Tuesday repost: Secret ingredient

Here’s a wee post I did a while back that got some nice responses, hope you enjoy it.

There’s an item which we don’t stock in either of our shops which is essential for any child to get the most out of their toys (no not batteries, we’ve got them): imagination. There’s a general consensus idea that adults lose their imaginations as they get older and perhaps statistically this might be true but it’s not a necessary truth. We don’t have to lose our imaginations (or see them shrink). All you need to do is sit down with a child and play with some toys to see just how easy it is to switch that capacity back on. To be honest most of us can manage this ourselves, we don’t really need hints from kids but sometimes the imagination gets so weak through lack of use that people genuinely struggle to get it back up and running.

When you tell someone you work in a toy shop most people say something along the lines that must be a really fun job. Well yes, yes it is. However after that adults can have a hard time making conversation, you see we all use banks so if you work in a bank someone has common ground to have a conversation about the same goes for a whole host of jobs. The unique thing about toys is that they’re culturally seen as ‘for kids’ (see my other post on this to see my opinion of this common mistake). As a result conversation can get a little strained at times but sometimes it can get really interesting (please bear with me I will get back on topic).

This happened a couple of years ago when I was talking to someone who had been on therapist’s training course to look at the advantages of therapy through play. The general idea is something akin to regression mixed with role play will allow people to become more aware of their view of themselves and how they fit into the world. Anyway all the therapists were to grab a toy and get on with it (to see what it was like) and one woman got really upset, she thought it was a futile exercise but when they asked her about why it turned out she really had forgotten how to play, her imagination had diminished so much that she could no longer pretend.

Even as adults the notion of the full loss of this faculty sounds horrific, we recognise the role of this kind of imagining in coming up with new ideas and thinking outside the box and a common dystopia theme in science fiction is a world where people just do what they’re told (e.g. Orwell’s 1984). What keeps the imaginative fires burning is use and one of the best ways to use your imagination is play. Of course books, movies and video games can stimulate the imagination but really pretending involves making your own world, using the resources at hand. I think this is why there’s a new movement of so called ‘kidults’.

Many people call this the ‘information age’ (I think the order is supposed to go stone-> bronze-> iron-> industrial-> information), not sure about the title but it seems slightly right. If you want your business/enterprise/venture/whatever you call it to succeed nowadays you need presence, for that you need information about it to stand out and to stand out you need imagination. I can only imagine that this situation will get more pronounced as more of our lives go virtual so if our children can’t imagine (and I’m not trying to be funny here) they will be at a serious disadvantage. My point is simple then, though we can’t sell imagination in the toy shop we can sell the tools/equipment to make imaginations flourish. Just sport products can’t in themselves make you fit (you need to use them), the products we sell can’t instantly make you imaginative, once you get your product it’s down to you to get to the serious work of playing (of course we’re more than happy to lend a hand and help people learn to play with things, it means we get to play more).

One really good starting point is a product called ‘Rory’s story cubes‘, where you throw nine pictured dice and make a story out of the pictures (any order you like but you have to use all the pictures). For a while we posted a new picture (a kind of free sample) of a story cube roll every Saturday night to let people have a go over the weekend, sadly people didn’t use them as much as we’d hoped but they’re still there so if you feel inclined log in and go to our page to have a go, here’s a link have fun, don’t let your imagination down.

story cube

Here’s the story cube roll featured on twitter, feel free to add a story below, go on exercise that imagination!

All hands on deck

I always write about toys (or at least I try to stay on topic as much as possible) but I thought I might also write a wee post today about the ‘toy shop’ from ‘John the Toy Shop Guy’. For those of you who didn’t come upon this blog as a result of a link from Fun Junction’s facebook page, I work in two fairly small independently owned toy shops in Crieff and in Perth in Scotland. I have to admit the opportunity to play with toys for a living is really rewarding and one of the best things about my job is helping people to engage with toys that they may be less than familiar with. Second to that is the exciting prospect of new and unusual toys which accompanies every new catalogue we get through the door.

The hour is drawing close

The hour is drawing close

Here at Fun Junction these two things are coming together in the work that we’ve all been doing lately on our web-site. We’ve (wisely or not) pledged to have this web-site ready for orders at the start of May and it’s becoming all too apparent just how close by this deadline is. One of the main problems has been the time it takes to write a product description, we made a decision fairly early on to try put in our own description of a product, where possible, rather than simply copying and pasting the manufacturer’s. The idea behind this was to personalise the description and use it as something like a store-based product review of the toy.

It’s been hard going: at times writing these descriptions has been fun (my personal favourites are this and this) at others it simply feels nail-bitingly slow going and I have to admit a few products have ended up with copied and pasted descriptions due to time constraints. However, as time goes on we’ll hopefully get a chance to inject some personality and humour into the ones that have slipped through the net.

tumbleweedWe have less than a week to go and to be honest most of the site looks right to me, though there are loads of behind the scenes tweaks to deal with. We’re also all panicking about how we’re going to deal with deliveries and we’re not sure what to do in terms of postage. We’re pretty sure we won’t be getting enough to warrant an account with a courier to start with so the cost of deliveries will probably be pretty high to begin with. What’s more a lot of things on the web site itself feel like a work in progress and we’re seriously considering asking friends family and some regular customers to be ‘beta testers’ for us, just to iron out any problems. I think the main worry (it’s certainly my main worry) is that we’ll launch this newly revamped web-site next week, after months of work and nothing will happen; no one will shop there or even browse it and we’ll find our site bombarded with virtual tumble weeds. This is probably one of the most common worries you can have about a new endeavour, that you put time and care into making something and no one cares. Though perhaps the opposite is equally frightening: what happens if our site goes viral and everyone in the world loves it and has to but something from us? The truth will hopefully be somewhere in between, and putting all our worries to one side we’re all in all pretty excited about this new addition to the business and I hope customers enjoy their visits there.

