Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Legos That Move Unseat Beanie Babies in the Toy Chest?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Legos That Move Unseat Beanie Babies in the Toy Chest?

Article excerpt

Toys are getting so sophisticated, it's a little spooky.

Take the new Barney from Microsoft. The dinosaur doll talks and sings. Cover his eyes and he plays peek-a-boo. And when in front of a TV airing specially encoded programs of the hit "Barney," he will sing along and talk on cue. (The trick is special radio-frequency signals aired bya few PBS stations.)

But if you think a television-activated dinosaur doll is something, hold onto your beanie hats. Companies at this week's Toy Fair in New York are showing off even more sophisticated play-things. Among them are programmable Legos and two new Microsoft dolls that do even more than Barney does. But parents should look beyond what today's toys can do. "Just because something is electronic or computerized doesn't make it an educational toy," says Mitchel Resnick, who directs the learning-research group at the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instead, focus on what these toys can teach. The two new Microsoft dolls are called Arthur and D.W., from the popular PBS television show "Arthur." Like Barney, they have large vocabularies (more than 4,000 words), special sensors that allow them to play games, and accessory packs that allow them to interact with the "Arthur" TV show and "Arthur" computer software. One new feature is that they can also interact with the official "Arthur" Web site. That's impressive technology, especially for a $110 doll that will be out this fall. (The accessory packs cost extra.) But I'm more intrigued by the programmable Legos. You remember Legos, those plastic building blocks from Denmark. This fall the company is set to sell a new $200 Robotics Invention System that includes a brick-shaped microcomputer, special sensors and software, and more. With it, children will be able to program what their robots do: a dinosaur that moves toward light, for example, or an elevator that rises to a specific floor with the touch of a button. …

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