Teach your child to pick up the pieces

LEgo-city-collapseHuman beings fail, this is a fact, and to be honest of all the times in your life that failure happens it perhaps happens most frequently as a child. We call this trial and error, we see it as an important step in acquiring any new skill, but what about the skill of accepting failure, digesting those negative emotions, and starting all over again?

kragle legoRecently I received a comment on my post on kraggling Lego (kraggling = gluing it together), the commenter  pointed out that kraggling may be defensible if it avoids the devastation a child can feel at seeing a play set demolished. Basically their argument was that kraggling can prevent heartache. I get where they are coming from but this comment brought some ideas to the fore that made me realise what it is that I truly love about Lego: it allows for utter, unadulterated, and truly epic, failure or loss. You can spend hours working on a Lego set only to see it crumple in seconds. Sometimes the devastation is wreaked by a sibling and sometimes it comes as the result of a catastrophic accident as you try to place that last piece on and push just a little too hard.

The key thing for a child to realise is that no matter how much blame is thrown around (either at themselves or at a friend/sibling) no amount of words will put that model back together. If they’re lucky the model was made following instructions then all they have to do is follow the steps again and their model will be restored, but if it’s a full on self-made master-builder-style creation then it may be gone forever. What better primer to grief can you expose your child to?

89292-will-ferrell-elf-NO-gif-MQ21Loss is hard, it’s something that can tear a human being apart, we like to think that there is nothing quite like the grief of losing a loved one but perhaps the small losses we experience as children when our creations are destroyed or ruined (for whatever reason) provide us with the early beginnings of the coping mechanisms we use to deal with losses that come in a much larger and more deeply emotional scale.

Another issue that broken Lego sets expose children to is the fact that blame and even punishment can sometimes be entirely futile. When something has been destroyed, no amount of talking, recrimination, or punishment will bring it back. Of course we feel vengeful when something important to us is lost due to the actions of another, it’s a normal, healthy, human reaction to this kind of event. However, it’s important that we develop the ability to distinguish between recrimination and reparation.

Sometimes, as with theft, we can simply receive something of equal value back but with destruction like this the only option is recrimination, there just isn’t a suitable reparation. This is still the case even when a child breaks their own Lego creation (accidentally or otherwise). Life does not have ‘rewind’ or ‘undo’ buttons (much as we’d love it to) and our kids need to be exposed to this, it’s a harsh lesson that can be less harsh if learned early. In the comfort of a loving home (or other learning environment) a child can experience the reality of the impermanence and transience of the human condition with the assurance of strong emotional backup from their parents/carers.

One of the saddest things about this learning stage is that it isn’t recognised by a lot of people as anywhere near as important as it is. When your child first breaks a Lego set (or other toy) right then and there they start to develop coping mechanisms which will shape the way they deal with loss throughout their life. If you want this to be a positive learning experience (since there’s nothing else positive going to come out of a broken toy) then you need to be ready for this and help steer them towards healthier reactions to loss.

This brilliant little guy comes from Andrew Bell's 'The Creatures in My Head'

This brilliant little guy comes from Andrew Bell’sThe Creatures in My Head

My dad used to have a wee catchphrase that annoyed the hell out of me as a kid: “Dinnae sit in a puddle and greet, (translation: don’t sit in a puddle and cry); all you’ll get is a wet bum.” In short, when life knocks us back, we need to get up and deal with it as best we can. Perhaps this isn’t the perspective you yourself take on how we should deal with setbacks and losses but, the thing is, unless you involve yourself in your child’s experiences of these events (and this means exposing them to situations where they’ll encounter this kind of event) you can’t influence the coping mechanism they’re going to develop as a result.

What do you think? Is childhood the wrong stage to expose kids to permanent loss and the transient nature of human experience? Should we shield kids from this kind of experience until they’re more mature, or do these experiences themselves help us to develop towards maturity? As always I welcome any opinions readers may have, feel free to share in the comments section below or strike up a conversation with me over on twitter, All the best, John

War Games!

wpid-imag0743_burst002_1.jpgI know for a fact that there must be 10s (possibly 100s) of people playing/modelling with Games Workshop (Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000) figures in Crieff so it definitely has an active presence in the local area but sadly there doesn’t seem to be any centrally organised group set up for those wanting to arrange games-days/nights or even just to talk about the hobby with one another.

