially those who own small toy shops, it is a chance to be silly and play at making sales. The bottom line, however, is always money. Nevertheless, even the demands of commerce can not suppress the general atmosphere of fun.
 This year, however, I noted some changes in the FAIR that disappointed me. Here are some distressing alternations I saw: first, there were less independent manufacturers and more corporate giants present. You can tell that easily because of the incredible displays they had, giant red wagons, walled sales areas, bands, food, restricted access to their displays.

 Second, there were less family orientated toys and more expensive classic toys-replicas of antique bikes and peddle cars, giant stuffed animals, extraordinary dolls and costumes. And, there were a glut of computer assisted, battery operated, button pressing, gizmos than ever. I am sure this surprise is a sign of my age but it surely a sign of the times.

Third, there were less toys to make or assemble or create and more items that only required unpacking to operate. Yes , there were things of interest and toys that challenged a child's imagination but these were in the background. I was astonished when I found a very real looking and feeling sword for sale. 
I commented that this was like the infamous Roman short sword, so lethal and responsible for so much death. The sales personnel looked at me with that "go away boy, you bother me" look. I moved on.

 There were less toys that involved more than one user. Of course, there were the classic games, the chess, the coloring stuff, the puzzles but somehow these traditional items were not the overall offerings. One exception was the ALEX™ line of products; they had most everything for family creating you could imagine. The popular plastic blocks that create items were now packaged to create one thing- a plane, a fort, a monster. Again a kind of limiting of a child's imagination. Following the directions rather than one's inclinations was required.

There was an obvious flow on of TV and movie characters into toys; for example, lots of fantasy material-all that Medieval paraphernalia, the Simpsons, Disney everything. Again Dr. Silly moved on. I was somewhat astonished to find several manufacturers of the grotesque.

These were generally dolls, many schizophrenic looking with mismatched eyes and facial expressions of surprise, anger or shock. One salesman told me how cuddly they were; when I pointed out that they appeared to suffer from Post Traumatic Shock Disorder, she again rocked them and said kids loved them and they were selling very well. I am sure they were.

I talked with a sculptor who had a variety of creative, rubber tire swings for sale. He was about my age and we lamented about the lack of creative material available for children. The same tale of blocked imagination was repeated by a creator of some marvelous, detailed Kabuke puppets. "They don't sell: too good. Kids think puppets are old fashioned; maybe they are." I moved on and met more costumed characters, got my photo taken. The FAIR is very demanding on your feet!

Remember: Dr. Silly's motto:" People Who Play Together Grow Together"  The rest seems to take care of itself. Take care: see you next year.
 Here is some brief advice about buying toys for your children: try to buy toys that include the family as well as toys that are to be used in isolation. Kids need you more than they need toys. 
People will always be the best play things. 
 The time you spend with them will create the memories that a satisfying life is made of. A toy is a passing amusement: your attention to their lives lasts a life time.

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