Big toy little toy

It’s the summer holidays, which means a lot of kids pouring into the shop with holiday money burning a hole in their pockets. Some have saved a little bit of pocket money all through the year to add to their holiday budget others are happy to just go with the flow and get something nice to play with on holiday. The scenario gets strained sometimes when different siblings have different approaches but amazingly this results in far fewer tantrums and meltdowns than you might expect. My sister and I used to be like this: instead of getting a sweet on a Friday afternoon when my dad picked us up from school I’d always ask if I could get the 30-40p (yes there was a time when you could get a decent sweet for 30p) to put in my bank at home. A year of this (plus some stashed Christmas and birthday money) and I was all set for something really good on holiday, maybe something big like a new lego set, maybe just a bundle of really cool stuff.

Christine (my sister) was different, like most kids she spent her pocket money most weeks and so when the holidays came along she’d get a few pounds to spend on something she liked, that could keep her amused in the caravan if the weather took a turn for the worse. I’d have to ask her now to make sure, but I don’t think she minded much, the toys I got weren’t the kind of thing she liked to play with anyway. Though she was probably aware that my purchases were worth more than hers she seemed happy enough with what she had.

Adults don’t seem as good at this, we see someone close to us with more than us and we feel jealous, not only that but we often try and find ways of making ourselves feel better, like assuming that there is some admirable personality trait that we exhibit through having less (we’re less greedy, less ruthless etc. etc.). Why can’t we just enjoy the things that we’ve got?  We earned our money and went to the effort of choosing our possessions (let’s assume we pick them because we like them) so they obviously seemed appealing at the time we purchased them. It’s so peculiar that suddenly that nice new TV in your living room looks outdated and small when you go and visit some friends with a bigger fancier one. Your TV is still the nice one you went to the effort of choosing, chances are you picked it because it suits the place it has in your room and it provides you with entertainment, but this seems to fly out the window when you see that new 50″ flat screen.

It would be easy to think that it’s a sign of the times, that everyone is more materialistic nowadays and that mine and my sister’s attitudes towards each others’ purchases is a thing of the past but this is not so; I see kids every day of the holidays come in and do the same thing. I won’t pretend there isn’t the occasional meltdown of ‘they got more than me!’ but these are surprisingly rare and no more common than they were in the toy shop I worked in more than a decade ago.

Just this morning a young lad and his wee sister came in with holiday money, he bought a big lego set (about £30) and she bought a soft toy (about £6) and neither even batted an eyelid at the other’s purchase. They got what they wanted with what they had and they were happy, fantastic. Again I feel like kids have a lesson to teach us (and as a casual aside I wish Christine all the best with her new gigantic flat screen TV).

(N.B. Image nabbed from http://super-dupertoybox.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/marvel-select-avengers-hulk.html, a blog that Adrian might enjoy a lot:P)

It’s good to share?

Long time no see, this week I want to talk about sharing. To be honest there are some things about the concept which baffle me. For starters I can have a group of friends round and slice a cake into an appropriate number for us to share it. Alternatively a child can be playing with a toy car and in allowing another child to take a turn they share. We can also share an activity, we can share interests or share a common ancestor. Basically we can apply the word ‘share’ to a whole host of different activities and it’s this that confuses me. For me the cake sharing is the closest thing to ‘real’ sharing that I can think of since all parties walk away equally satisfied and when it comes to teaching my son how to share his toys this causes problems. I associate sharing with mutual satisfaction through compromise and I’m not sure if this is the consensus.

Here’s an example scenario of how tricky the concept can be to explain: my son is playing with some figures on the floor and his little brother comes over and picks up a toy which Logan is currently not holding. From Alexander’s (my youngest’s) perspective he hasn’t snatched (which he vaguely aware he’s not allowed to do) but he has disrupted Logan’s play, typically in this instance I’ll take the toy off of Alexander and give it back to Logan or ask Logan if Alexander can join in and share (which sometimes works). When the situation is the other way round and Logan takes a toy I am faced with the additional (and difficult) task of explaining why he should give it back. Logan responds that he is ‘sharing’ which isn’t right but I can’t seem to explain, in terms which a four year old can understand, why sharing only works one way for toys (that is you can share your toys but if someone shares their toys with you you aren’t the one sharing).