I’ve had a lot of kids in recently asking about local groups and seeing if there is anywhere that they can play locally and unfortunately I’m completely in the dark. In an effort to get something organised and simple together I put up a local wahammer/40K group on facebook but other than that I have nothing to point them towards. If you’d like to know more about the hobby and/or would like to be able to meet up with others who enjoy the hobby then feel free to pop over to the page. I used to play, a long time ago, and the shop is lucky enough to have a really hands-on Games Workshop agent so I can usually find the kind of answers you might need fairly easily.

wpid-imag0746_burst002_1.jpgGames Workshop produce an amazing array of assemble-your-own figurines which you then use to play war games. There’s a degree of customiseability that you just won’t find in ordinary board games etc. and because of this it’s a hobby that can be extremely personal, creative and expressive. You can turn up for a game with friends and show off your latest regiment and all the fiddly little customisations you’ve spent the past few weeks doing to it. Judging by the questions I’ve had in the shop there are rakes of children (and teens) who want to get involved but who are reluctant to start because they don’t know anyone else who’s involved in the hobby.

Possibly the saddest thing for me is this lack of support locally for younger hobbyists who seem really enthusiastic about both the painting and gaming side of the hobby. I’ve had boys and girls in the shop buying models, paints and other peripherals who haven’t been able to find people to play against. I’ve suggested they join their school’s games workshop groups only to be met with blank stares, either their school doesn’t have one or whatever group they do have at school isn’t very well known (or isn’t, strictly speaking, ‘official’).

wpid-imag0745_burst002_1.jpgConsidering the rise of interest there has been in fantasy over the past few years I’m surprised that games workshop/warhammer/40K groups haven’t seen a booming growth in members. I’ve been assured by Yan (our rep) that we could easily manage to provide support for local groups and there are resources there that could allow us to provide some resources free of charge to any local group who thinks to ask us for it. Sadly we’ve been in the position to help for months and, as yet, no one has taken us up on it.

If you live in the Crieff area and want to join a group (or better still if you run, or you want to set up, a group) then pop on over to the Crieff Warhammer/40,000 group on facebook to ask for advice and other information.

Just going for a nice short post this time, as always thanks for reading and comments are always more than welcome, Cheers, John

Getting outside with science: can it build momentum of interest?

stick insect science education biology entomolgyFun Junction currently has a bug infestation…but, you know, the good kind: ‘Insect Lore’ recently sent us two lovely new stick insects. This builds on our population of Fun Junction pets which, up till now, consisted solely of some aqua dragons. We have Barbara and Fetch (get it ‘Fetch the stick insect’, you can thank one of our facebook likers for that wee pun).

We had Barbara and Fetch along at our stall at Perth’s garden and outdoors show last weekend and it gave us a chance to show off all the fun sciency stuff kids can do outdoors without even realising they’re doing any sciency stuff (does that make sense as a sentence? It sounded right in my head). Getting kids into science and helping them to feel comfortable about asking questions about the world around them is vital, both for parents and educators, but there’s a tricky issue when it comes to maintaining interest.

really gross scienceThere’s a rising realisation at the moment that a lot of girls are not engaging with science after a certain age. When we try to understand why this is happening, we have to consider the host of social stages that girls are going through (not to say that boys don’t experience their own, just as affective, stages). These social changes are thinning the numbers slowly and surely all the way through primary school, high school and on into adult life. Surely anything that increases interest at a young age is likely to provide that smidgen more momentum to help girls stay interested as they mature.

There are of course a host of other issues to tackle, possibly most pressing being the cultural idea that maths and science are for boys. However, I could easily get bogged down in discussing this so just for this post I just want to look at ways of building a level of interest with some real momentum, in the hopes that the children that experience it start to think of themselves as scientists from a very early age.

pop up Port-a-Bug bug enclosure catcher biology science toy children resourceThis is where outdoor engagement with wildlife can be helpful. Children can monitor the quantity of wildlife and the behaviour of that wildlife throughout the year, developing an emotional investment in what can only be regarded as scientific research (albeit on a fairly small scale). This can be as simple as setting yoghurt tub traps under a hedge and noting what you find. When you add some educational aides to the mix it makes it even easier to get kids interested; this can range from bug catchers that let them see the mini-beasts they encounter up-close and personal, all the way to insect habitats in your home or classroom which allow children to observe insect behaviour throughout the day.

