The greatest toy on earth!

Our children are constantly bombarded with images of shiny new bits of plastic in colourful wrappings. Adverts on tv, in comics, online, in the laminated book of dreams known as the Argos catalog. Even kids’ tv shows seem to be nothing more than vehicles to sell us associated toys. A walk around Tesco can be dangerous and expensive if you happen to wander too close to the screaming neons of the toy aisle.

Our kids are being programmed to desire these cheaply made, expensively priced plastic playthings, and once they want them, they won’t be persuaded otherwise.

My sitting room and my daughter’s room are covered in boxes containing toys. The kids have a crate of cars, three crates of teddies and other soft toys, a large box of Sylvainian families, an equally large box of octonauts, shelves of craft toys, a kitchen and several kilos of play food, Lego by the bucketful, and a massive collection of wooden railway tracks. That’s not everything…

Despite this considerable selection of playtime goodies, there are other items which rank among the favourite toys. In the bath are a jug and an empty bubblebath bottle. In my daughter’s room is a box full of toilet roll middles, egg cartons, cheesy football tubs and miniature cereal boxes. The lounge is home to wrapping paper tubes, empty water bottles and cast offs from my wife’s wool supplies.

These “toys” have to be stored alongside the shop bought variety, and are treated with as much care as the most expensive items that belong to the kids. The reason why? These items don’t have a single purpose.

The multi level garage from the early learning centre is a multi level garage from the early learning centre. The long cardboard tube has already been a telescope, a sword, a broom, a microphone, a megaphone, and a medical instrument this morning.

The child size plastic kitchen is always a child size plastic kitchen. The empty lemonade bottle is now a spaceship, a car, a baby bopper (big sisters are lovely, aren’t they?), wheels for a car, a robot…

So what exactly is the greatest toy on earth? A child’s imagination.

If you tell a child what a toy is, that is what the toy will always be. But if you let a child decide, the possibilities are endless.

Pink is not the problem

Oh Lego! Why hast thou forsaken decades of good toymaking to shit in your loyal fans’ eyes with the monstrosity that is Lego Friends? What has possessed you to manufacture something so far removed from the unisex wonder of your original brick based play sets?

When I was little I played with Lego. My brother and I amassed a huge collection of it, comprising various sets and types. Everything from what would now be called Lego City, through Robin Hood, space, and pirates. My younger sister inherited this collection and enjoyed it as much as us boys had.

My wife and her sister had a large collection between them too. The most fondly remembered part of theirs was a formula one style racing car that my wife received as a gift when her sister was born.

My stepfather, his brothers and his sister all used to play with Lego together; a toy that spanned the genders and the ten years that separated them.

My father in law and his brother and sisters played together with Lego.

None of these people ever said or thought that it was only a boys toy. So why have Lego themselves suddenly decided it is? Why the need for a girl specific version? Who knows. Maybe it’s purely a profit driven thing. Maybe some misguided executive had it in their head that girls couldn’t play with Lego because it’s a construction toy. Whatever the reason, it’s pissing me off!

I want to be able to share my love of Lego with both of my children; my son and my daughter. I don’t want to have to play Lego with my boy and Lego Friends with my girl. I want to play Lego with both of them. Why would anyone want to allow a gender divide in their play?

Now the problem I have with Lego Friends isn’t that it’s very pink heavy. To be perfectly honest I don’t really care what colour Lego is! It’s the idea that girls need their own different Lego, that they’ll only play with Lego if it’s pink, that the figures need to be changed from the interchangeable, asexual props to play, into fashionable teens with an obsession with cute fluffy animals. Even the soccer practice set comes with a kitten.

Do we really need another toy manufacturer pushing our daughters towards this image of how girls should be? That their highest aspiration should be to bake cakes, wear pretty clothes and take a fluffy animal with them everywhere? Really?