Boys just don’t sit!

020920131304If you have a son/sons then you’re apparently in for some difficulty because boys are just not able to sit still long enough to do anything constructive/productive. It would seem that around a decade ago, somewhere in the world, someone sat down and decided that boys are incapable of sitting still. I’m not sure of the reasoning, perhaps they thought that testosterone prevents the brains of the males of our species from focussing on one thing for longer than 5 seconds…

boomOooh what was that? cool…explosions…

Anyway what was I saying, oh yeh, boys are the goldfish of the human world, fleeting from one thing to the next brimming with energy and the need to fight. At least that’s what seems to have become the perspective of a fairly vocal minority. The funny thing is though that traditionally ‘boyish’ toys like Meccano, Lego, Airfix etc. are particularly demanding both on one’s ability to focus and on one’s patience.

centepede, comando etc etcI’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve heard say ‘Oh he just won’t sit’ and it saddens me to think that so many wee boys are missing out on the entertainment of crafts and construction (not to mention the handy skill-set they contribute to as well). What’s more the consensus seems to be that boys of eight years and up are only interested in computer games. I’ll agree that if the games available now had been around when I was a kid you’d have had a hard time pulling me away from them. The thing is though I was pretty hooked on games and TV myself as a kid but the difference was that we only had one TV in the house. Kids TV only lasted a couple of hours after school and a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday morning. On top of that I had to be really good if I wanted to hook my wee Atari 2600 up to the TV (that or I had to challenge my dad to a game).

Because of this I needed to find other ways to occupy myself and so I delved into my box of Lego and Meccano and got building, once I got started you wouldn’t see me for hours. I wonder if this is the problem now, because kids are so accustomed to getting the entertainment they want when they want it, they have genuine problems when trying to occupy themselves outside of that environment. Add to this children’s (all children’s) built-in need to expend energy and the room left for more mellow pursuits seems quite small.

Big-MacThis is where parents come in. I will make a point of not blaming parents for this state of affairs, because I really don’t think there is any blame to be had. Right now, unlike any time in history, our access to leisure, diversion and entertainment arguably requires less effort/money than our access to food. In a world like this we need to be careful to vary our ‘entertainment diet’ or we risk mental obesity: that is, if our children grow up without the capacity to shut off from technology and do something different, pretty soon the only way they’ll be able to think will be in terms of entertainment technology.

A varied life is a¬†fulfilling one and though parents have never had to do this before we are now in a position where we have to think seriously about harbouring a peculiar ability in our children; the ability to entertain themselves. Not with a tablet, a PC or some other passive entertainment media, but with something solid in the world. If they can’t connect to the physical world around them there is a danger that soon the only world they’ll know will be digital.

Having your level 49 Paladin killed in an online game shouldn’t get the same response as the loss of a pet. The physical world didn’t cease to be when the internet was invented and we should be wary of letting our kids disappear into the web. I love the internet, I love the artistic freedom it has produced and I’m a big fan of the diversion you can get from gaming, TV catch-up facilities, and all the other wonders it has to offer, but with anything this good there has to be a down side and the down side is clear: There is a genuine possibility for a child to find their virtual life more fulfilling than their life in the physical world. It is our job as parents (a new job I might add) to ensure that this doesn’t happen and that every now and then our kids get the chance to interact with something which doesn’t only exist behind a screen.

Just as our parents had to struggle to find the balance between ‘junk’ and more ‘wholesome’ food, we now have to consider ways of helping our kids to enjoy both easy and more involved forms of entertainment. How do we do that? I hear you ask, well you tell me. My eldest is still only five years old, I’m at least a couple of years away from the digital conflict. Perhaps you have some war stories to share.