In terms of the kinds of toys Insect Lore has put together they offer loads of educational aides which are functional whilst managing to remain entertaining and different. Every one of their products draws children in to find out more about the living world around them and on top of this the sets have a bright cheerful feel that can sometimes be so sadly absent from educational toys (especially science-related toys). The simplest way to tell you about what they provide is with a quick run-down (I’ll throw in some mentions for some other companies along the way too):

Insect lore Creature Peeper biology entomology children toy resource classroomNavir Bug Viewer biology entomolgy children toy resourceJars and magnification: There’s something really startling about seeing what an insect (any insect) really looks like. Give a child a magnifying glass and an insect and you’re basically sending them into an alien encounter. The physicality and behaviour of insects is so different to our own that children (and most adults too to be honest) can’t help but be enthralled by what they see (just look at Rose-Lynn Fisher’s ‘Bee’ to see what I mean). At Fun Junction we stock a heap of magnifying bug jars (by Insect Lore and Navir, among others) that vary in size and functionality from mini jars that can fit in a pocket, to large display jars with multiple-angle magnifying viewing windows). Insects just won’t look the same to a child again.

insect lore Living_Twig indian stick insect biology entomology children toy resource classroominsect lore Live_Butterfly_Garden biology entomology children toy resource classroomStick insects and butterflies: This next collection pushes things to a different stage of commitment. With bug jars you’re typically responsible for an insect for at the most a few minutes. However, with a butterfly or stick insect pack you’re watching insects develop from an egg to a full-blown adult. This process can take a few weeks (as is the case for butterflies) or it can mean as much as a couple of years of care and attention (a stick-insect’s life-span). Along with the extra responsibility there comes the advantage of being able to show children the entire life cycle of a creature in real time. For those who think the end of a stick insect’s life-cycle might be a bit difficult for a child to take the release of a net-full of butterflies may be a much more attractive option (I know my eldest wouldn’t cope too well with the death of a pet at this stage, he’s only 5 just now).

navir_Optic_Wonder biology entomology children toy resource classroomOther resources: Insect Lore also makes a range of other resources that can help children to understand insects and insect behaviour. This includes life-cycle figures, butterfly feeders, bug’s-eye-view goggles and many other things to use for display and play which allow children to feel connected with studying insects.

These are just a few products that can help develop a momentum of interest in science in children (I’ve set up the images so that clicking on them takes you to the product page where you can find out more). There are heaps more science toys that we stock at Fun Junction and I’ll definitely talk about science toys again in future. Are there any ways that educators or parents have found of sparking that kind of interest? I’ve already mentioned yoghurt tub traps (you dig a hole, put in a fairly large plastic yoghurt tub which makes it harder for insects to climb back out, and then you come back the next day to see what insects have fallen into the trap), but are there any other home-made methods you know of to help kids get in touch with the natural world around them? As always I love to hear from you and if you fancy catching up with me on twitter you can get me here. Thanks for reading, all the best, John

When the Trains Take Over (Brio play days)

sheldon trainsAs the great Dr. Cooper says ‘Don’t be silly, you love trains!’. All the staff at Fun Junction have train brain this week, we’re going to be doing something a bit different in the next few days in our Perth shop: Brio have lent us a ridiculously large collection of trains and accessories and we’ll be popping it all out in store for kids to have a play. It’s as simple as that, no charge, no pushy sales-pitch just pop your child down with the trains and let them enjoy.

Freight Battery Engine (by Brio) Sturdy battery powered freight train can pull surprisingly well on just one AA battery.

Freight Battery Engine (by Brio) Sturdy battery powered freight train can pull surprisingly well on just one AA battery.

I love the fact that one of the companies we deal with has put together such a genuine and enjoyable experience. They haven’t pushed a rake of cash into a traditional advertising campaign, instead they’ve made a toy range that they’re proud of and they’ve decided to let the general public decide for themselves if Brio trains are any good. As any parent with a child with a train fascination knows Brio is not the cheapest wooden railway system on the planet, in fact I don’t know of any wooden railway products that cost more. That said I’ve found through experience that you really do get what you pay for.

Switching tracks with signal box and signal master. Add extra fuel to the imagination: what will you do with a runaway train!!???

Switching tracks with signal box and signal master. Add extra fuel to the imagination: what will you do with a runaway train!!???

