Stretching potential

Archive for the ‘Techno-kids’ Category

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]

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!

Play is boring!

Yep, I said it.  Come on- you have to agree with me, it’s what most of your kids think.  Most of the under 10’s, and dare I say under 7’s, I meet these days are glued to a screen, be it a 50-inch flat-screen in their bedroom, Dad’s iPad or Mom’s smartphone (or their own!).  Dare to voice the sentiment we all grew up with (“Go and play outside”) and these techno-savvy preschoolers will bombard you with a long list of why they can’t.  It’s too hot. It’s too cold.  I don’t have any friends to play with.  You must come too.  There’s nothing to do out there.  Play is boring.

Gone are the days when the tools needed for play were your body, some space and an imagination.  Children want to be entertained.  Fun less creative effort.

The comments from our recent trip to Disneyworld were delayed as a result of Nelson Mandela’s passing soon after our return, so let me start the new year by sharing some of my thoughts from that fairytale experience.  Here in South Africa, most children have heard of Disneyworld/Disneyland, yet although they might wish to visit, a trans-atlantic flight to a theme park is beyond the scope of most vacation budgets.  As qualified professionals never too old to play, we eventually had the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

Disney has it all worked out.  Even from the highway leading up to Disneyworld you are invited to believe that dreams really do come true.  Everything is magical.  Everything works.  Everything glitters.  As soon as you enter The Magic Kingdom every building and character looks as though they stepped straight off the set of one of the many Disney movies we all grew up with, and there, in the distance, is the blue and white castle which sparkled at the beginning and end of each one.  The symphonies playing over the loudspeakers put a bounce in your step.  It is a world without sad faces, without litter, without evil characters.  Every interaction is an invitation to be entertained.  Little girls dressed up as princesses prance around in mini ball gowns and with tiaras in their hair.  My goodness, even the queueing is turned into an entertainment experience with video games along the way as you wind your way ever closer to Space Mountain, you’re invited to share a joke with Mike from Monsters University at the Laugh Floor, or you play with the honey in the Hundred Acre Wood.

And yet, amongst all this happiness, was an uneasiness in my soul.  While some families posed for portraits here and there, many children spent the day staring at their iPads as they tapped the screen to Instagram yet another snap of the day. I couldn’t help but feel that they were missing out on the whole expereince – to really look at the beauty and intricate detail of the environment.  Did they notice the bushes cut into characters from Alice in Wonderland? Did they see Winnie the Pooh sneaking past as he headed towards a meet-and-greet area? Did they feel the fake snow falling on their noses that wasn’t cold?

Randi Zuckerberg, (yes, sister to Mark from Facebook fame) commented in her book Dot Complicated on the phenomenon gripping today’s children – that if you didn’t post a pic of it, it didn’t happen.  So actually what I was witnessing was a severe new form of social anxiety – if these children didn’t post it, did it really happen?  Were they really there?  What would their friends think? Well let’s be contraversial for a moment – I propose that it’s those children who DIDN’T post every moment that were really and truely there, in the moment, absorbing it all.  They were the ones who had the full experience – they saw, smelt, heard, felt and tasted every carefully thought out Disney detail.  They were the ones who were in essence PRESENT for the experience.

You would think that in a world that provides insta-tainment at the click of a button or a swipe of your finger, children would be ready to lap up every detail of a done-for-you play experience.  And yet, it’s that very same world that robs them of the play they paid many dollars to “see”.