Warhammer-battle-marchYep we’re looking into stocking the fantastically epic tabletop war game Warhammer. If you’ve heard of Warhammer you can probably skip the next paragraph or so but if you haven’t (or want to know a bit more) then read on. Warhammer is a tabletop fantasy battle game played with soldiers which are made, painted and customised by the player. The game comes in two main varieties (thought there are a number of sub-games as well), these are Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 (better known as 40K, set far in Warhammer’s future). Players roll dice to decide on movements across the gaming surface and have access to a host of special moves and behaviours based on the race of their soldiers.

When I say ‘race’ we’re talking more in terms of species, as the primary groups in the Warhammer universe are very different from one another, they include humans, elves, orcs and, depending on whether you’re playing 40k or original there are a host of other species and breakaway groups which you can play as.

chaosI won’t try and explain more here as there is a vast online community based around the game which can provide you with much more accurate explanations regarding the specifics of the game. What I will say is it’s a great game to play with friends, it’s necessarily social in nature whilst incorporating a lot of the elements which kids enjoy about computer games. I played for a short while as a teenager (my figures were all from the ‘Chaos legion’ group) and thoroughly enjoyed customising my figures and meeting up with friends to play battles. I can’t say I was particularly good at the game but it was a good laugh and was a great excuse to file into a room with your mates, eat junk food and generally have fun (without a screen of any kind in sight) for a few hours.

I think this is the main pro to take away from this game. It has a reputation for geekiness and definitely appeals to a certain group of kids but at the heart of it it gives kids a chance to enjoy each others company and it stretches out the age of play (I’ve discussed a few times the fact that kids seem to be giving up on play at an ever-younger age). I genuinely can’t think of a better way for children who perhaps don’t really enjoy team sports, or who are maybe a little introverted, to focus their energies into a big group activity like this, where there’s still a strong element of face-to-face contact. What’s more in larger battles there is the opportunity for real world team playing and group strategy.

White-Dwarf-Jan-2014I’m currently more than a decade out of date with the goings-on of the world of Warhammer. Games Workshop (the company behind the game) publishes a magazine called White Dwarf (which we’ll also be stocking) which describes the changes in gameplay etc. so I know what I’ll be up to soon. As I said at the start of this post, we’re currently just looking into stocking the game so if anyone has anything they’d like to share about Warhammer (and whether you think it’s a good idea for the shop) I’d love to hear from you whether you have positive or negative things to say. On our end we feel quite positive about it though and we hope you guys will be too.

Winnie the Pooh day

180120141680Happy ‘Winnie the Pooh Day’! These kinds of holidays often seem to be plucked out of thin air but this one is actually due to the fact that today is AA Milne’s birthday. Because of this I don’t feel quite as bad about making a post out of what, at first, appears to be yet another nonsense ‘holiday’. Winnie the Pooh spans generations and thanks to Disney’s long running depiction we’re now at a stage where Grandparents, Parents and Children alike all typically picture the little yellow guy, we see in the picture above, when they’re asked to think of Winnie The Pooh. (Remember, if you fancy trying your hand at some character voices from the hundred acre voices you can pop along to my post here for some pointers.)

from collectingcollectables.comOne of my mum’s favourite toys as a child was her Winnie the Pooh slide projector, which she passed on to me when I was old enough to use it. Simple as it was, it was a great and diverting wee toy which projected scenes from Disney’s original  Winnie The Pooh movies onto the wall with captions so that you could follow the story. I’ve a feeling that it was sadly lost in a house move when I was about 7 but I still remember it as being brilliant fun. It was apparently very durable to, aside from Lego, Playmobil, and perhaps a handful of other brands, plastic toys don’t often last long enough to pass on to the next generation.

Both of my kids were dressed in the ever-present sets of Winnie The Pooh baby clothes when they were babies (in fact both of them came home from the hospital wearing a Winnie The Pooh character). Some might see this as over-commercialisation of a beloved character but I love the characters and their underlying notion that, despite vastly different personality types, a group of individuals can still find a way to get on with one another.

We see the gruff and bossy rabbit clash with the mellow ‘laissez faire’ attitude of Pooh bear, or piglet’s crippling fearfulness juxtaposed with Tigger’s excitement, flamboyancy and zest for life. Not to mention the bookish, rambling, often wildly uninformed, ‘expertise’ of Owl and the lovable sad-sack Eeyore. Joined later on by Kanga and Roo, a single mother and her child adopted into the wider family of the hundred acre wood.

the real winnie the pooh

These are the ‘real’ Winnie the Pooh and his friends, owned by Christopher Robin Milne. For the origins of these characters follow this link

Disney’s depiction of these characters is often critically compared with the original but when you look at some of the original stories you see that some less-than-lovable traits have been edited out by Disney. For a good example lets look at chapter 7 of ‘Winnie The Pooh’ (Milne’s first book dedicated to the hundred acre wood), which is sub-titled ‘…in which Kanga and Baby Roo come to the forest, and Piglet has a bath’. Frightened at the prospect of newcomers to the wood, Pooh and the gang formulate a plan to scare Kanga and Roo off by kidnapping Roo and replacing him with piglet in order to bribe Kanga into agreeing to leave. “We’ll tell you where Baby Roo is, if you promise to go away from the Forest and never come back.” (really friendly huh?!)

