- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Trouble ensues for Curtis, a bright-eyed tot with a bandana and pirate’s hat, when Pushy Pete elbows him at the amusement park and knocks his tokens down the drain.

He is helped by generous friends in one of a series of new games developed by the toy maker Hasbro to help preschool-age children improve their social skills.

Each of the three games focuses on a different lesson - sharing, listening and good manners - and each is accompanied by a book and CD. They take place at a pizza parlor, amusement park or picnic and follow a group of children in the fictional town of Noodleboro as they navigate sticky social situations that teach them proper behavior.

The concept for the games emerged from Hasbro’s market research indicating that parents of preschoolers tend to prioritize imparting basic social, rather than academic, skills to their young children.

“At the end of the day, while we feel responsible to teach the ABCs and all those things and have our kids get ready for school, when it comes to a lot of the social skills, we like to say that the buck stops here,” says Jill Hambley, vice president of marketing at Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro, the world’s second-biggest toy company.

Hasbro plans to release more Noodleboro games next year, Miss Hambley says.

Some other social-skill games have emerged on the market, too, joining a broader class of educational games - such as the LeapFrog and VTech products - that have grown in popularity in recent years.

The Caring Corners Mrs. Goodbee Talking Dollhouse from Learning Curve, for instance, is an interactive toy that teaches children about sharing and responsibility. Toys to Grow On, an online toy store, offers a set of six colorful “board books” with sayings including: “Germs are not for sharing” and “Feet are not for kicking.”

“We joke [that] going back about 15 years ago, education was a taboo word in the toy business,” says Jim Silver, editor in chief of Toys and Family Entertainment magazine, a trade publication. “These things that were taboo are now important to parents.”

The Noodleboro games are similar in some ways to traditional children’s games except players are rewarded not for a particular dice roll but rather for listening carefully, sharing tokens with friends and saying “please” and “thank you.”

The pizza parlor game, for instance, asks a child to fill a parent’s or adult’s order by listening for the requested toppings and then placing the corresponding cards on a cardboard pie.

Some parents are dubious.

Amber Cumbee, 23, an employee at the Wise Owl toy store in Westerly and mother of a 3-year-old girl, Zoe, says listening and sharing are good lessons, but she thinks it’s “goofy” and unnecessary to have a game dedicated to manners.

“If she’s not grasping it by that time, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ I don’t think a game would really do it for her,” Mrs. Cumbee says, adding that she has not seen the games.

The Noodleboro CDs include a sing-along theme song with lyrics including, “We say ‘thank you,’ and we say ‘please.’ I think of you, and you think of me” as well as songs about the virtues of sharing, listening and manners.

Marilyn Skinner, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education at Indiana University at Kokomo, says that although she also has not seen the games, she thinks they could be useful provided an adult plays them alongside a child to reinforce the lessons.

“One of the things that we find is that through social skills being developed, you’re also developing communication and language and the understanding of words,” Miss Skinner says.

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