It’s sometimes easy to get caught up in negative thoughts but all I need to do is remember our facebook following and the extremely discerning and intelligent people who read this blog and I can relax a bit. Here’s hoping that people at least stop by for a look next week. If you do happen to find yourself browsing our website after next Wednesday then feel free to let us know what you think to it and give us suggestions for improvements either here on my blog, on the facebook page or on the contact form on the web site. Sorry for the slight departure from the norm today, I just felt like venting a bit of this mixture of excitement and trepidation, thanks for taking the time to read this and wish us luck on next week’s launch. I should also point out that this blog is now a member of the Mumsnet bloggers network, so I’ll say a quick hello and welcome to anyone popping in from there. If you’re new to my blog my posts are normally more topical and toy centred, feel free to have a look at past posts in links on the right.

Tuesday repost: Hiding your play

I was recently talking to my mother in law about play/toy therapy (she’s trained in various kinds of counseling) and it reminded me of a set of posts I’d done a while ago on the importance of continuing to play as we ‘grow up’. I like this one in particular so this is the one you’re getting. Hope you enjoy it.

I recently came across a large number of online comments from mothers whose children apparently still play with toys at the age of 12 or 13 (though they apparently keep it under the radar of their friends). As anyone who has been following my blog will know I tend to circle back to the theme of age appropriateness quite frequently and this selection of posts, found when doing a simple google search about the average age at which children stop playing, really caught my attention.

Both my kids are too young for me to have real experience of the stopping play phenomenon so aside from the odd pre-teen sneaking into the shop so their friends don’t see I was kind of in the dark as to how late kids seem to really be playing. It’s fantastic and sad all at once: fantastic because my faith in play and in the perseverance of child-like nature has been restored but it’s sad because these older children and teens feel the need to hide their activities from friends who, by the sounds of things, are doing exactly the same thing. I suppose this state of affairs would also be humorous if it wasn’t for the inevitable fact that we can imagine a serious amount of over-compensation on the part of these older players, not to mention the missed opportunity of shared play.

One post I saw on a parenting forum was by a 14 year old girl who still played with dolls, this wasn’t one of these teens who fantasise about being a young mum (as you might see on Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer), the dolls she played with were more the dress-up variety and if I remember correctly they were from the sylvanian family range.

Playing lets us break away (a little) from our preconceptions about how the world works and instead we can play out how we would like the world to be. If these kids could somehow find each other then this could turn into a really great experience for them: rather than feel ashamed about something completely natural and plunging themselves into the world of the pre-adult (filled with violent, sexual and otherwise ‘grown up’ themes) they could enjoy a few more years of fantasy before they are forced to face the harsh realities of the adult world.

We glamourise the adult world either intentionally or unintentionally. The media can make adulthood look like a special club with special privileges with the admission fee being your childhood. More and more kids seem to be paying this admission willingly and turning away from childish things but looking at those parenting forums this really is just for show, they simply cannot hide the fact that they are still children and where they should feel proud of a wholly unique perspective on the world they instead feel the need to hide their nature and act like mini adults.

To those kids who apparently are living a double life please don’t hide your enjoyment of toys and play, there are tons of us who do it, trust me you’re in good company.

(Picture used above comes from http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/entertainment/film_and_cinema/s/2086262_walton_teens_lego_film_to_grace_us_festival an article about a young film maker that specialises in using lego)

Tuesday repost (comes early): ‘Gender in Toys’

I’ve got a computer in front of me so I thought why not just do the re-post today. I wrote this last June but given some of the feedback I got on the post about Barbie losing her make-up on Friday I thought this might fill in some gaps that hadn’t been discussed there. I’m not sure of the etiquette with a re-post but I’m a tinkerer so I’ll be doing a quick little edit of it too just to make sure I still agree with myself (if you know what I mean).

I recently read an article on the guardian’s web site by Charlie Brooker about the state of gender in the computer games industry (Brooker’s article). I have to admit I was less than impressed with the article itself as it failed to include anything about the portrayal of men but that’s besides the point, what it really started me thinking about was the more modern understanding of the way children ‘should’ play and what kinds of themes which we ‘should’ expose them to. Brooker’s article is a far cry from what this entry is all about, it just brought something to a head that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I’ve worked in toy shops since I was about fourteen and back then (about 1997) there was a bemused puzzlement about what we should call the previously tagged ‘boys’ toys’ and ‘girls’ toys’ throughout the industry. The problem was that despite sizeable evidence to the contrary (sales numbers and the personal experience of shopkeepers) we were being told that it was politically incorrect to market certain toys more towards one gender than the other. Sections in shops became harder to lay out in a way that wouldn’t offend but we tried and we received no complaints so we figured things were fine. Here at Fun Junction we don’t explicitly label any section as ‘boy’s’ or ‘girl’s’ toys: for example we have ‘pretend play’ (incorporating dolls, cooking and other domestic toys), ‘transport’ (cars, trains and tractors) and we have a section with a mixture of castles, farms dolls houses and pirate ships. It works well and we like to think it helps discourage marginalisation whilst making it easy for people to find what they’re after.