Every wooden railway system is compatible with one another (well every system I’ve come across anyway), there are some that come very close to Brio’s quality level (like BigJigs) and cost a little less and there are others that are a lot cheaper. There’s therefore nothing wrong with shopping around to get bits and pieces from all these different companies to get a nice mix of quality and lower budget. That said I think the great thing about the Brio play day is that it’ll give parents (myself included) a chance to see what a train set made entirely out of Brio-quality pieces will be like. Not only that but because the set gets passed around group to group, shop to shop around the country we’ll all get to see how they do in terms of general wear-and-tear.

brio railwy uk fun junction toy shop scotland perth crieff perthshire

One of the only wooden railway trains that you’ll find that can take passengers, with spaces for two drivers and three passengers (Brio figures), you can get one here.

This is what I love about this event, Brio isn’t forcing an agenda, they’re not pushing a new line by throwing a pile of adverts in the middle of your child’s favorite shows: instead they’re saying ‘Here, we made something that we think is pretty great but you have a play, you decide, is it worth the extra cost to get a train/a piece of track/a station/any other accessory made by us?’ There’s nothing for them to hide behind, if your child plays with the trains and doesn’t like them then no amount of advertising will change that, so Brio has to make sure that what your child is presented with is something pretty awesome. It’s a gamble and takes a lot of bottle for a toy company to do what Brio is doing, but based on my own experience of their products I can’t say I’m all that nervous for them, I think they’ll do just fine.

Have you come across any companies (toy or otherwise) who surprised you like this? Are some companies good enough to do away with traditional advertising or do you think that, without TV ads constantly reminding them, kids will just forget about a toy/brand? I’d also love to hear any experiences you’ve had with Brio (good or bad). As always thank you so much for stopping by, I’m one of these sad people that get’s a bit of a buzz from things like reader counts and comments so it’s always brilliant when someone stops by for a read and it’s even better if you leave a comment. If you’re in the Perth (Scotland) area then pop along to our shop on the 15th, 16th or 17th of May to join in the fun (they’re open from 9:15am till 5;15pm, Cheers, John

UPDATE: Please note our Brio play day has passed but we have every intention of hosting another one soon 🙂

Unusual and Interesting Books

vintage syle photograph book shelvesReading is ‘in’ now, in a way that it just wasn’t when I was a kid. Primarily thanks to Harry Potter, there’s now a huge portion of the population of kids reading regularly. As a result there are some writers/book series that have become famous, to the extent that it can be difficult to track down something that an avid reader won’t have heard of. With this in mind I thought I’d put together a wee selection of the less well known, but no less brilliant, books that we stock here at Fun Junction, there’s a fair age-range here so please take the time to scroll to the end of this post. Quick disclaimer: our Perth shop has a smaller book section than our Crieff shop so some of these titles might not always be in stock through in Perth (where web orders are processed), we’ll do our best though.

So without further ado here’s the list (in no particular order):

strange case of origami yoda‘The Strange Case of Origami Yoda’ by Tom Angleberger: This is the first in a series of books about a boy called Dwight, who has a little trouble making friends and who makes an origami Yoda finger puppet that hands out (surprisingly accurate) advice to his class-mates. This helps him develop friendships and build a circle of friends. It’s a great story overall but will go down especially well with kids who relate Dwight’s struggles (that’ll be a lot of kids, we all worry about making friends at some point). The books in this series are also designed to be really readable with heaps of illustrations and doodles to liven up the pages for children who might ordinarily struggle a bit keeping their attention up with ‘normal’ chapter books. You can grab a copy over here.


Man On in The Moon Simon Bartram Bob Bill ‘Man on the moon: A day in the life of Bob’ (by Simon Bartram): This book is another start to a series of books. Here we meet Bob who goes to the moon every day to keep it tidy for the tourists yet seems oblivious to the alien goings-on all around him. This is a great book for observation games and is just generally a lot of fun. Bartram has been pretty busy and has written a bundle of books with a similar whimsical look and feel which I’ll add to our web-site at a later date. In the mean time you can pick up a copy of ‘Man on the Moon’ here.