The story has a happy ending (of sorts) with Kanga treating Piglet as though he’s Roo, until Christopher Robin turns up and mistakes the uncharacteristically clean Piglet for a newcomer to the woods. The general gist of the ending is that everything gets sorted out, Roo gets back to his mum and they’re all friends in the end. If you compare it to some of Disney’s own stories, you start to see that, in terms of the overall message, not much has been lost from the original apart from some slightly less savoury behaviours from the gang. (NB Disney has made at least a couple of versions of this story which was shown, amongst other places, in their ‘Mini adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ series, but the kidnapping plot absent, instead replaced by the gang helping Roo to avoid bath time, and the emphasis was on the humour of Piglet’s bath). At the bottom of this post you’ll find two versions I’ve tracked down on youtube:

Which version of Winnie the Pooh do you have the most fond memories of? Do you think Pooh bear and his friends have become over commercialised or do you like them just the way they are? As always I welcome comments both here in the comments box below and over on twitter. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

Parenting without toys

cake mould on his headThis might seem a strange one a for a ‘toy shop guy’ to talk about but bear with me. I recently came across this Daily Mail article, about a school of parenting called Resources for Infant Educarers (or RIE), the reporter (Margot Peppers) describes this as the ‘latest trend’ in parenting, despite the fact that it’s been around since the 70s. RIE encourages parents to dispense with ‘helicopter parenting’ and stand back to allow their children to develop in their own way. Peppers describes RIE as advocating “…treating babies and children like adults”, she also describes ‘orthodox’ RIE practitioners who ‘ban’ things such as as “…baby bouncers, sippy cups and high chairs… rattles, pacifiers, baby talk and toys” (my emphasis).

I think the content on the Daily Mail article has been a bit sensationalised (pulling sombre/sad pictures up of kids brought up in a RIE environment) so no surprise there. However, even if there’s an element of truth I’m confused as to what kind of treatment RIE are advocating. What degree of autonomy is expected, how can you treat someone ‘like an adult’ when their brain is literally undeveloped? At what age do you introduce certain mundane activities, and, when you do so, do you leave them to figure out how to wash dishes/bathe/prepare food, etc. on their own?

Some of the RIE approach sounds sensible, modern kids are often cocooned from the world outside so perhaps making a child more aware of reality, and they way they fit into that, isn’t a bad thing but surely a line must be drawn in regards to what a child can understand about the world.

turkey dinosaurs in meteor showerLogan (my son) has a growing understanding of death and this is starting to tie in with his love of animals. This can really hit home when it comes to meat. He obviously has lots of questions about meat and where it comes from, he’s 5 (will soon be 6), and though I’d be reluctant, I’d be happy to produce a vegetarian diet for him if he asked. The thing is though, he is currently capable of a form of irrationality only possible for children: his world-view is in a very early stage. As a result conflicts between a love of animals and a love of bolagnese don’t get flagged as a problem. Typically I make bolagnese with beef (which Logan loves), though I do make a veggie version with courgettes and mushrooms, which he’ll eat sometimes, but he’s not a big fan.

This is often/typically not the way adults think, we assume less from the world (we’re more cynical), we accept less contradiction (though we’re still not perfect) and we are more able to enforce willpower over ourselves (especially in regards to principles and ideals we hold dear). As I said, Logan has been offered veggie alternatives and though he will eat them, and despite his love of animals, this conflict doesn’t cause him the same kind of discomfort which it might in an adult. Logan won’t compromise taste for something higher. I have my own reasoning behind being a meat-eater, which I won’t be spelling out here, but suffice to say as a parent I won’t force my child to solidify his beliefs at such an early stage. It takes a childhood, and quite a bit more, to even develop the most basic world-view and supporting set of principles. I just don’t see the sense in asking a child to be a ‘mini-adult’ prior to their developing this awareness, I’m not even sure if the word ‘adult’ is applicable here.

rie.logo.color.tagThis said I’ll confess that so far I’ve made a straw man of RIE. They don’t, in fact, discourage play and they even display a host of toys on their web site, the difference is the type of engagement they intend for children: “The rule is: passive play object/active child” (quoting a ‘Yahoo voices’ interview with Deborah Carlisle Solomon, author of ‘Baby Knows Best’). So the key difference (when it comes to toys) is that they try to keep the play object simple in order to encourage more imaginative engagement. It’s hard to fault this kind of thinking, though I would point out that what I would call ‘out-of-this-world’ imaginative play takes a bit of help (both from more active parental involvement and more dynamic play objects). As I’ve pointed out before sometimes playing with your kids can expose them to ideas about the world, and about people, that they would be unlikely to come up with/encounter on their own. I’m not sure what RIE practitioners would think of my take on the (occasional) need for a toy that takes a child outside the mundane, if only to expose them to new ideas/concepts. I’d be interested to get some responses (pop a comment below).