girl doctorbaby stella boyI think the main issue behind the move to removing gender labels from toys was (and often still is) the idea that if a girl plays with a doll she’ll end up with only one career goal open to her (mother). You can see a little of what I think to this notion here. Little was said about the kind of expectation that was associated with some ‘boy’s toys’ like giving a child an army man as an example of ‘true’ masculinity or the heady expectation put on every boy by a football. In my childhood I received a number of footballs and I admit I did play with them but with no more enthusiasm than my little sister did (actually, if I’m honest I think she was more enthusiastic about them). In this lack of interest, a boy is instantly pegged as wimpy or at best different to the other boys. I’m not particularly bitter about this, to get bitter would be somewhat odd considering that this social pegging made me the man I am today, lacking a sporty focus I needed an interest so I learned guitar, got interested in music  and had a blast of a time in my teens.

However, back when I first started working in toys (back in 1997) it confused me that so much importance was being placed on the expectations associated with ‘girls’ toys’ and that next to no one seemed bothered by the rampant gender stereotyping of ‘boy’s toys’. Since then I’ve had time to think it through and look at the issue with a critical eye, recognising the historical context of the time I grew up as a time that parents and teachers were being encouraged to broaden the horizons of young women. I can see how difficult it would have been to revolutionise gender stereotypes for boys at the same time but I can’t help but wonder whether we might be able to squeeze it in with this next generation. If you want to tell girls that they can have a career and a family then someone will have to take up the slack at home and who better than the dad (we can’t all have nannies)? If you want dads that act like that when they’re adults you’ll need them to be a bit domesticated when they’re wee boys, so we’ll need toys that do that. The trouble is, without effort being made to enable boys to feel comfortable with dolls etc. we don’t stand a hope of getting boys to play with the more domestic types of toy. On top of this is another tricky issue: is it in our nature to favour certain types of toy?

back of the netThe truth is that the numbers don’t lie, my lack of interest in football makes me an exception to a rule, just as the little girl who plays with monster trucks is also ‘different’. The problem isn’t the gender stereotyping: it’s the loaded term ‘different’ that got (and often still gets) parents worried. We don’t want our kids to be seen as ‘different’ as it makes us aware of the social exclusion and other treatments that such a label might bring upon them. So what are we as parents supposed to do?

Fighting against gender stereotyping is a battle no one is going to win since the gender roles perform their function so well but do we have to always mark the line between these roles by appeal to the individual’s gender? There are good arguments to suggest that stereotypes find backing in the harsh reality of biology. A couple of recent studies (Kahlenberg and Wrangham, Current Biology Vol 20 No 24 and Hassett, Siebert and Wallenof Hormones and Behavior, 54 (2008) 359–364) studying the behaviour of chimpanzees (both wild and captive) has found that males prefer kinds of play which are either mock-aggressive in nature or which incorporates mechanism, females on the other hand have a tendency to mock-nurse a child and engage in other rituals associated with motherhood. The mechanism focus for males and child focus for females was actually shown in an episode of the BBC’s ‘Bang goes the theory’ this time looking at monkey behaviour (even more evolutionarily different, yet still exhibiting the same trend), I’ll add a video at the bottom of this post. In short, it would appear that in terms of nature vs. nurture, nature seems to have a massive role to play in toy preference. I’m not claiming that we can’t escape our biology, but given that in us human beings there’s a prevalent cross cultural preference in toy choice (even the nurture is geared towards  gender roles), we can’t escape the sheer brunt of this fact. The truth is it will be a hard task unless we can open up a social niche for ‘different’ children that the general populace is comfortable with.

lego-friends-laboratory bigSo what is my stance on gender stereotyping in toys? Well it’s complicated: I’m all for blue buggies for wee boys and for girls who play with Lego (Lego friends being a good example) as they play a massive role in de-marginalising loads of kids. I’m happy to admit that crossing the boundaries pegs a child as different, this is unavoidable since children by necessity will cling to simpler more digestible concepts than adults. Nonetheless, what I think we do need are toys (like those listed above) for those on the fringes which are still able to allow children to feel comfortable in their own skin. This doesn’t mean making all toys gender neutral: it has a lot more to do with toy companies taking time and effort to provide toys for genders which they are less than familiar with. Lego has done a remarkable job in this respect: I was never a fan of their previous attempt (‘Lego belville’) which was basically just pink lego blocks and pleased no one. Their new offering has clearly had a far more careful treatment of their target audience, it incorporates the same level of building challenge which you find in the standard ‘Lego city’ sets but it also presents girls with an array of characters with jobs and lifestyles which can allow them to play what you might call ‘girly’ games (often any play with a social dynamic seems to get pegged as ‘girly’) whilst enjoying building blocks.

But where are the toys for the boy who wants to cross the line? Aside from the blue buggies and dolls for boys (which I have to admit only seem to target the preschooler age group) there doesn’t seem to be the same careful treatment. For example, a boy who has an interest in owning a fashion doll will have to make do with Ken (basically a male Barbie) or pass over any every day activities which a man might enjoy and go straight to war toys like Action Man and G.I. Joe (toys which, as I have been told by older customers, were themselves met with mistrust by fathers in the 60s and 70s) and, what’s more, if the original interest for the boy was fashion then a war toy is straying pretty far away from that.