Traction man is here‘Traction Man Is Here’ (by Mini Grey): This is another whimsical and unusual picture book which has spurred on a resulting series of books. The main character is ‘Traction Man’ a super-hero-slash-action-man (toy) who gets into all kinds of unusual adventures in a way that would be similar to toy story if the style weren’t so different. There’s something comfortable and homely yet adventurous and exciting about the traction man stories that will definitely have kids coming back for more. I’ll get more Traction Man titles on our web site soon but you can get hold of a copy of ‘Traction Man is Here’ over here right now.


jake-7048‘Jake’s Bones’ (by Jake McGowan-Lowe): This is a brilliant book based on the blog of a twelve year-old naturalist and bone collector called Jake McGowan-Lowe. I came across this book when Jake did a talk about his book at our local library, my eldest son (he’s 5) loved it and has been raking under bushes for bones every time we’ve gone for a walk since. Jake seems genuinely passionate about his subject and this passion is clear to see in his book. And come on, how many twelve-year-olds have you heard of that are published authors? Here’s his twitter account, if you’re looking for help identifying a bone (he’s a very helpful young lad and my son Logan has already been clued in on the anatomy of a rabbit hip bone thanks to Jake’s twitter). I’ve added Jake’s book to our web site if you’re looking for a copy.


madame Pamplemousse incredible edibles‘Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles’ (by Rupert Kingfisher): This is another book that starts a series, in Rupert Kingfisher’s Madame Pamplemousse collection children will encounter many magical and peculiar adventures. In ‘…Incredible Edibles’ we meet Madeline who stumbles across the strangest little food shop you could ever imagine all prepared by Madame Pamplemousse, ingredients include T-Rex tongues, Great Squid Tentacle in Jasmine-Scented Jelly, Scorpion Tails in Smoked Garlic Oil and Pterodactyl Bacon. These books have a slight Roald Dahl feel with a French twist and are guaranteed to entertain any child. Here’s the link if you’d like to buy a copy just now (I’ll get more of the series added onto the web-site soon).


I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You Ally Carter‘I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You’ (Book 1 of the ‘Gallagher Girls’ series of spy academy books by Ally Carter): This next one is for older children/teens and it brings something quite different to the table. The Gallagher academy may claim to be a school for geniuses but all is not what it seems; for starters they get advanced martial arts in PE and extra credit for cracking CIA codes, the Gallagher academy is a school for spies. But what does a trainee spy do when she meets a boy she likes, all her training will be put to the test as she faces the difficulties of having a ‘normal’ relationship with a boy can never know the truth about her or her school. This is teen fiction with a very distinctive spin on it and is likely to appeal especially to girls who are a little tired of the typical high-school romance books that they’ll have encountered. As with the other book series mentioned I’ll add more of the Gallagher Girls series soon but for the time being you can get hold of a copy of book 1 by clicking on this link.


That’s just a small sample of the kind of books we try to keep in stock at Fun Junction, to be honest we have a lot of fun picking out new titles and we never really pay much attention to ‘top trending titles’ mentioned by our suppliers. We try to keep things fresh and interesting. I hope you got something out of this list and I’m always on the lookout for new titles to get into the shop so if there are any unusual/different books that have really stood out to you please let me know in the comments below (or over on twitter). As always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

Top 5 chocolate-free gifts for Easter

playmobil easter eggs 2014There’s a new trend on the rise; people are buying toys/gifts for Easter instead of the traditional chocolate eggs. Last year I talked about this trend and it seems to be showing no signs of stopping. The latest thing I’ve noticed is that toy industry publications are starting to issue the same kind of ‘top 10’ and ‘top 5’ lists normally produced in the run-up to Christmas. Apparently the predicted ‘top toy’ for Easter 2014 is the aqua dragon dino egg which we actually stock at Fun Junction (so that’s a nice surprise).

With this in mind I thought I’d tell you about some of the other ‘crackingly’ eggcellent toys which might go down well for Easter 2014:

wow easer egg 20145) Wow’s ‘Chirpy Chick’ egg: This is a new addition to the Easter-themed gift selection this year and it’s very useful for a couple of reasons. For starters it’s great to be able to provide children younger than five with an Easter-orientated toy. On top of that it’s great to have an option for little ones which doesn’t involve handing them an egg the size of their head only to take it back and ration it off over the coming days. This way they get a gift and they can keep it for the duration, no worries about tooth decay at all.