As to the ‘mini-adult’ take, (note I can’t find the term ‘mini adult’ anywhere on the RIE web site) I think there a few different ways that this can be interpreted. On one hand it could be about equal respect/personhood; something like the need to recognise your child as an individual person with their own capacities, likes/dislikes and dispositions. I can easily get on board with this, it makes for a healthy relationship when your kids feel that you can take them (and their opinions) seriously (even if you disagree with them, the disagreement itself can be taken as acknowledgement, so long as it’s not simply outright dismissal). To be honest I’m inclined to think that this is what RIE advocates.

The other possibility (hinted at on the Daily Mail article) is that children just are mini-adults; this position might hold that, although certain skills and capacities are in a fledgling state in childhood, children should nonetheless be seen as autonomous individuals making their way through the world who should be free to make their own mistakes. However, the whole point of childhood is to learn from those around you and a big part of that is learning from their mistakes so that you don’t have to, it’s a stage of development which is either minimised or none existent in other animals.

301220131670Regardless of which perspective we take, the importance placed on personal exploration and discovery in each of these understandings of childhood is clear and this is what I think jars with many people when looking at this kind of attitude towards children. The need to learn from others’ mistakes is built into human culture, in this regard we could be doing our children a disservice by not exposing them to our mistakes (i.e. taking them away from their own explorations to point out our discoveries). Perhaps it sounds like a lazy way to get to know about the world but it’s also streamlined, and often a lot more efficient, than trying to do it yourself: e.g. when you’re first learning to cook you could just improvise, taking a great deal of time to see which flavours combine well, alternatively you could simply consult recipe books and, once you have an understanding of the basics, you could begin to add your own flair.

There’s a good argument for the kind of self-sufficient perspective on the world advocated by this kind of perspective on ‘mini adults’ (after all the flavour-tinkering budding chef could end up revolutionising the way food is prepared) but I’d rather teach my sons about my mistakes so that they at least have the option to learn from them, to do otherwise seems somewhat unfair; like I’m holding back important information that they could use.

So lets take this talk back to play and toys (though we’ll get there in a round-about way). The world is changing at a ridiculous rate, as I pointed out a while ago machines and technology and the free exchange of information are demanding new skill-sets of the coming generations: e.g. keeping your identity safe, how to present yourself online and how to deal with the fact that a lot of your life will be public record. Getting in early on to provide your child with a good grasp of the basic life skills and concepts that lie out-with this strange new world can allow them to pay closer attention to this new skill-set. Certain types of toy will familiarise your child with the technology which will play such a prevalent role in their adult life and with the kind of attitudes that they may need to adopt in this new environment.

301220131674Two types of toy will help here, neither of which are particularly ‘simple’ in nature. The first (and most obvious) will be technology toys; getting accustomed to buttons and user interfaces at a young age is (sadly) a necessity now. However, it needn’t take over a child’s life and this is where the second kind of toy stands out: pretend play. By ‘pretend play’ I refer to the kind of toys which let a child explore who they are and who they want to be, these kinds of toy are very broad ranging, including (and definitely not limited to) dolls (for both boys and girls), dress-up, action figures, play sets like Lego and Playmobil, tractors, the list goes on and on. More so than ever before in history your child is going to be bombarded with the world-views, opinions and lifestyles of other people, and in order to be able to deal with these, without losing themselves in the process, they need to have a grasp of the kind of individuals they want to be.

I can hear RIE proponents crying out that this is what a RIE approach promotes; individual, self-aware, autonomous children. As I said previously, if this is their position I can see the uses of the RIE approach. However, despite the clear enjoyment that my children have when playing with wooden spoons, pots and pans, buckets etc. these will only take them so far in their play. Pot and pan play won’t allow me to play out the ethical questions of wrongful imprisonment that we can get whilst playing with a police station (and no it’s just as not as easy or informative to approach these issues in conversation with your child), nor will pots and pans allow us to explore the notion of insecurity/shyness that we could do with a doll/toy figures. The list of ways in which pretend play toys can provide venues for a parent to introduce fairly complex concepts and ideas is almost endless. Though I can see their reasoning, I (biased as I am) wouldn’t advocate giving up on toys. As my blog has always tried to show, there is a great deal that toys can teach us.