Boys simply can’t break gender lines as easily without loosing something; in order to enjoy an activity which is stereotypically ‘girly’ they have to deal with the prospect of being seen as more ‘girly’ themselves. Girls now don’t have to make such sacrifices, they can enjoy ‘boys’ toys’ yet remain girls thanks to innovations like those released by Lego. What’s more the term ‘tom boy’ typically only seems to be used by grandparents now. They can take on more traditionally ‘masculine’ activities whilst remaining feminine. Sadly boys often are seen to lose their masculinity as soon as they start playing with more ‘girly’ toys.

Gender toys, domestic toysSurely if we want men and women to understand each other better we should start by allowing not just girls but boys too to make forays into the other camp without sacrificing their own sense of gender identity. In fact this seems the best means of making for a more pleasant relationship between the sexes in the future. I like being a man, I liked being a boy, at no point did I wish otherwise but I did like the look of some of the toys which my sister and my cousin played with, I just wanted the toys to be less pink, and more structured (maybe with some flashing lights and sound effects to boot). To be honest I think most girls would welcome an escape from the barrage of pink also. What’s more, whilst my interests included a lot of ‘boy’s toys’ like Lego, model kits, transformers etc. my lack of interest in sport and my enjoyment of more sedentary/cerebral (‘bookish’)  activities always pegged me as different. On top of this I had a great interest in more domestic activities and I was aware from a very early age that I wanted to be a dad so I liked playing with baby dolls, though I outgrew this as I progressed through primary school I still sewed little outfits for my wee sister’s dolls (you can see what I think about the importance of exposing all children to ‘domestic’ toys here).

So what is my opinion about gender stereotyping in toys. In short there should be ‘girl’s toys’ and ‘boy’s toys’ (the alternative is a world of very confused children: children need solid concepts) but this shouldn’t prevent some cross over and, most importantly, the room we allow for this kind of cross-play could mean that far less children (girls and boys) would feel marginalised by the toys with which they are presented, and importantly this could promote greater understanding between the sexes.

When you think back to your childhood were there any times you wished you could make forays into the other camp? Did you make the leap and if so how did you find it? Perhaps you never really noticed a distinction. Whatever your impression I’d love to hear it. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

As promised here’s the video from BBC’s ‘Bang goes the Theory’, start watching from 8:20 to see their take on the nature/nurture debate about gender:

Barbie takes off the warpaint

barbie no makeupApparently the above picture has been doing the rounds as a viral photo. I hadn’t seen it till today when I came across a whole selection of alternative images ‘by artist and researcher’ Nickolay Lamm in a Huff post article where famous dolls such as Cinderella and a Bratz doll had been given a similar treatment. So what is there to say about this, we could try and defend the made-up fashion dolls and point out that, since these dolls are ‘fashion dolls’, the level of make-up which appears on their faces is reflective of the kinds of things girls will expect from fashion. We can also site the fact that a lot of these girls will see their mothers slap on the war paint on a daily basis as society seems to have developed a dress code for women which includes a big pile of chemicals smooshed all over their face.

cinderella no make upBratz no make-upTheir mums, aware that they’ll be judged according to these pressures, will no doubt take care to keep up with the demands of society. If the girl sees their mum like this then she’ll expect a doll like Barbie, who is supposed to be an adult, to be similarly adorned and here is how we cement social pressure, expose a young girl to an unrealistic notion of how a woman should look on a day-to-day basis and just watch them take those pressures on board for herself.

Nickolay Lamm's version of a bare faced Barbie

Nickolay Lamm’s version of a bare faced Barbie

Maybe this depiction is unfair, make-up is a fairly standard part of everyday life for a large part of the female population. I’m also pretty sure there’s a large group of men who are envious of the fact that women have the luxury of covering up their blemishes and hiding their true health behind paint, whilst us ‘real men’ are socially obligated to bare our faces, warts and all,  to the world (OK rarely warts but you get my drift). There are powerful benefits to wearing make-up that will not be quickly abandoned by women (and I can understand why), however exposing a young girl to the notion that a woman will spend her entire life in make-up is unrealistic.

Are we supposed to believe that at a sleepover Barbie would take the time to put on her make-up before her friends turned up, or on a trip to the gym? Barbie’s permanent make-up certainly gives that impression and worse yet it hides the truth of make-up; it both takes time from your day to put it on and, in a best case scenario, it is also characteristic of your wishes. Make-up can be done artistically, beautifully concealing the fact that it’s even there, it can be done exhibitively in vampish or more exciting styles with an element of carnival flair, becoming more like artistic face painting than simply accentuating what’s there already.

Make-up can be an adventurous and personal demonstration of a woman’s personality, with this in mind I can even see how it could, in some cases, empower a woman and allow her to feel in control of the way she appears to the outside world. In cases like these it can be the face that she wants to show to the world. However, it can also often be the face that a woman feels that they have to show to the world, and the problem with Barbie is that by taking the prep out of the equation, by removing the processes of donning the make-up and choosing how it will look, the individuality element can be hard to argue for; Barbie has the same make-up on whether she’s off on a date with Ken (and don’t get me started on his make-up) or just lazing around the Barbie dream house with her friends, and it’s this that makes the make-up look like part of the routine, it makes it look necessary rather than a fun addition to an outfit.