Maybe I’ve got it wrong somewhere but you typically don’t praise someone for being on the receiving end of a kind act and you can’t really force an act like sharing or it ceases to be praiseworthy. So that’s my problem with the definition of ‘share’ but I’ve also got an issue with how sharing is to be initiated which is similar in form. Why is it that a child must instantaneously share their toy when asked? Imagine a similar scenario for an adult: I’m in a coffee shop reading my kindle and someone asks me what I’m reading, it turns out they’ve been wanting to read this book for ages and they ask that I share my kindle so that they can read a few chapters, they assure me they’re a fast reader so they won’t have it all afternoon, am I supposed to just hand it over? If you answer no, you’re in the same place as me when it comes to sharing: sharing is a choice, not a necessity, we choose when and what to share. If a child is absorbed in playing with a particular toy and is causing no harm in doing so why must they break from their activity for another child who asks for a turn? I’m not saying that they have a right to rudely ignore the other child but if they politely say that they are busy with it and that the other child can have it when they’re done what right do we have to insist that they ‘share’, if we can even call it ‘sharing’ when it’s forced upon someone?

I understand the importance cooperative play with others but when did solitary play get so heavily demoted? Of course some activities can only be shared: playing a board game, playing football etc. etc. Maybe I’m getting this wrong, I’m starting to worry that I’m a much less sociable person than I thought I was, because I think everyone has the right to loose themselves in something without fear of their attention being broken to ‘share’ the object of their focus. I’m genuinely irked and confused by this whole issue.

I’d like to add that I’m sorry for not getting a new post up here for a while, I’ve had a busy week or two (birthdays, a wedding not to mention working on our web site http://www.funjunctiontoys.com). Also when I said ‘this week I want to talk about sharing’ I really meant talk about it, please feel free to leave comments after this post or on my work facebook page http://www.facebook.com/funjunctiontoys I’ll welcome any suggestions from people about what the word ‘share’ means to them.

Too old for toys

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This is just a quick follow up to yesterday’s post. I was so busy talking about children who are expected to play in an age appropriate manner that I didn’t think to include adults who play with toys. I’m happy to say that this category of people is growing and I count myself among them. Of course I play with toys:  it’s part of my job to know what they do, so that I can explain it to customers, but today I thought I’d share a story about buying toys for yourself.

A few years ago (before I was a dad) we got some transformer toys in the shop, they were just little mini ones and if I remember correctly they cost something like £5.99. Anyway somewhere in my subconscious I must have been feeling envious of the kids buying them as they eagerly opened the packet at the counter and started figuring out how to transform their robot into a vehicle. It hit a nerve and reminded me of my own collection of transformers figures back in the eighties. After about a week I couldn’t take it any more and I caved and bought myself a ‘Bumblebee’ figure.

I realised that this was probably the first time I had bought myself a toy as an adult. I had bought this little figure with my wages (not pocket money) and I hadn’t even had to ask someone if I was allowed to. There was a strange moment when I was at the same time aware of two very different experiences, one one hand I felt my inner child’s pleasure at getting the toy but on the other hand, almost more keenly, I could appreciate my own adulthood: buying a toy for myself with no persuasion of the parents, no hoarding of my pocket money, nothing which I typically associated with the acquisition of a toy.

When I decided to buy it I had expected to feel silly, to feel like a big kid, and I suppose to an extent I did as I too eagerly opened the packet and fiddled with the little figure, transforming him into a car and back again and even (I’m not ashamed to admit) making the trademark ‘transforming’ noise (chkokochkoko) and then making him drive around with roaring car noises (noticing that thanks to my now adult voice I can make a much more satisfying engine roar). However along with this came an affirmation of my independence unlike any I had felt, I had moved out, got a job, got married (all standard rites of passage into the ranks of ‘adults’) but deep inside my seven year old self told me that since I had always said ‘when I grow up I’ll buy toys whenever I want’ I was, in his eyes, now a ‘grown up’ and that was a very weird feeling.

