Stretching potential

Archive for the ‘Play’ Category

Too soon for school?

Here is a very interesting article posted by a mommy friend and, co-incidently, editor of our new book.  This article, School-starting Age: The Evidence, takes a look at a study by Cambridge University which identifies the potential risks of starting formal schooling at the age of three or four, including learning about letters and numbers.  A later start does NOT compromise their abilities in literacy or numeracy, and in fact starting too early can foster a negative attitude towards reading.

Children need more opportunity for free-flowing, spontaneous play – where there are no written guidelines or outcomes.  They need open space and a chance to use their developing minds creatively, rather than in parrot-fashion. 

So what should our pre-schoolers be doing?  Nursery schools should be encouraged to allow free play time with a variety of random objects that are multi-purpose.  In this way, two play sessions will never be the same.  Children will not be bored, and their self-confidence and creativity will soar as they are given a chance to explore the nooks and crannies of their imaginations.  One particular study quoted in the article states that “an extended period of high-quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households”.

If you would like to read more about the value of free-play opportunities and true play experiences, why not order a copy of our book Playvolution: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Valuable Experiences Through Play?

Happy playing!

an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.FnXH9SOC.wsgV4dgL.dpuf
an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.FnXH9SOC.wsgV4dgL.dpuf
an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households – See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.FnXH9SOC.wsgV4dgL.dpuf
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What’s it all about?

With the imminent launch of our first book on the horizon, we have taken some time to think about what exactly it is that we do here at Straight Zigzag and whether the general public, parents, teachers, au pairs, aunties and uncles, grandparents, and anyone involved with children, are ready for the message that the book brings.

When the play company was an undercurrent for many of our plans for the future but not yet a reality, we felt like the ideas we wanted to share with the world were straight forward and original.  We had one aim: to make people realise the value of spontaneous play before this skill and activity was lost to a world of busy-ness.  Now that it’s all written down, I have come to see that even those who are advocates for play might not all be on the same side.  We have the pro-play in all its forms team, who will schedule activities in each of the following categories: gross motor, fine motor, construction, creativity, role play and imaginative play.  Then we have the spontaneous play team, who promote leaving kids to their own devices and stopping just short of anarchy.  We have the no-tech hippies who believe technology is robbing children of real life, and the gadget freaks who insist on buying every interactive screen to ensure that their children are not left behind.

In all this to and fro of who’s right and who’s children will turn out best, it’s important to remember why we argue for one side or the other.  What is it that motivated you to chose a side?  Was it a knee-jerk reaction to something the Jones’s bought or said, or did you come from a place of searching for a better sense of balance in your own life.  Before anyone stands on a soap box it’s good to acknowledge that the world as we know it is changing at such a rapid rate that we all clutch at the straws of certainty.  We want to be assured that our method is best, and that our children will turn out okay.

The comforting message of the book is this: children are resilient, and if left to their own devices, will figure out a way.  They will learn what they need to know and they will meet their basic needs.  Give them space, an imagination and gravity, and relax.  EGBOK.

[For more information on Playvolution: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Valuable Experiences Through Play please visit www.playvolutionbook.com]

Introducing: Oogi – a funny little figure

After being back from the Nuremberg Toy Fair for a good few weeks I have yet to see a review of Moluk’s latest offering – so here is mine.  Meet the the cutest and most flexible (in many ways) little figure at the fair: Oogi!

Oogi is made of silicon.  He has extra-long arms and his head, hands and feet are little suction cups. When hurled from a distance towards any smooth surface, Oogi grabs hold with his head, a hand or foot, leaving him dangling there like Spiderman. His long arms are also very expressive, and can be tied, crossed, stuck or joined to make this little guy come alive.

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Oogi also has friends, and like any little person, the more the merrier.  When Oogi’s friends come to play, the options multiply. By the nature of the design, Oogi likes to hold onto his friends and forms a great play companion to the Bilibo or Bilibo minis.  Oogi is available in red and blue, and in two sizes, Oogi and Oogi Junior.

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Here are some of the reasons occupational therapists love Oogi:

  • Great for creative play and imagination;
  • Can be used to talk about and imitate emotions;
  • The silicon is easy for little hands to manipulate.  Tying his arms teaches the starting knot for tying shoes;
  • Throwing Oogi across the room towards a flat surface is great for loosening the shoulders and can be used for over- or under-arm throwing, improving eye-hand coordination;
  • It’s a great unisex figurine – limited only by the limits of the child’s imagination;
  • Safe for a large age-range of children, from toddlers to adults;
  • Great for group play; and
  • A great fidget toy!

