Saturday, November 17, 2007

You know where you can stick your garishly coloured letters?

I’m browsing through the Australia Post colour catalogue of Christmas gifts, and I spotted a group of educational toys for children, including a thing that is recommended for ages 2 to 5 which has buttons on it for all the letters of the alphabet, and I guess is computerized. For a moment I though it would be a top choice as a Christmas gift for the youngest member of our family, until I noticed that the letters were all coloured in a range of different colours, and the thing as a whole is quite revolting to look at due to the ugly colours used in it and the way the colours just don’t work together. It looks as though it was designed by someone who either doesn’t care what it looks like, is colour-blind or has Aesthetic Deficit Disorder.

There are two reasons why I hate the colours used in this toy. If our toddler has the coloured letters type of synaesthesia, like three other members of our family, then the bright and different colours of the letters on the keys of this toy may conflict with the colours that our child already has in their head. I’d much prefer that the letters were all the same neutral colour (such as black). After all, it is the shapes and sounds of the letters of the alphabet that young children are supposed to be learning, not the (arbitrary) colours of the letters. I don’t have a problem with kids’ books or toys being brightly coloured (I adore the stunningly coloured Meg and Mog kids’ books), but I wish toy designers would resist the urge to colour the actual letters and numbers. I know that some people believe that coloured letter synaesthesia is caused by children’s toys that have differently coloured letters. This simply isn’t true. On the same page of the catalogue there are five other educational toys advertised which appear to have specific colours associated with specific numbers or letters. I won’t be buying any of these toys.

The other reason why I won’t be buying that toy is that it is both garish and ugly due to the colours. It combines an aggressive red with insipid, annoying blue and green and pink, colours that aren’t pale enough to be pretty pastel, but aren’t vibrant enough to compete with the loud red. The toy isn’t neutrally-coloured enough to not catch the eye, and it is so ugly that I wish I couldn’t see it. Sadly this toy is typical of children’s toys. There seems to be an unwritten law that children’s toys must be brightly coloured in a range of different colours. Black, white, grey, brown and beige are shunned. Subtle and mixed colours are not on. Anything except bright primary and (if you must) secondary colours appears to be considered too much of an intellectual challenge for young children to process mentally. Kiddies can’t understand turquoise. Turquoise is developmentally inappropriate, and so are gunmetal grey, ice blue, vermillion and yellow ochre. We live in a world that is designed to be appropriate for the most ordinary masses, and even the colours of kids’ toys are dumbed-down in the most patronizing way.

Why do kids’ toys need to be brightly coloured anyway? I had a look at the packaging of a Fischer-Price toy to try to find out. Fischer-Price toys have a rather horrible uniform look about them (bright simplistic colours on white mostly), and they are obviously designed according to some rigid set of corporate rules governing colouration. On the box it said something about the bright colours helping the child’s development. I’m not aware of a shred of scientific evidence that young children need to have garishly coloured toys for the optimal or normal development of their brain or senses. In fact, I think subtle and interesting colours, and interesting combinations of colours might be better for the education of the senses, if such a thing really ever happens. Do you know of any person who is colour-blind due to a lack of access to aggressively-coloured toys in childhood or infancy? Colour-blindness is caused by genes, as far as I know, and so is synaesthesia.

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