4) Games: This might sound strange but bear with me. More and more families are using Easter as an excuse to get together and in some cases head off on holiday together. With this in mind it seems to make sense that you might want something for the family to do once you’ve got them all gathered together. Although games aren’t specifically Easter-themed I’ve certainly noticed a lot more holiday makers popping into the shop to pick up something to keep kids occupied (especially on the rainier days we’ve had so far this holiday). Some family bonding seems as good a reason as any to go for something more box-shaped than egg-shaped as an Easter present. Here’s s selection of the games you can get at fun Junction.

3) Outdoor activities: This is on the list for almost exactly the same reason as games: it’s something to do. On the drier days of the holidays (and we’re lucky enough to have had a few of them recently) it’s great to get the kids outside: balls, buckets and spades, frisbees, outdoor explorer kits, we’ve been seeing all of these having a dramatic boost over the holidays and anything that a kid could pop outside and play with would be a great alternative to chocolate.

2) Playmobil (pictured above): This is an old favourite and to be honest I think they’re one of the first toy companies to have come out with an egg shaped pack. The really great thing about the playmobil eggs is that there are more than just one type of playmobil egg available. Each egg comes with a figure and some accessories. Every year they bring out something different too, a quick glance at the Playmobil eggs that we’ve got left in the shop includes a fairy, a biker, a top agent and a native American with animals. They’re a great alternative to yet more chocolate at Easter and I know at least one five year old boy who’ll enjoy getting one. (when Playmobil eggs are in season you’ll be able to pick some up by clicking this link)

aqua dragon jurassic dino egg1) ‘Aqua Dragon Jurassic Time Travel EGGspress’: As I’ve already said, this is being touted as the ‘top toy for Easter’ and to be honest it’s easy to see why: it’s simple and gets you set up with your very own set of ‘aqua-dragons’ (tiny crustaceans which hatch from dried eggs when placed in water). The life-cycle of an aqua-dragon is 45-60 days so it’s a nice introduction to the responsibilities of having a pet. Something that’s definitely a step away from yet another chocolate egg.

As I’ve already said I talked about this trend of toys for Easter a while back and it doesn’t seem to be showing any sign of stopping. I wonder whether anyone out there has a problem with it. Speaking as a parent I have to say I like the idea that my kids could get something nice for Easter that won’t leave them wound up like coiled springs (or make them sick with indulgence). I can already predict the kind of reactions that this shift in tradition might get though, including (but not limited to) pointing out how commercialised Easter is getting, that the ‘real meaning of Easter’ could be compromised by this shift, that a bit of chocolate never hurt anyone or even that Easter gifts at the very least have to be egg-shaped (unlike items 3 and 4 on my list).

I agree and disagree with these arguments in my own way but I’m more interested in seeing what you think. Is there something to be preserved in our Easter traditions? Has Easter ever really had a clear set of traditions (like Christmas does) or has it always been a bit harder to define as a holiday/celebration? and the last one (which is kind of a biggy) Is there anything inherently religious about the standing traditions of Easter or do chicks, eggs, bunnies, and egg hunts have more to do with the arrival of spring than anything? What do you think? As always I welcome comments on here (it makes it feel like my writing has been worthwhile), thanks for stopping by for a read and don’t forget to follow me on twitter to chat about toys, life and people. Cheers, John

Toy Awesomeness Part 3: Good Branding

hobbit games workshop escape from goblin townHow to make a great toy part 3: Good Branding

As I explained in my last ‘Toy Awesomeness’ post, just because a particular character is ‘in’ just now doesn’t mean it’ll still be popular with kids in six months time. That said, if you pick a tried-and-tested character (think Disney for starters) to hitch your wagon to, the hazards of the whims of children may effect you far less.

hulk avengers legoAs westerners we’re almost born knowing about Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Superman, Batman, Hulk, Snow White, etc., they’ve become more than simply characters; they’ve been appropriated as cultural symbols, for want of a better word they are the ‘gods’, ‘goddesses’ and ‘demi-gods’ of our culture. The companies responsible for these kinds of character are fully aware of their clout though, so matching with one of these brands may be expensive/difficult.

That said there are lesser known ‘icons’ who nonetheless seem unable to do wrong such as ‘Bob The Builder’, ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’, ‘Postman Pat’ etc. Their popularity does ebb and flow more than we see from the true ‘gods’ of the toy shelf but children will still be more willing to chose a toy if it has a character they recognise on it.

