Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I love Zhu Zhu Pets v.s. Its Not Educational!

Dreams Versus Reality: Which Will Win?

Zhu Zhu Pets. They were the hot toy for 2009 according to Toys R Us. They can go for anywhere from $30 to $300 USD on Amazon.com. They have tons of things that are collectable, meaning there is lots for little ones to nag their parents to buy. But are they good for our children? Is there a valid reason for choosing these, or should they just go away in favor of the real counterpart? The debate is heated and sides have been claimed. I ended up stumbling onto Zhu Zhu Pets thanks to a random Gamestop add for a DS game and some encouragement from Jay. Here are my thoughts on the issue.

What Are Zhu Zhu Pets?

Zhu Zhu pets are mechanical hamsters that run on two AAA batteries. They have two wheels on the bottom and three buttons -- one on their nose, one on their head and one on their back -- that are used to do different things. The one on the nose tells the Zhu Zhu that it needs to turn. The one on the head puts it into "Love Mode" where it will make cooing and squeaking sound. Tapping the button on its butt puts it into "Explorer Mode" where the Zhu Zhu will move around on its wheels.

There are currently 8 - 9 different hamsters. The ones I know of for certain are: Pipsqueak, NumNums, Chunk, Mr. Squiggles, Nugget, Jilly, Scoodles and Winkle. The one that I have heard of, but which I think may be for purchase only with an accessory package, is Patches. But by all means, don't think this will be the end of the line! Website http://www.zhuzhupetsfair.com/ is listing approximately 38 unique pets that will be available *presumably* be the end of 2010. And that is before we even begin to look at the Hamster Habitat aspect of this fuzzy two wheeled crazy.

Yes, I did just say Hamster Habitat. And there is a lot that you can do in regard to this. To start with you can get various rooms such as a kitchen, movie room, bathroom and bedroom. There is also a garage with a car that the Zhu Zhu's can power, a hamster wheel they can run in, a slide to let them escape the habitat and even their own hamster balls that they can race around in to protect them from the overly curious dog or cat in your life. And that is just a sampling of what is there.

A Zhu Zhu Pets Commercial. Check it out! :)

The "It" Toy

People have gone crazy for Zhu Zhu pets and they seem to be willing to pay some very crazy prices if the information on Amazon.com is any indication. There have been reports of people paying anywhere from $30 to $300 for the varying pets and accessories. There are reports of people getting into actual fights to obtain these toys. Pretty scary stuff.

Yes, this does put Zhu Zhu Pets into the same category as other "It" toys, such as Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo. And yes, that can be annoying when you are the parent whose tots clearly "have their heart set on it" when within your own heart you believe that your kid(s) will have burried it under the bed by New Years Eve.

This is not a shopping experience I want to have. How about you?

Love or Life Lessons?

I have heard a lot of things regarding these pets from exasperated customers and people who cannot believe that other people would buy these -- or indulge a child, *period*. It is quite fascinating to witness the variety of views that various people have toward children, childhood and child development. Interesting, that is, when it is not being downright distrubing, to the point where those writing are actually referring to children as "crotchfruit". (What in the name of Zeus is our planet coming to?) There seem to be two strong opinions that are opposing the Zhu Zhu Pet sensation:

1) " Getting your children things that they want is bad because it causes them to become spoiled. You need to teach children disappointment. The World sucks ass and the sooner they recognize this and accept it the easier parenting will become. They aren't happy that they didn't get this toy? Tough shit. They should be glad that you have food on the damn table at all. Life is tough and a lesson regarding this is likely the best thing you can give them. At least then they'll respect whatever you decide they should have, if anything. "

2. " Zhu Zhu Pets are stupid because they provide no real educational value. Not only will they not improve valueable skills like spelling or math, they technically cannot even impart the lessons of responsability and acceptance of death that are naturally acquired through ownership and care of a living breathing creature. Uneducational toys are useless toys. "

I think, however, that there are some perfectly logical reasons to go ahead and get a Zhu Zhu Pet though (provided of course that you are not being charged $300 for it -- that *is* rediculous. If you are dealing with a kid that you do not feel is ready to take care of an actual pet this could be a fun alternative where no harm is done. It is also a great idea for those who have someone wthh allergies in the home, or who live in housing situations that do not permit animals. It could also be good for children who already have living breathing pets but who want something that is "theirs". For instance, you cannot take a living breathing hamster to bed or to school for show & tell (hamsters do not adapt well to changes in environment).

As for whether the toy is educational or not? There are ways that you could potentially work on that.

  • You could integrate things like play "food" into the hamster's "care" cycle to teach responsability
  • A barbie brush used gently (or one of the brushes that come with the Zhu Zhu Babies) could be used to encourage grooming, etc.
  • You could also work with your child about how to handle a hamster using the Zhu Zhu as an example where no real animal is at risk
  • How about using the Zhu Zhu interest as a doorway to educate your young rodent fan about a variety of different creatures ranging from hamsters and gerbils to mice, rats, rabbits and more?
  • Why not encourage your kids to make up stories about their adventures with their hamsters and / or their hamsters adventures?
  • Or why not take them to the toy section when it is time to get a new accessory for the Zhu Zhus and talk about it, be it a blanket, a carrier, a habitat expansion, etc. as if it is "real"? If you have a real hamster you could go to a petstore and look at how the toy and real varieties differ and why. Ask them: "Why does the hamster need it? Why might a hamster in real life need this?"
  • Further in regards to math: since Zhu Zhus are collectable and their accessories are also many separate bits you could use expanding their collection as a way to teach basic math skills as well as basic money management *and* learning to work toward something rather then "Mommy / Daddy I want it *NOW!* "
  • Also for those who have children into gaming there is a Zhu Zhu game that is being released for Nintendo DS so that might even further inhance your experience.
  • Buddiing artists could be encouraged to draw pictures of their Zhu Zhus. What do they like to wear? What is their favorite place to be? Get creative! What will the Zhu Zhu be for hallowe'en? What does it want for Christmas? NOTE: Clearly some of these suggestions depend on whether you and your child(ren) view these as "pets" or as more cartoonish toys that would want to dress up or go out trick-or-treating.
  • Putting up videos, reviews, plain old footage and much more of these and other toys seems to be very popular these days. If you feel safe, why not let your budding actor / actress star in his or her own Zhu Zhu production? Or let them make a film using the Zhu Zhus? (I have seen both of these done to great effect.) Whether its for YouTube or for Grandma it is an exciting experience for a kid to go on camera and with models like the RCA Small Wonder (check my videos -- that is the camera I use) going for $99 Canadian its not an impossible dream if you have interest in it.
In short: an educational aide is not a toy unless it is *fun*, and a fun toy can, if one uses some imagination and creativity, be used for *education*. The two need to stop being treated with mutual exclusivity or we will forever have the struggle between fun and education that, as we press education onto our children at earlier and earlier ages, actually conditions them to not want to learn and to view learning as a negative experience.

This clearly took effort and it is pretty cute, too! Nice job!

I have not purchased a Zhu Zhu Pet of my own at this point, but you can look forward to a review from me when I finally get the chance to. Despite this I simply felt that I needed to say something in regards to all of the varying things that were being said about these little guys (and gals) as I think the idea is ingenius as long as the company makes sure their products work and that (hopefully!) we do not see another eBay Blitz on these toys when we reach the 2010 season. If you have any questions or comments feel free to post. Thanks for reading!


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