One of my favourite activities with him is using Oogi against a mirror to make patterns, learn about left and right and play in the shaving foam.

What are your Oogi-ideas?

Nuremburg Toy Fair: Retro trends

In the same way that we can all remember our favourite toy as a kid, parents usually want their children to experience the same joy with those toys that they did.  Did you have Cabbage Patch Dolls or My Little Pony?  Did you collect Forrest Families? Were you constantly terrorising your sister with a slimy stretchy hand or collect Micro Machines? Do you have a box of your toys in a cupboard somewhere or do your kids get to play with them?  One of the hot trends identified at this year’s Spielwarenmesse was Retro Mania – toys that we grew up with and toys that look like they come straight from the 50s!

The first was this new and improved version of the Tamagotchi – and I was shocked to think that this is a retro toy.  Tamagotchi’s sparked a craze in the 90s. 17 years after their first release they are now available as Tamagotchi Friends. Bumping them against each other allows them to communicate, they can go on “play dates” and have an iPhone and Android app.

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The next retro toy was a mini radio which the child can assemble – and it really works!

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Or how about this stove from Grandma’s?

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IMHO I don’t really think that a digital take on an old toy qualifies as a retro trend, but what if the toy was digital to begin with?  What do you think?

If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, why not visit this blog for slinkies, snap bangles and sticky hands?

Happy playing!

Book: Playvolution

Straight Zigzag is getting ready for the launch of their book, Playvolution – The Ultimate Guide to Developing Valuable Experiences Through Play.

Go to www.playvolutionbook.com to sign up.  You’ll get information regarding release dates and where the book can be ordered, as well as FREE DOWNLOADS of great things to keep the preschoolers busy.

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Happy playing!

Techno-play and apps for everything at Nuremberg Toy Fair 2014

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As promised, here’s another look at some of the trends that were doing the rounds at the Nuremberg Toy Fair 2014.  One of the identified trends, which didn’t take too much deep analysis to realise, was Tech Toys.  It seems that every modern toy needs to be robotic or have its own app.  Apps for all the latest toys are available on smartphones, and I’m not sure whether the presumption is that every child has their own phone, or whether parents are continually letting their kids use their phones as toys and babysitters?

I can definitely see the benefit in teaching a child to build a robot, and LEGO has some great construction-robotic combos which children can build from scratch and then learn to programme.  There are also many apps geared towards teaching children a foreign language, such as English, and this can really have major advantages for parents who do not speak the language themselves.  The problem I have with tech toys, is when they start to turn play into a one-dimesional activity, bombarding only one or two senses (vision and hearing), and leaving the rest to rot.

Take for example a doll with fairy wings which has become very popular in recent years.  Now that the app is available, you need not take the actual toy along with you in the car.  Your child’s doll can fly through virtual forests by tipping the phone or tablet to negotiate the pathways.  Or what about the latest Tamagotchi?  This undersized toy need not come along either, as there is an app linked to the toy while you’re out, making sure that it is still fed as necessary.  We have apps that scan books and read your children bedtime stories, and puzzles that can be built by swiping your finger across the screen rather than rotating and orientating the wooden pieces in your hand.  Is the ultimate goal for parents and caregivers to be replaced by electronic devices?

Yes we live in smaller spaces and yes our children will need to know how to use technology.  But if we keep on feeding them technological junk food, the basis of their human existence, their health, their ability to sit, stand, run, feel, and explore is going to be stunted. What are the motives behind the development of these toys?  Is it really childhood education as I was told multiple times by their vendors, or is it money, capitalising on parents’ need to make sure their children are ahead of the pack?  It’s a dangerous virtual game we’re playing.

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Impressions from Spielwarenmesse 2014

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I’ve just returned home from a crazy week-long trip to Nuremberg, Germany, where anyone who’s anyone in the toy world, from maufacturer to retailer, has been meeting new people and showcasing their ideas. Twelve massive halls presented every toy you can imagine.  Halls with dolls and puppets, to model railways, to tech toys and new trends.  Countries presented the very best they had to offer.  While some designers punted the traditional and classic toys in a new way, others made apps to drag every possible play thing into the digital era.

I have posted a short 2-min video for those who would like a visual walk-through…

One of the most exciting concepts at the fair was the addition of a Trend Gallery, in which new toy trends are analysed and presented.  I will be covering each of these in separate blog posts over the coming weeks.

Another highlight was the release of two fantastic new toys from Moluk, the Oogi and Plui Rain Cloud.  These will also be covered in their own blog post and we’ll send you links for their videos as soon as we have them.

Happy playing!