For example if Wow toys were (hypothetically) to produce a Postman Pat van I’m almost certain it would outsell all of their other sets. Speaking as a parent I would pick something like that because I trust the quality of Wow and I also identify with the character of Postman Pat.

That said character placement can often look a bit tacked-on, almost as though the company thought their product was slightly sub-standard. In cases like this, instead of fixing the problems with their toy a manufacturer pays for some licensing and sticks a picture of a popular character on it to push sales. There are so many of this kind of toy out there that I hardly feel the need to name and shame, they know who they are.

turtle lair by Lego

The Lego Turtle Lair is available from Fun Junction

lord of the rings riskThe brand and toy combo also has to make sense otherwise kids will just be perplexed (and they won’t want it). Branding and timelessness (quality) have to go hand in hand for it to work or you get stuck with a bit of rubbish with a character your child barely recognises stuck on it. When branding is done right though it can be incredible. Here are some examples of branding done right: Games Workshop’s ‘Hobbit’ set, ‘Lord of The Rings’ Risk, and Lego’s ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Turtle Lair’.

Toy Awesomeness Part 2: Timelessness and Quality

Brio Two-Way Battery Powered Engine red and yellow wooden railway

For this train (and other brilliant wooden railway items) follow this link

How to make a great toy part 2: Timelessness and Quality

Timelessness is hard to build into a toy, it has a lot more to do with how disconnected from popular culture the toy is and vitally how good it is at what it does. Luckily quality is something you can put into a toy. If your toy isn’t linked to a popular show, character, or (as is becoming more common nowadays) a popular app, then it’s important that the toy speaks for itself by being genuinely good at all things it’s supposed to do. For example, if it’s a toy phone it should ring, speak and perhaps even record voices for playback.

wind-up jumping frog, classic and simple, a great toy

wind-up jumping frog, classic and simple, a great toy

Children are pretty forgiving when a toy has a character they know on it; they’ll often overlook a lack of features or features that are less-than-brilliant, solely because they like the character on the toy. But do you really want your toy to be defined by a sticker or other added image, instead of the toy itself, especially when you consider that character brands often (though not always) come and go in popularity. If your toy doesn’t feature a famous character and you manage to get it working as a simple yet extremely playable manner, then you’re in with a chance of timelessness.

Put simply when you detach from branding and simply strive for a solid, robust and extremely fun product you might miss out on the highs associated with linking to a character but you’ll also avoid the lows. For example, the very fact that your toy doesn’t have a ‘Moshi Monster’ (or something else high in the public consciousness at the time) will make it immune to the fortunes of the Moshi Monster brand.

hama beads lions setPlaymobil motorised crane 5254Perfect examples of this kind of toy are: Wooden Railway systems, Hama beads, Playmobil, Wow toys and Games Workshop sets (Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000).

johnny jungle plane by wow toys   warhammer 40k 40,000, ork boyz

What particular toys do you value for their quality/timelessness? Are there any cynics out there who think that everything goes out of style eventually? Feel free to pop a comment in the box below and share your thoughts. And for more toy awesomeness click here. Cheers, John

For your enjoyment here’s some fun with ascending tracks:

Toy Awesomeness Part 1: Multiple Play Levels

game about human biology for five 5, six 6, seven 7 eight 8, nine 9, ten 10, eleven 11, twelve 12 year olds and upHow to make a great toy part 1: Include Multiple levels of play

A key component in any good toy is finding a way to ensure that adding more people will somehow amp up the play. Sometimes this is as simple as adding a player to change (for example) a game/puzzle from a solitaire challenge into a competition. However there are other important ways in which a toy can gain something special by the addition of extra players.

For example, consider how different even a fairly basic colouring book can become when you add a parent (or another older individual). Suddenly the child gets the chance to learn new artistic skills that they may not have tried before, on top of this they’ve gained a contributor that can add features to the picture that the child may not have been able to accomplish themselves (‘Daddy can you put a dragon in flying over the house’).

If a toy lacks this, it becomes more solitary, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with solitary toys it’s just that the toy designer has missed an opportunity. With little to no extra components being added to the physical toy/game/puzzle etc. a whole new playing experience could potentially be opened up by simply paying attention to who else might join in when the toy is being played with, and designing the toy with this in mind.