Maybe for some women make-up really does feel like a necessity, I’ll also try and be be realistic here, societal pressure can be pretty heavy so in some cases I don’t doubt that it really is a necessity for some women’s lifestyles. With this in mind, Barbie’s permanent made-up appearance can translate (I won’t say must, but it certainly can translate) into a necessity to hide her face at all costs, and do we really want children to hear that message? “Your natural face is so unpleasant that from the moment you reach your teens you must wear face-paint at all times so that you can have a better one” Really!!? I think we can treat them better than that.


Groovy girls are available in both our Crieff and Perth shops

The fashion dolls we sell in our shops are called ‘Groovy Girls‘. They are plush dolls which are suitable for girls as young as three to play with and they don’t have permanent make-up. I will admit that their skin looks flawless (if a little fluffy, since they are plush toys) but for the vast majority of children flawless skin is kind of the norm. It’s only once we get our wonderful batch of hormones in our teens that the huge majority of us get to experience the joys of acne, boils and all manner of dermatological nasties. Despite their flawless skin the groovy girls are a big step away from Barbie, you can dress them up in outfits, yes, but the emphasis is solidly on the fun of fashion, the diversity of expression available through your choice of clothes. Perhaps this is because the groovy girls are just that; girls. With this in mind it may be unfair to compare the grown up woman that is Barbie with these younger counterparts with their flawless skin and lack of societal pressure. But this simply makes my point stronger, why does a fashion doll for girls have to be a woman?


Top model, make-up designer, available in our stores

Fashion is something for all, young girls can experiment with their clothes just as much (if not more so) than adults can. I understand that the fantasy of living an adult life through a doll like Barbie must be appealing to them, but if it is fantasy why taint it with a social obligation which they won’t actually feel the force of for a decade or so? Why not reach a compromise and allow girls to do Barbie’s make-up for her, they could use a wipe-off coloured pen or brush to have fun with make-up and then clean Barbie’s face back to some normal tones. This way we introduce girls to the fun that a woman can have with make-up, whilst emphasising the fact that getting that make-up on takes time and planning. It could be more realistic too: for example, why bother to do Barbie’s make-up when she’s just about to dive in the pool (bath)? It’ll just come off anyway so it would be a waste of time. Girls could gain experience in the time-consuming properties of make-up and hopefully learn that, if anything, make-up is for times that they want to wear it not for use all day every day.

As always thanks for reading, I’m getting more readers every day and I’m grateful for every one of you. Sorry for the long post today, I guess I got a bit wound up there but isn’t this worth getting wound up about? I have two boys, they will grow up in a different social niche than the little girls they play with but I’ll do my damnedest to make sure that they don’t expect women to be made up all the time, the flip side is that those with daughters should be doing the same. I won’t let my sons expect to go out with a walking Barbie doll (at least in Barbie’s current incarnation), and I’ll do my utmost to teach them about the qualities that make for an excellent partner: like beauty that isn’t painted on, a sense of humour and a healthy outlook on life. I’ll refrain from pointing at their mum too much, no boy wants that, but she’s pretty much my paradigm example of a fantastic and beautiful woman who doesn’t wear make-up all day every day (hey, I know she reads this occasionally, can you blame me for trying to score some brownie points every now and then?). This is something all parents need to tackle, not just those with girls, and while I completely understand the appeal of fashion dolls and will argue in their corner any day, do they really have to have the exact same make-up on all day every day? That just doesn’t sound very fashionable to me.

Grown ups and their toys get a venue

Gadget show live Toy NewsAs you can see from these posts I’m no stranger to discussions about adults who play with toys, and it’s hardly surprising that I’m all for it. In this post I thought I’d get chatting about the new ‘Toy Arena’ which sprung up at this years Gadget Show live event. Here is a perfect example of companies who are embracing the notion that those with bills to pay and jobs to go to (you know us ‘grown-ups’) may also fancy some diversion in our day and that we’re not willing to be limited to just watching some TV when we get home from work.

geekThere’s perhaps a tendency to view adults who play with toys as geeky loners who live in their parent’s attic/basement/garage but I’m not sure if this has ever been the case. I won’t pretend that I haven’t run into a few people that fit this description through the years but a great number of us adult players (does that work as a title for us?) are very different, both from this stereotype and from one another.

I suppose one thing we all have in common is a refusal to accept social rules which dictate the kinds of interests which are ‘appropriate’ for adults to enjoy. Here are three examples of people I know who are ‘adult players’ as I’m calling them: 1. Is a guy I’ve known for years who has a burgeoning collection of superhero Lego, he keeps much of this collection at his desk at work (he showed me a picture of it a while back which turned me a bit green with envy), he works in a fairly high up job, running a popular national web site, lives in London and is engaged to a very successful woman. 2. Is another guy I’ve known for a long time who has a number of petrol powered remote control cars in his garage, these things are alarmingly fast and are basically the kind of RC car that we dreamed of when we were kids, this guy is happily married with 2 kids and has a very demanding job which has him away from home for weeks at a time. 3. Is a twenty-something farm labourer who looks like a perfectly normal guy, he’s friendly and outgoing and seems happy to talk to anyone and this guy has an impressive collection of di-cast tractors. None of these guys is remotely close to the jobless, loner living with his parents that is stereotypically associated with adults who play with toys, though yes I will admit I’m hard pressed to think of an example of any women I know who do the same, but feel free to make yourself known in the comments and I’ll amend my list to include you.

