Our daughter has reached the developmental milestone of trying to create for herself working models of objects she observes in her everyday life. Last year she drew pictures of houses; this year she's trying to make actual houses. Of course, modeling clay is a great material for her constructive tendencies. But modeling clay has its limits--anything that's more than an inch thick doesn't bake very well in the oven. It's difficult to really appreciate the house-ness of something about the size of a small carrot, red roof or otherwise.
There is paper, of course. But it suffers from two problems:
- It's two-dimensional nature gives her no clue as to how to create a three-dimensional structure, limiting its utility to objects she perceives as flat, like laptop screens and keyboards.
- She inevitably finds herself cutting to pieces with scissors what she should be using as a wall, a floor, a ceiling, or a roof.
She's figured out that boxes from amazon.com can be transformed into all kinds of box-like things, especially houses. But the minute she tries to make anything with moving parts, whether it's a car (with axles and wheels), a high-rise (with an elevator), a crane, or anything like that, she quickly discovers that her other two favorite and familiar materials, clay and tape, don't exactly lend themselves to the movements she's trying to achieve.
Our daughter has also reached another developmental milestone, which relates to pulling random toys out of the toy chest. There was a time when she would do this as an act of discovery--"wow! what else is down there?". Later, it became a necessary step for imaginative play--"and this is the little bunny that was also invited to the tea party." Now she merely goes through the motions before proclaiming "I'm bored! There's nothing to do!" It used to take her hours to create a mess that could be cleaned up in 15 minutes. Now she can fill the playroom in 10 minutes with toys so randomly scattered that it takes 30 minutes to find them all and to repack them so that they fit. It's time for a purge.
Fortunately, she has a birthday coming up, and I proposed that we do our purge on the pretext (which we have used successfully before) that we cannot give her more stuff until we've donated the old stuff. I proposed we set our goals high (meaning a deep purge and removal of all "priceless" items into storage) and get her something that I fondly remembered as having engaged by constructive urges: an Erector Set.
Amy liked the general idea, but not the specific implementation. Gone are the pure utilitarian workbench solutions that I remember as a boy. "No problem," I said. "I'll search around for something and let you know what I find." Three hours later at The Rocking Horse Toy Company in Petosky MI, I found a product from the ROKENBOK Toy Company that fit the bill perfectly. Amy checked it out the next day, and we're going to give it a try.
What I (think I'll) like:
- Boxes of basic building materials without decals, logos, or anything else to interfere with imaginative construction projects
- Chutes and balls for building kinetic "mousetrap" devices
- Motorized elements (conveyer belts, elevators, and cranes) for mechanical experimentation
Also available (but not high on my list):
- Motorized wheeled vehicles (like bulldozers, loaders, forklifts)
- More motorized vehicles (police/fire/emergency)
- A Monorail system
- A multichannel remote control for operating these wheeled and tracked vehicles
Actually, my daughter is quite crazy about R/C vehicles right now, so maybe we'll get a forklift. But don't tell her yet. I want to see if she can build some interesting structures before getting too excited about the electronics. I'll let you know how it goes.