The brick debate

lego messToday I want to talk about one of the biggest issues that faces any parent. That’s right, we’re not going to talk about learning right from wrong, or the importance of sharing; today we’re going to talk about LEGO block organisation.

Here is the key question: do you sort by block shape and size or do you sort by colour? There seems to be little common ground to be found between these two positions (unless you do both, but that seems a tad excessive for all but the biggest Lego collections). Whenever I ask other parents they seem to polarise and there are clearly two very set camps on this issue. Of those who actually sort their children’s Lego (a lot don’t), you get one side opting for the easiest method for to sort (colour), and the other camp opts for the easiest organisation method for building (by size). I fall into the camp of thinking that blocks should be organised by shape so that when you’re making something, regardless of the colour of the blocks, you’ll at least have exactly the pieces you need to create the model you want.

However, for some, this seems to be a strange position to take. My wife insists that Lego be sorted by colour and even the Lego shop in Glasgow seemed to follow this system, sorting Lego blocks by colour (to an extent). That doesn’t make sense to me, and I’d love to hear anyone’s comments below to explain why organising by colour instead of the shape of the block is a useful strategy. Aside from making it easier for the person putting the Lego away (it is easier to discern colour differences than shape differences I suppose) I can’t see the point.

Maybe I’m missing something here; perhaps it’s easier to organise them and find the right block if you know which colour you looking for. However, when you’re packing about 10 to 20 different LEGO boxes into a drawer (all with very different colour pallets), then for me the easiest way to organise them would be by shape. That way you can follow the Lego instruction books, and even if the blocks are the wrong colour, then at least they’ll be the right shape, and after all isn’t this what you really need to be sure of  ending up with the model you want?

This is a quick wee post today about something that’s been bothering me for a while. This has basically come to a head because I’m about to put together some organisation boxes for my son’s Lego. I’m really hoping to get some feedback here so that I can make sure he has a perfectly organised collection of Lego blocks (well until his wee brother upends the boxes that is ;) ) and any advice you have would be appreciated.

As always thank you for stopping by, and I welcome any comments you have below, all the best John.

P.S. Just had a look and ‘the brick blogger‘ seems to cover the bases well (and seems to confirm my suspicions)

Oh and if you’d rather have your Lego sort itself, then that seems to be an option too (though you’ll need to have the Lego MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book (robotsqaure has a discount code for you if you follow the link). Here’s a video of the sorter in action:

With this doll your child would never sleep again

edison dollJust found this post on global toy news.  has successfully dredged up a nightmare of dolls-gone-by into the open: Edison’s phonograph doll. Released in 1890 this doll came with tiny records prepared with spoken passages for your dolly to ‘say’. I have to say I have never heard a creepier rendition of ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ in my life. What’s more is that this doll (according to Gottlieb) cost the equivalent of what would be $250 (just over £160) today.

This made me wonder about the many, many higher priced toys on the market that end up as cultural oddities in later years. Things like Kota the ride on dinosaur by Playskool, which was pegged as the ‘next big thing’ about three or four years ago but which simply disappeared. If I remember right (and we never stocked it so don’t quote me on this) but as awesome as Kota is I’m sure he was priced at nearly £300 when he first came out in the UK. In terms of functionality and the potential time a child will play with it until it becomes boring, then even at £150 this toy is alarmingly pricey, given that it’s basically a ride-on Furbie.

Perhaps toy buying has changed though; in demographic terms I think you’d be hard-pushed to guess at how much an individual might spend on toys for their kids. Obviously those earning more can afford to spend more but to be honest that’s not what you see.

In many ways it seems to have a lot more to do with the type of childhood the parent had, their aspirations for their own children, and the type of relationship they have with their child. Throw into the mix the cacophony of different child-rearing philosophies regarding how much, or how little, play a child should participate in and it becomes anyone’s guess as to how much a parent will be spending on toys.

I’m not going to try and put ballpark figures down here, nor would I want to point out what different parents spend in the shop (it’s hardly for me to say) but I will point out that working in a toy shop can blow your expectations out of the water when it comes to how you think different people spend their money.

That said I’m amazed that anyone ever bought one of Edison’s dolls. Whether it’s the slightly skewed, vacant stare, or what looks like a pair of fangs (image at the start of this post is Edison’s doll), this doll seems designed to haunt your dreams. The soulless squeal of it’s voice is especially disturbing as it begs for God to watch over it. Enjoy your nightmares:

jack-reusen-cover-front2Oh and if you need cheered up don’t forget to pop along to to find out about Jack and his adventures with his friend Thea (a girl who turns into a polar bear) in a world of magic and mystery (books aimed at children aged from six years to adult).

Getting to know yourself

big movie tom hanks playing with toysPlaying is weird for adults, we do it with children when we have to, some of us enjoy it (I clearly do or you wouldn’t be hearing from me as much) but some adults genuinely feel very uncomfortable with play. However, strip away the shield of a child/children and we all start to look very similar.

I have a confession to make, when it comes to play which is unsupervised by a child, I personally get a bit uncomfortable. I’m not saying I can’t do it, I’m not even saying I can’t have fun with toys, I’m just saying it feels a bit weird. So lets think about this.

I work in a toy shop, I’ve been around toys in this kind of environment from when I was fourteen years old till eighteen then since I was twenty two until now. Obviously I played with toys as a child and I was still making Lego sets at about twelve years old, so apart from four years at university and a couple of years between stopping playing with toys and my first job in a toy shop, I’ve basically been around toys for my entire life. Put another way, toys have played a huge role in my everyday life for pretty much my entire time on this planet and even I feel a bit strange picking up a toy and playing with it when there aren’t any kids around.