RC heliThis brings me to the Gadget show live (or GSL, I’m lazy and just can’t keep writing the full name) event and it’s recognition of the need for a ‘toy arena’. Their official position is that the arena was included because of the growth of ‘techie toys’ but I can’t help but feel that if it wasn’t for an almost parallel area of market growth, these toys wouldn’t have been on show. The market for…and I have to be careful how I phrase this…toys for adults, is growing by the year and is including a far more varied demographic with each new incarnation. I couldn’t be happier to see this, and the idea that more adults are connecting with their inner child and feeding them with imagination and play can only benefit us all in the long run.

My support for this isn’t simply rooted in the obvious fact that I work in a toy shop and so benefit from increased toy sales. Since childhood is often seen as the seat of many of our psychological problems it seems intuitive to me that an occasional revisit to childhood through play which promotes positive connotations, comfort and pleasant experiences, can only help, as it allows us to feed that inner child with experiences which promote a better self-image and could help people to heal past wounds. Play therapy is being used by many psychologists and other therapists to help with these kinds of thing and it seems as though people like me have been unwittingly self-prescribing for years.

Gadget show live Toy News Holografx John CraneSome of the toys which were shown at the GSL event were fairly run of the mill such as remote control cars and helicopters. However, there seem to have been a few surprises too including a cool little dancing robot and a holographic magic show. I’m particularly excited about the magic show as it’s made by John Adams, a company which we deal with in the shop, so I may get a chance to play with one sometime later this year.

To all you adult players out there (yeh, that title doesn’t sound right, I’ll need to give this some thought) what is your particular favourite toy? Also importantly are there any women out there who collect these kind of things? (and I’m not meaning simply mums who play with her kids toys, I’m meaning people who go out of their way to purchase a toy which caters to their own interests) Another thing I’m wondering is whether buying toys and playing with them can be used as a status symbol (viz. ‘I’m an adult who has time and money to spare on toys’), any thoughts? Another blogger just reminded me that you can share posts on facebook, twitter etc. just by hitting one of those buttons below, if you feel like doing that then you’ll be making my day just that little bit happier, so I’ll thank you in advance.

Once again thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with a video of John Adams’ ‘HolograFX’, really hoping we get a chance to try this out in the shop (thanks to Alan Advancedflea for uploading it to youtube). I would also like to credit ‘Toy News’ for the images of GSL that I’ve used in this post, you can find the originals here:

(repost) The most visited castle in all the land

I’ve noticed that I don’t have much of a chance to write anything at the start of each week so I thought I’d start a ‘repost Tuesday’ if that’s OK with my readers. This week I thought I’d revisit a post about a toy that turned into a real favourite in our house. Melissa and Doug’s ‘Fold and Go Castle’:

As promised in my last post I’ll be concentrating on a particular toy today: Melissa and Doug’s fold and go castle. Logan got this as a present from Santa when he was two (Christmas of 2010) and as soon as it was opened every other present lost its appeal. This was particularly unusual because up till that point Logan had rarely fixated on a particular toy, he had been more of a hoverer when it came to playing (jigsaws and Manny and Diego excepted). We generally open presents in the morning, have some lunch with my parents and then go visit his other Granny and Grampa for Christmas dinner and this particular year the castle came too.

We had to open his other presents for him, he was so engrossed, and to be honest is was the better part of a week before he played with anything else. Even then the other toys were incorporated into his castle so that we had T-Rex attacks, a visit from a mammoth, a sabre toothed tiger (and their friend the sloth), the inhabitants of the castle even got to know their neighbours (some anthropomorphic animals that lived in a pink doll house we got in a charity shop). Sometimes there would be an attack from a giant Winnie-the-pooh teddy bear and the king and queen were kidnapped at regular intervals by a whole array of different baddies.

Logan isn’t particularly soft on his toys (but he can be careful if he knows something is fragile) and that much play can’t go on forever without some wear and tear, but then this is where the really important quality of wooden toys comes into play: they can be fixed. After well over a year of play some of the furniture started to break, a bit of wood glue, a night to dry and we were back in business (a plastic alternative would have had to go in the bin). The castle itself got a crack, again wood glue and everything sorted. We’ve never had to replace any parts, we’ve only had to stick things back together, the castle has even gone flying down the stairs a couple of times and still it comes up fighting.

The characters inside have never needed repaired (though they have occasionally gone awol for a few weeks) and they still feature in games that Logan (and his wee brother Alexander) play now. Last week the castle broke again (a crack along the hinge), I’m out of wood glue but as soon as I have some more it’ll be back in play.

People point out that wooden toys are more robust but that’s not the whole story: unlike their plastic counterparts wooden toys can be fixed time and time again, even if a piece is damaged beyond repair replacing it is as simple as getting a piece of wood the right size and shape and sticking it on (maybe with a bit of paint if needed). The plastic toys which we encounter every day are great at what they do, and some really are near-on indestructible  (e.g. Lego, Wow toys, Playmobil), but wooden toys give you extra piece of mind. If something becomes a favourite and is played with to destruction it can be as simple as administering some glue and the ‘destruction’ is counteracted. Wooden toys aren’t just more robust they’re practically immortal.