Perfect Example:Anatomix‘ (pictured at the top of this post), this is a game about the human body by Green Board Games, which has two levels of challenge; the basic game is aimed at kids aged 5 and up but you can also add in a quiz component aimed at taxing the minds of children aged 12 and up.

What toys/games/puzzles have you come across that hit a new level when you add more players? Are there any other features that you think add something special to the playing experience a child has from a toy? As always comments are more than welcome, ether on here or over on my twitter account. Thanks for stopping by at John The Toy Shop Guy, if you’d like to receive future posts in your e-mail inbox you can enter your details in the ‘subscribe’ box to the right of this post.

Top 5 toys this March

night narcissusUnlike lists of ‘top 5 for Christmas’, in some ways these kinds of lists can give you a more honest idea about the kinds of things kids like. For starters the top 5 for different months of the year can be less influenced by advertising but more than that they often reflect pocket money/ holiday money spending. This kind of thing can give you a real insight into the kind of things children really want. What they spend their own money on can often be wildly different from the kinds of things they might ask Santa for.

So without further ado lets have a look at what toys/games etc. seem to be flying out this month:

brookite stunt kite5. Kites: There’s no doubt that this one is weather induced but who can blame them? The wind has been so strong it’s been blowing the door open all week (and it’s a heavy door), it’s definitely kite weather. Just today I’ve sold four large kites, one of them was a huge two handled stunt kite from Brookite, it’s actually got a warning on telling parents not to allow younger children to use it in case they take off (no I’m not joking). Given how windy it is at the moment I’m expecting to see children flying past any minute now.

shopload of books4. Books: We’ve just had world book day, kids seem to be excited about their favourite authors again and I have to say books would be much higher on my list if I was just just counting interest, as there’s been a huge increase in the amount of kids just hanging out at the book section and browsing through what we’ve got. Electronic games haven’t beaten the appeal of a good story just yet.

gruffalo jigsaw puzzle book3. Puzzles: Puzzles are pretty much a staple in Fun Junction with loads being bought for birthday presents. A lot of the time it’s one of the easiest ways to track down something featuring a favourite character but it’s also a popular gift for children just turning three as they move on from toddler toys and onto more advanced pre-schooler activities that stretch their skills and help with their development. I can vouch for this, I was really excited when both boys started doing puzzles, it was such a great thing to see their little brains getting powered up and developing motor skills and hand-eye coordination as they figured out where the pieces went and how to orientate them.

This isn’t to mention the 500 and 1000 piece puzzles we sell for grown ups which are becoming more and more popular in our Crieff shop (they already have a long-standing and loyal following through in Perth). With all this in mind I would expect puzzles to feature in the top 5 list of any month.

top-model-make-up2. Top Model: Like puzzles Top Model is a staple, it’s a brilliant yet simple range of fashion-orientated colouring books (for want of a better word). You get a book full of pages which are blank but for a simple line drawing picture of a ‘model’ which children dress in clothes of their own design and then colour in. It’s been in our top 5 sellers list for years and to be honest it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of shifting.

lego movie space lego guy everything is awesome1. Lego Movie kits: Every now and again something toy related climbs into the public consciousness and if the company is lucky it’ll be for good reasons that lead to a massive level of awareness. The Lego Movie came out just a couple of weeks ago and it has just skyrocketed in public awareness. No advertising campaign could have done what this movie has done for Lego: it’s pushed Lego sales from a steady constant (high level) to something way beyond. We’re genuinely amazed at how much Lego is going this month but having watched the film with my boys a day or two after the premier I can safely say it’s simply too awesome a movie to disappear. I loved it and I’ve a feeling Logan will be after a bundle of Lego (and the DVD) when his birthday comes around in July (and I won’t have a problem with that at all).

This isn’t necessarily a list of my favourite toys, they’re just the biggest sellers I’ve noticed so far this month. That said I do like everything on the list and I’m pretty sure I’ll be requesting some Lego for my birthday next month. I’m expect that things will probably change a bit in the run up to Easter (20th April this year) as more and more people are starting to opt for an Easter gift which doesn’t feature too much chocolate. I’ll pop another ‘top 5 sellers this month’ in April and we can see how things have changed. I’d love to hear what other people think about the toys on this list and I’d really appreciate it if you would take a minute to share your views in the comments below. As always thanks for reading and don’t forget that you can subscribe to receive my blog posts straight to your inbox (new subscribers are awesome!), Cheers, John