I have no alternative frame of reference but I’m guessing that if someone who has had unsupervised access to toys for their entire life can feel a bit peculiar playing in the absence of children then there’s perhaps little hope for other adults out there. The thing is that culturally we see toys as the things of childhood. To play with an actual, bona fide, child’s toy is to use a well-recognised cultural object out of context. Children are the guardians of the toy, to use one, one must typically have a child as one’s guide or one risks feeling ‘silly’.

There are people I know who seem to be exceptions to this rule, the great majority of these are mothers but I do know a few non-mothers among them. These are the kind of people who can pick up a puppet and strike up a conversation with another adult (no kids in sight), or who can hunker down with some toy trains and shout out a big proud ‘woowoo!’ in a shop full of ‘grown-ups’. So why do the rest of us have trouble?

1415469969384_Image_galleryImage_Harry_Enfield_as_one_of_hI’m inclined to think it’s got a lot to do with how we define ourselves, or at least it relates to the character we consider ourselves to be. As a teenager I was happy to live in the fringes, be seen as weird etc. but as an adult (and especially as a parent) I have to admit that I’ve become a bit more…normal (for want of a better word). I want a good life for myself and my family and being too unusual can get in the way of job prospects and friendships with other families, so I play my part as an ordinary guy.

To be honest I’ve played ordinary for a long time now, for so long that the hippy-dippy, weirdo pseudo-communist of my teens is hard for me to relate to. In short I’ve purposely become ordinary because ordinary is easier. Teenage John was was a bit of a mess, he had goals but no drive, and so many interests that he had a hard time keeping track, he slept entire days away and took friendships for granted. The sad fact of the matter is that I’ve produced a self-imposed bubble of ‘normalcy’ around myself to avoid becoming him, and one thing that ‘normal’ adults don’t do is play with toys (unless they’re playing with children).

So back to play and what it can tell us about ourselves, for me play exposes my attitudes regarding normalcy in adults and perhaps this is the real heart of what makes me uncomfortable. I lets me see what I’ve done to myself (for what are admittedly good reasons) to become the man I am today. I love playing with my children, and relish in pretend play when I’m with them but on my own or around solely other adults I doubt you’ll see me playing like that.

I know that play is a beneficial part of any person’s encounters with the world (I’ve discussed this before) and it makes me a little sad to realise that I’m the one responsible for my feeling of discomfort when playing alone. However, simply recognising this isn’t sufficient to let me enjoy toys in the same way I did as a child, or in the same way I do when I’m with my own children.

Thinking about how you feel about play (and toys) can have a profound effect on the way you view yourself. For me I recognise that I’ve gotten a little boring as I’ve ‘grown-up’ and that’s not very easy for a ‘toy shop guy’ to admit, but it also lets me see that who I am has been my choice and there’s no reason that I have to accept any part of my character. Perhaps this is simply a silver lining to a very small issue.

I still love toys when playing with with my children and I think toys and play are absolutely vital components of a healthy childhood (and adulthood). I’ve simply had to admit the peculiar fact that when push comes to shove, as an adult making decisions on how I’d spend my own time, I’m unlikely to choose playing with toys as a top activity. The next step is figuring out why I’ve produced this self-imposed exile from this little corner of the world of imagination and play.

Sorry for the downer today people, feel free to share your own revelations about yourself that you’ve discovered through play. Lets hope there aren’t too many boring old fuddy duddys like me out there. As always thanks for reading, All the best, John

Barbie’s toilet!

wpid-imag1365_burst003.jpgThis post is basically just a chance for me to talk about Barbie’s toilet and here it is. Who would have thought that Barbie had a toilet? For that matter, who would have thought that she had enough internal organs to need a toilet? (Sorry that last bit was a bit nasty, but seriously no woman has a waist that small without something weird going on)

Children and power

superman and the flash duke it outWhy is it so important to be the ‘fastest’, the ‘strongest’, etc. etc.? It’s a question I’m asking myself more and more now that my two are hitting that wonderful ‘isn’t it fun to hit my brother’ stage. I understand that competitiveness is to be encouraged but sometimes it seems genuinely nonsensical. I’ve had squabbles over who can fly the highest (basically bound by the laws of imagination; i.e. infinite) and other utter insanity that I just can’t get my head around. So again (and again) I find myself asking myself, why is it so important to them?

Ordinarily I can get myself into my kids’ shoes fairly easily, despite the fact that so much of their play makes no ‘real-world’ sense, there’s normally some internal logic to it. However, this imaginary one-upmanship looks like nothing more than an exercise in futility to me.

At the start of Toy Story, Andy has the toys duke it out in this kind of competition but the key thing is that his imaginings stop after about two rounds (basically because there’s only one child playing):

“I brought my attack dog with the built-in force field.
Well, I brought my dinosaur who eats force-field dogs.”

The story is alarmingly, brain-achingly, different with two children in the mix. Thankfully I’ve had a dry spell of this for the past few weeks but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the spectre of the debate over ‘strongest’/ ‘fastest’/’furthest’/’most immune to damage’ etc. etc. returns.

It will no doubt start along the lines of “well I’m lava proof!…well I’m as hot as the sun!…”well I’m sun-proof!…” and it will degenerate (along with my sanity) from there.

Is it just me that get’s utterly sick to the back teeth of this or are there others out there with a similar dread for what I call the pretend-power arms-race? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. As always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?

J._K._Rowling_at_the_White_House_2010-04-05_9Re-blogging from the website for my new children’s book:

“To even out the ratio children would have to be getting through a whopping nine books for every one book read by an adult. Someone, somewhere, is reading a lot of kids fiction…” read more here:

OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?.