Events this fortnight

ben-lawersApologies to anyone who is reading this from further afield, I’m doing something a bit different in this post, not really chatting about toys as you can see. We hear about all kinds of different events that families are going to from conversations in the shop and I’m yet to see somewhere that mentions all these local events in one place so I thought I’d pop as many as I can down here. This is a list of events in and around Perthshire covering roughly the next two or three weeks, hope it helps someone out.

1st-12th April ‘Discovery Zone & Nature Crafts’ at RSPB Loch Leven Centre, Loch Leven Reserve, Kinross Perth Kinross KY13 9LX “Escape from the cold and drop into the ‘Hive’ to discover and get creative! Explore fascinating nature finds at the discovery tables – find out what an owl has been eating by looking at the bones in the owl pellets, have a look at a wasps nest, check out skulls & feathers, and peer through the microscopes! Get creative in the craft corner, turning recycled materials into easter animals or making bird feeders! Drop in event, no need to book. All children must be accompanied by an adult. NOT on Sunday 7th April 10am – 4.30pm” Cost: Free Telephone: 01577 862355

2nd April till the 12th Budding footballers (boys and girls) of 5-16 years can get a wee bit of training from SFA coaches for £5 a session (drop in, no booking required) at various sites around the area (we’ve missed the Strathearn Community campus one already), head along here for more information.

6th April Perth Farmers Market

7th AprilSwim, bubble and splash: Storytelling & Pond Dipping’ at RSPB Loch Leven Centre, Loch Leven Reserve, Kinross Perth Kinross KY13 9LX: “Gather round in our woodland den and join local storyteller Claire Milne as she leads us on a magical trip, diving underwater to find out about the secret lives of the slippery creatures of the pond! Claire’s interactive story session will be followed by a pond dip to see if we can meet some of the creatures from our story. This is an outdoor event, so please wrap up warm and waterproofed! All children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult. ” Time: 2 – 3.15pm Cost: RSPB members – £2, non members £4 Telephone: 01577 862355

8th April ‘Explore the world of Peter Rabbit’ storytelling and activity session for 3-9 year olds, 2.45 – 3.30pm in Loch Leven Community Library (free to attend)

8-12th April There’s the ‘Adventure festival lite’ where you can participate in Climbing (8th), Kayaking (9th), Coasteering (10th), Canyoning (11th) and White water rafting (12th)  (cost £30 per person, from 8 years and up, at Balhousie Primary School in Perth at 9am to return to the same location at4pm, minibus transport is provided), contact the Outdoor Education team at outdooreducation@pkc.gov.uk or call 01738 472236 full details here.

8th-12th April There’s the ‘Easter Dance Camp’ at The North Inch Community Campus in Perth, for high school age children, each day at 10am-4pm. Please note that they seem to require payment by cheque in the post so it may be hard to set up bookings. More information can be found here and the application form is available here.

10th and 12th April More Easter fun down at Macrosty Park see this link for details.

12th April Family Bushcraft Challenge at RSPB Loch Leven Centre, Loch Leven Reserve, Kinross Perth Kinross KY13 9LX: “Take your family into the wilds this half term, get close to nature & have some fun with our exciting bushcraft challenge.” Time: 1 – 4pm Cost: RSPB members – Adults £7, Child £3; non members – Adults £15, Child £6 Telephone: 01577 862355

12th April Fun day and craft fair Fri 10am – 3pm Oakbank Community Centre, Perth. Outside and inside craft stalls, balloon modelling, face painting etc in aid of the National Childbirth Trust Perth

12th April curtsey of Crieff Primary Parents Page “If anyone is looking for holiday entertainment there is a magic show in Muthill village hall 6.30pm Friday. You can get tickets at birdhouse bakery. £4 adult and £2 for kids or £10 family ticket. I am looking forward to it :0)”

13th April Crieff Country Market

14th April the Scottish Model Engineering Trust (http://www.smet.org.uk/) is hosting their open day on Sunday the 14th (mini railway rides) a few miles outside Methven, the web site list Trevor Goody (the membership secretary) as someone you can contact by phone on 01738 812479

20th and 21st of April You can join in with the Sports showcase weekend, hosted at many sites around the area. “Whether it’s as a spectator, player, parent or aspiring coach the sports clubs of Perth and Kinross definitely have something to offer you.” head along here for more information.

23rd April At Perth Theatre/Horsecross ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark’ shows are at 10:30am, 1:30pm and 4:30pm Adapted for the stage by Lynn Robertson Hay, with music and lyrics by Frank Goodhind. Directed and designed by Bill Davies. ‘Based on the classic children’s book by Jill Tomlinson, this funny, gentle and reassuring tale is written especially for small people aged 3 – 7 (and grown-ups who sleep with the light on).’ for more information or to book tickets, go here.

28th April ‘Annual Celtic Food & Drink Festival’ at the Scottish Crannog Centre 11-4:30pm Discover Iron Age cooking including claybaked and smoking fish, spit cooked meat, crannog stews, locally foraged greens, breads and spreads, and themed beverages. Pop along here for more information.