Sorry for the long post, I shouldn’t wait so long between postings, it seems to produce a backlog of ideas. As always thank you for reading and feel free to share your opinion on either the attention span of boys, or on the role of digital entertainment below, Cheers, John

Fun with lasers

image

What could make sitting playing puzzles more fun? You guessed it, lasers! Today I added a new product to the Fun Junction web site; ‘Laser maze‘ by Thinkfun. Thinkfun’s puzzles are normally challenging and entertaining but this one stands out as something more. You line up the pieces on the card then you have to figure out how to place other pieces (mirror, beam-splitter, etc.) can be used to direct the laser beam to the target.

I honestly can’t wait to have a go, I definitely know what I’m nominating for the next Fun Junction games night. That said I’m not sure when our next games night will be, the Perth shop has a pretty major leak just now and of course we’re getting ready for Christmas too. I’ll keep you posted.

On a side note, work has started on my book on philosophy and toys, now a couple of chapters in, mainly about the underappreciated role that toys play in shaping who we become. I’d love to hear about your own experiences, if you have anything to share feel free to leave a message below. Just a short wee post today, as always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

How to play

Giraffe eating a dinosaur

Puppets are a great way to stimulate pretend play, pop over here to have a look at some of the puppets stocked by Fun Junction.

This sounds like a bit of a ridiculous question but can you remember how to play? Strange as it sounds I’ve heard of adults who have genuinely lost the ability and there also seem to be a great number of parents who struggle with certain types of play. One of the key difficulties seems to arise during what we might call ‘pretend play’. The primary worry I hear is that there is a feeling of obligation that you, as the parent, will be expected to plan out a whole story and create a host of characters out of the toy figures in front of you. This is an intimidating prospect, especially where playtime comes at the end of the day when your mind is dulled after a day at work, or a day filled with housework and running the kids around to meet their busy social calendar (our kids always seem to have better social lives than we do).

Fortunately this isn’t really what’s involved in pretend play. I’m sure your kids would love it if you mapped out a whole story for them and then played it out before their eyes with a vibrant array of exceptionally voiced characters (who wouldn’t?!). To be honest though, that’s not playing, that’s more like a high-end puppet show. Scale it back, and remember how you used to play, but if that fails here are some tips:

  • Go to my previous post ‘5 hints for telling a good story‘ some of this is specific to reading but the explanations of how to change your voice and animate character traits should be useful.
  • If you genuinely struggle with pretend play then DON’T, and I’ll repeat DON’T, use a character they know from TV/films. Doing this will result in one of two things: EITHER you’ll crack it and perform that character flawlessly (or at least well enough for your kid to be happy with it) OR you’ll be terrible and your kid will just laugh at your attempts, disrupting play and bruising your confidence. If you crack it then there’s a strong chance that that is the only character your child will let you play as and this will get tedious fast (this character could also become a crutch, limiting you from enjoying all the fun that pretend play has to offer). Neither of these outcomes is particularly great.
  • Pick one or two character toys to play with and give them a character ‘quirk’. Don’t make them a ‘baddie’ or a ‘goodie’, of course that’s what kids often do but as an adult you can bring something different into the mix. Here’s an example, try a character who thinks everything they are presented with is edible. Your child will likely find it hilarious as they chase after the character trying to explain that they shouldn’t eat a cushion/a sock/ the TV/ someone’s hair.
  • Allow your character to develop. Even if you’re only playing for ten minutes or so you’ll find an easy ‘plot point’ in allowing your character to change their mind about something. If you need it, the development can be also used as a means of setting a time limit. Using the example above, the character could come to realise that not everything is edible as dinner time approaches (‘OK, OK, so I can’t eat your shoe but can I eat whatever it is that’s making that lovely smell?’ ‘Yes, that’s dinner!’ ‘Great let’s eat dinner!’).
  • Finally have fun, have as much fun as you can. They’ll only be playing like this for so long. Also, to keep things interesting, try occasionally throwing in some behaviour that breaks the status quo, this should help your child to think on their feet and it can lead to much more entertaining playtimes as well.

I’m always interested to hear how other parents play so feel free to pop a comment below and tell me about your own experiences. Hope these wee tips help someone out there. As always, thanks for reading and if there’s anything else you’d like me to post about please get in touch, Cheers, John