Playing on Parents 

Over-the-top offerings for geniuses-to-be.

Preparing the kinder for the garten is one thing, but the educational parent trap has worked overtime to ensnare vulnerable moms and dads. As this handful of examples demonstrates, developmental marketing begins in the womb and pervades everything from music to dress-up.

Wombsong Prenatal Sound System
A belly-worn, Walkman-like sound system for communicating with your baby in utero. With the gadget's CD player and microphone (included), eager moms and dads can sing the fetus a song, tell it a story, or crank waves of "Free to Be You and Me" through the amniotic fluid. It comes with the requisite Mozart CD and this endorsement: "While not scientifically proven, some prenatal specialists believe playing music or talking to your baby in the womb can stimulate brain development." Experts have yet to determine whether being a captive audience to out-of-tune karaoke can affect the baby's future feelings toward its parents.

Baby Einstein
Aimed at babies six months and older, this popular video series features bold, colorful patterns and pictures of familiar objects set to voice tracks in seven different languages. "Research has shown that infants have a natural ability to distinguish the sounds of all languages, but that this ability fades with time," the maker claims. "Repeated early exposure to these sounds may help your child learn new languages when he's older." The series has since been expanded to include Baby Bach, Baby Newton, and Baby Shakespeare. To be or not to be babysat by the VCR? That is the question.

Learning Drum
What could be simpler than a toy drum? Leave it to LeapFrog. The company's Learning Drum, for tots six months to two years old, looks innocent enough, but it has four different educational settings, only one of which is a drum sound. On "ABC" mode, each pat on the drum displays a letter and causes a friendly voice to speak it aloud. The "123" mode works similarly for numbers. The fourth option is to play musical notes. Dare to let your child decide when to stop playing drummer boy? Not with this toy. If left alone too long, it prompts your budding Keith Moon back to the sticks.

Barbie B-Smart & Stylish Compact
Targeting girls from three to eight who want to be both smart and beautiful, this pretend makeup compact from Oregon Scientific is really a learning aid, with ten programmed activities teaching memory, spelling, logic, math, vocabulary, and games. For nerd girls who want to apply lip gloss on the go, the device comes with a "real unbreakable mirror with hip Barbie icons." If makeup's not your thing, the Barbie Tote-N-Teach is essentially the same computer disguised as a hot-pink handbag.

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