Throughout the summer/year Perth and Kinross Cycling Summer is an event with loads of scheduled cycling events throughout the year, some set up for children to join, I don’t know any dates, times or loacations for this and I’ve only put it here as I came across it while browsing the web for events. Apparently you can get more information about times and locations by calling the Perth & Kinross Council Sustainable Transport Officer on 01738 476515

OK that’s as much as I can find at the moment, let me know if you come across anything else that’s happening and I’ll add it to the list, there’s more on than I thought, Cheers, John

Ever had a good idea for a toy? Now you can crowd fund your way to make it happen

Could crowd funding herald the the future of toys?

Could crowd funding herald the the future of toys?

My dad made toys when I was wee (I haven’t posted about that before and I will at some point). As a result I had access to some brilliant wooden toys that were loads of fun and really durable. Among the many kinds of toy he put together he made dolls houses (if I remember right he even themed them to the child’s actual house), farms, ride on toys, outdoor play equipment and little curiosity toys made with wood and string. His stuff was great and I still have my farm and one or two of the little curiosity toys which my sons now play with regularly. The sad thing was that my dad’s business, like so many back in the 80s, had a lot of trouble getting up and running. Possibly his biggest hurdle was that his toys couldn’t be sold as toys because they weren’t CE marked, from what I can gather there was a fairly hefty cost involved in getting products tested and without this mark my dad couldn’t sell his toys to toy shops. There are so many little extras that a company needs to get dealt with before they can get going that it makes you wonder just how many companies could get going if they had some means of gaining capital for their venture up front. Well thanks to this  socially immersive internet age that (for better or worse) we all belong to this up front capital is slowly becoming a possibility.

jumpoff-logoI’m a huge fan of crowd funding, this is where a business idea is pitched on a web site and a distributed group of  ‘backers’ provide capital for the fledgling business that most appeals to them. These sites are also often used as a means of helping a business get back on its feet after a fall (e.g. fire damage to premises). As I said I love the whole concept of this, doing away with bankers etc. and gaining the money you need directly from the people who want or use your product/service.

I typically spend about £5-£10 a month throwing small donations at various start up businesses etc. (this is the same amount I used to spend on lottery tickets, got sick of wasting money and despite the ‘charitable causes’ line that the lottery runs I thought I’d give my money directly to to someone who needs it). This isn’t a large amount of money but a lot of people do the same thing as me so the vast majority of the new ventures I support get themselves going. I’m always amazed at how quickly people seem to get themselves up and running (or in some cases back up and running) through this route. This brings me to ‘Jump Off‘, this is a new crowd funding site dedicated to ventures relating to kids (toys, games, etc. etc.). They just started a month or two ago so their site isn’t exactly heaving with ventures to fund (in fact when I checked the site today there wasn’t a single product or business to be funded). However, as with any social media product it is likely to take a while for them to pick up pace as word of mouth brings them to public attention.

made in the UKThis is part of what I’m up to today (just trying to raise awareness through all those who are good enough to pop by and read my blog) but also I want to point out to any potential toy producer, who considers using ‘Jump Off‘, just how much the toy industry needs shaken up. Every year we see innovations in toys, many of these are disappointingly just re-workings of old standards but some of them are genuinely intriguing. I should also point out that a truly innovative step which someone could take could be as simple as to actually manufacture their product in the UK, since barely any toy brands manufacture here any more, and we do get asked for ‘made in the UK’ and ‘made in Scotland’ toys a fair bit. Sadly for some reason too many of these truly unique toys seem to just disappear and I can’t help but wonder it a site like ‘Jump Off‘ could provide the needed capital for these companies to go the distance, either helping them with advertising or even with fundamentals like CE safety testing.

So here’s the thing, if you have a toy idea (or any idea to do with kids) that you have always wanted to try and get going there is potentially some financial aid at hand from people like me at a site like Jump Off. Speaking as a toy retailer I’m genuinely excited at the notion of anything different and you can pretty much guarantee you’ll be able to get good visibility on the site if you sign up today. There is literally nothing stopping you from going there right now and pitching your idea. What’s more if you can find a way of manufacturing it in the UK you’ve got an instant selling point working for you.

I’ll be the first to defend the toys we sell in our shop, we pick them out carefully and we try our best to maintain quality levels in the toys we sell (though I should point out that this relies on those customers who have the gumption to come in and tell us if something is wrong with a toy they bought from us). However, the child in me is always looking for something new and often (though I should stress not always) toy companies play it safe. This is especially evident in this current financial climate where most companies are attempting to provide product on a budget and so innovation gets kind of left to one side.

play moneyThis is the reason that a recession is supposedly the time to start a new company: while all of the other companies dig their heels in to weather the storm with products that worked in years gone by, a new company can look like a shining beacon of something new and interesting, something that might catch a customer’s attention and bring sales to retailers who are also weathering the storm themselves. However, the down side for a new business in a recession is that business loans and other means of raising capital to start up these innovative new companies are hard to come by. Well that doesn’t have to be a problem any more, you don’t need to pitch your idea to a bank manager who doesn’t know the first thing about the toy industry, now you can just ask us who are part of the toy industry for the money, and trust me we’d love to see what you have to offer. I should also point out that there will also be countless parents out there who, like myself, are always on the look out for something new and interesting. So please please have a go, if you do I promise I’ll try and promote your ‘Jump Off’ funding page as much as I can on here.

Do you have a toy/game idea that’s been burning in your mind for years? Do you have a small UK based toy making business that you want to build into a manufacturing business? I’m always on the lookout for something interesting or new so please post a comment bellow. Once again thanks for reading, Cheers, John