OK so I’m going to suggest something, go buy a toy, not for the ‘kitsch’ value, not as an ironic statement and don’t buy a toy that is made for adults. Just imagine you’re buying a toy for your younger self, think carefully about just what you enjoyed then, heck even give yourself some ‘pocket money’ if you need to tie a budget round it. Let yourself enjoy the experience of buying a toy with no begging or pleading, no guilt or shame. Proudly open your purchase at the counter (as any child would do given the opportunity) and here’s the important part play with it right then and there, in the shop; if it’s a car make engine noises, if it’s some kind of character give them a voice, the important thing is to let that child out, really far out and all at once you realise you never lost your childhood, or left it behind, you took it with you and as soon as you see that inner child and compare them with the adult you are now you suddenly feel happier. You’re able to buy any toy you like whenever you like, and in the eyes of your inner child you can’t get much more grown up than that.

You’re too old to play with that

This is a little bug bear of mine and I can guarantee that at least three or four times a week I’ll have to go through this spiel again. The issue of the age appropriateness of a toy can arise whenever the child’s interests differ from the norm for their age.

A fairly benign case of this happens where a child plays at a stage above their age. When I’m asked what might be a good toy for such a child I’m faced with a slight dilemma: say we have a boy of seven who does a new jigsaw puzzle every week, based on this information I can guarantee his abilities will be higher than the jigsaw companies expect and as a result I would suggest picking a jigsaw puzzle that perhaps has age 8 or 9 on the box. This particular age on the box is a guide, it has nothing to do with safety (or anything so rigid) and has much more to do with the manufacturer’s opinion of what would be the appropriate age for this toy. This is based on general ideas about children’s play, so specific cases like our seven year old jigsaw fan are unlikely to fit within their paradigm.

However the person buying the toy can often be put off by the suggested age and in this case will opt for something which is likely to be below the child’s abilities. With something like a jigsaw this is likely to mean that the child will get bored with it, not the worst thing in the world but when you’re buying a gift you tend to hope that the recipient will enjoy it. This doesn’t happen too often though and most of the time people actually like the idea that the child they’re buying for exceeds expectations.

The real problem (and the main topic of this entry) lies at the other end of the spectrum. Some toys do not show a suggested age but instead place for example a 3+ mark on the box (which is placed to mark the manufacturer’s recommended ‘safe’ playing age), the problem is that it’s sometimes not easy for a customer to decipher between a 3+ safety tag and the suggested ages such as the ones described above.

There is a big difference between these, and when some customers see e.g. 3+ on the box they assume that older children won’t be interested in it because the toy is ‘for’ 3 year olds. This isn’t right and the children potentially miss out on something really fun. I’ll admit it’s easy to mix up the numbers on the box but this is where common sense should step in: does it look like something the child would enjoy? If the answer is yes then by all means get an 8 year old child a toy that says 3+ on the box.

The problem is even worse when the child is actually there in the shop and specifically asks for the toy only to be told ‘you’re too old for that’ or even worse ‘that’s a baby toy’. I seems we’re happy for a child to drive on and surpass their expected level for play (note play not maths, English or a sport) it fits our culture of striving for improvement in our children, and there’s nothing wrong with this but we see the opposite as something like an inverse of this situation: a child who likes toys aimed at a younger age is seen as somehow falling short when in fact they just like the look of it. Giving a child a younger toy doesn’t mark them as a failure since many toys can be played with in vastly different ways by different ages. Instead of accepting this though we are careful to avoid play which isn’t progressive: that is we discourage play which seems orientated around an earlier developmental stage. And we wonder why kids grow up so fast these days.