Tag Archives: Kids

Hard play

I’ve been meaning to blog this for while. Russell thinks ‘soft play’ is “one of those things that’s better than it used to be” and I see what he means but I’m not so sure. I’m a pretty involved dad and I spend a fair amount of my time in a local soft play area and I’m definitely ambivalent about these things. Half the time (I suppose while I’m drinking a frothy coffee and reading the paper I hopefully brought with me) I think they’re pretty cool and a bit or a liberation for harassed 21st Century parents and the other half of the time (while I’m loitering by the spongy slide thing, trying to prevent injury, for instance) I think they’re a kind of kiddie hell where you pay (through the nose) for pleasures that used to be free.

It’s a very natural instinct of capitalists everywhere to ‘add value’ – to transform something that already exists by refining or enhancing it so you can charge more for it, at least for a while, until your precious improvement becomes the norm. So I guess it was inevitable that clever businesspeople would ‘add value’ to old-fashioned play by offering a secure place with reasonable coffee and no obvious sharp edges and charging for it. I remain to be convinced, though, that our kids are going to benefit, ultimately, from spending time (and cash money) in video-monitored, time-limited, rule-governed, air-conditioned play places like these. I’m not going to idealise my own childhood – which was an ordinary, working class 1960s sort of affair – but these ultra-confined play facilities are the polar opposite of the free-range play of our youth and that must influence our kids’ image of the world. Are we producing a generation of agoraphobics?

Xmas toys: good and bad. Number 5 – The Giants and The Joneses audiobook by Julia Donaldson

Cover art from the CD of The Giants and The Joneses by Julia Donaldson
Julia Donaldson has written some of our favourite kids’ books – The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, Room on the Broom and loads more – all beautifully-written. The Giants and The Joneses is aimed at a slightly older age group than these but the brilliant (unabridged) CD audiobook, read by Helen Lederer, is one of the rare stories that will keep our 6 year-old boy and our 5 year-old girl happy at the same time (and it’s over three hours long so it’ll keep them amused for quite a long ride in the car).

Xmas toys: good and bad. number 3 – The Incredimobile RC car

The Incredibles Incredimobile RC car
This one looked unpromising. I don’t need to tell you that 90% of movie tie-in toys are depressing play-once-and-discard rubbish and I found it difficult to believe that a plastic RC car could buck the trend (much as I loved The Incredibles) but, dear reader, I was wrong. It’s chunky (doors close nicely, roof snaps on and off properly), it’s well put together, quite fast and fun to play with – it comes with a nice bendy Mr Incredible toy and has good sounds too (although everything has good sounds these days doesn’t it?). Oliver has played with it… ooh… ten times? Fifteen times? That makes it a big hit in our house.

And while you’re thinking about it, tell me why this one is different. Can there really be two models? One for the US and one for Europe?

Xmas toys: good and bad. Number 2 – The Playmobil Airliner

The extraordinary Playmobil Airliner
Engineered like a Mercedes, the Playmobil Airliner is really a parent’s toy. Everything snaps together with the kind of satisfying click that only the Germans can manage. The thing comes with a tiny plastic and steel tool that looks like it belongs in the boot of an SL. The interior has cup holders with stacking cups and a proper, scary-looking German stewardess. The design is spartan European and hyper-detailed – nothing is half done, flashy or unsatisfactory. Playmobil is Lego for anal retentives (although, I suppose, Lego is Lego for anal retentives…). Anyway, less is more.

Xmas toys: good and bad. Number 1 – Geomag Panels

Geomag panels
How’s this for topical? A Xmas entry in mid-January! Every year we buy a small mountain of toys for our children and about half of them turn out to be total rubbish. Of the rest, though, several always turn out to be real gems and I feel it’s my solemn duty to let you know which ones have kept me the kids amused in the critical post-Xmas fortnight and which are already down at the hospice shop.

We’re already Geomag fans round here (they seem to have a cult following and many imitators) so we were pretty excited when they launched a line of little plastic panels in various shapes to snap into your magnetic constructions. These panels are very simple but really add to the pleasure of assembling the fantastically chunky, snappy, clicky Geomag rods and balls into pointless geometric shapes.

This is an impossibly satisfying toy, providing the kind of fingertip pleasure you just can’t get from Stickle Bricks. The plastic-coated Geomag rods are North-South magnets that you ‘stick’ together or join using shiny, nickel balls to form intricate, self-supporting, 3D structures. These panels allow you to give your skeletons lovely translucent walls and edges and fins and windows. Neat.

What are they on about?

Bet you've never heard of Fat CatFat Cat pencil
Fat Cat is a cartoon character with an uncertain grasp of the English language. I think he comes from China, although this notebook and pencil (which come with a pencil case, ruler, pencil sharpener, eraser and a sort of clip thing) was bought in Spain and carries some words in Dutch too. If you click the small pic of the pencil you’ll see that the inscription says: “Fat Cat is folksy, easygoing, polite and well-mannered”.