Monthly Archives: August 2014

Toys as Teachers, Empowering girls, block play, much more

I discovered a new venture that is all about encouraging girls to pursue math and science. Naturally I zeroed in on the ideas about block play – (click here).
antique block wagon

When I was a kid, I would play with all sorts of toys: Barbie, Disney figurines, Legos, Leap Frog, and more. No matter the toy, I would act out my future to the last detail. Toys are more than entertainment; they are tools that educate and inspire.

Let’s start with toy blocks! According to developmental psychologist Rachel Keen, “parents and teachers need to design environments that encourage and enhance problem solving at a young age” (Keen 2011). Toy blocks can help children develop the following:


See more on all this at the site miss possible which is all about empowering girls though many of the ideas work for boys too. I recommend it all.


“She was one of those exceptional children who do still spend time outside, in solitude. In her case nature represented beauty – and refuge. “It’s so peaceful out there and the air smells so good. I mean, it’s polluted, but not as much as the city air. For me, it’s completely different there,” she said. “It’s like you’re free when you go out there. It’s your own time. Sometimes I go there when I’m mad – and then, just with the peacefulness, I’m better. I can come back home happy, and my mom doesn’t even know why.”

― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder


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A “new” toy from John

5doll house

I made this doll house for the first time about 1983 for my own children. A dozen or two followed for sale and then I stopped. Why the design lay dormant over three decades is a mystery. Way back then I wanted a beautiful doll house that was also durable enough for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Still seems a good idea so I am making it again. There are plenty of delicate versions available for older children to paint and decorate. Younger children are more interested in immaginative play, less display. This design can stand up to their rough handling; they can even climb on top. As with all my toys it is assembled with wooden dowel pins so you can count on it to endure and to please generations of children and their parents too.

Click to see more.

“Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying ‘I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.’ The other is ‘You want fries with that?'” Robin Williams

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Woodworking tip – Router technique and safety

Over 38 years of toy making I have hurt myself two times, not counting dozens of splinters, bumps and bruises. Both of these serious injuries happened decades ago and involved shaping small wooden pieces with my router. Luckily they were not life threatening and I was back at the bench the next day, if a bit hampered by bandages and pain. The round-over router bits I use generate quite a bit of sideways force on the workpiece and after the eighth or ninth piece the mind begins to wander, the grip loosens, the wood slips and it can get bloody. (BTW: Blood is difficult to remove from wood and its best to avoid spilling any on the work.) So I developed several fixtures to hold small parts to be routed. The one pictured below is used as I round over the edges of an auto train car. You can see the padded handles keep my hands away from the sharp bit. Since using such fixtures I have had no injuries. I’m not always a fast learner yet surely one injury should be enough motivation to think of a better way. I needed two. Duh!

routing safety 1routing safety 3routing safety 2

“Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”
― Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home

Listen to my rather ancient interview on Public Radio

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