Stretching potential

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!

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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!

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Karen and the SZZ team

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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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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!

“Spontaneous play is the delicate dance of childhood that strengthens the mind and body, and nourishes the soul.” – Dr Joe L. Frost

Toy Review: Pluï

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Due to the nature of the toys that capture the imaginations of children and not necessarily adults, we’ve decided to review some great toys one by one, for the adults that buy them for the kids. Today’s blog post is the first in that series as we review the Pluï.

Pluï is a fun new water toy, perfect for summer as well as bath time.  It’s a hard sphere with bumps, available in blue, yellow and green.  At first I thought it looked a bit like a farm yard animal, maybe a cow or pig.  But on closer inspection it becomes apparent that each little bump has a hole – and that’s where the fun starts!

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Pluï makes rain. The name was developed from the french word pluie or rain. All you need to do is hold it under the water until it fills up.  Pick it up using one finger to close off the single hole on the top of the toy.  As you lift your finger to uncover the hole, rain starts to flow from the holes at the bottom of the toy. Persistent rain (until the water runs out).  But this is where the fun comes in – stop the rain, or bob your finger up and down to create lighter drops or even drizzle. And if you have two or three pluï, and some friends, you could really create a downpour in the bath tub! Even tiny hands can manage two at a time.

Some little creative souls started their own version of Händel’s “Water Music”, each with their index finger tapping away at the top hole at a different speed to create their own rhythm as the drops hit the surface of the water. What fun!  You see, moms and dads, it’s not about what the toy looks like to us, or what WE think it “does” or can be used for.  A toy is merely an instrument with which a child’s imagination can be tapped.  It provides a starting point from which they can create their own story.

As a paediatric occupational therapist, I have my own reasons for appreciating the design of Pluï.  I like the size – similar to that of a tennis ball which gets a nice spherical grip with a large web space.  This is something we’re always looking for to encourage strong hands and a good pencil grip later on.  On top of that, I like the way the index (pointer) finger has to control the speed of the water flow.  Individual finger movements are critical for the development of fine motor control and dexterity. If little hands are too tiny to manage that, a toddler can use two hands, one to hold and one to block the hole (great for bilateral integration).  And water play as a medium is a lovely starting point for children with tactile defensiveness.

So whether you’re playing with your Pluï in the bathtub or in the swimming pool, have fun this summer.  But remember – safety always comes first.

Happy Playing!

SZZ

PS Here’s a video of some children playing with Pluï!