Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tegu Mobility: Real-Life Benefits of Make-Believe Play

Blocks connected by hidden magnets.  The wheels just snap on by magnetic force -making virtually anything mobile.  (photo courtesy: Tegu)

WHAT: Tegu Mobility Line 
DOES:  newest addition to Tegu blocks (see that review tomorrow); wheels snap easily onto any Tegu blocks, kids build cars, structures, animals, people, and more with unique blocks and wheels
INVEST: one set of 4 wheels- $15; cars range from $19 - $38
TOOLS: Express Yourself, More Make-Believe Please, People are People, Think Like A Scientist/Engineer

CLICK TO Find out about Tegu's How Do You Roll? Sweepstakes: HERE  Ends 1/31/12

Here are three words you usually don't hear together:
wooden + magnetic + blocks

That's really new!   Yes, they really are wooden magnetic blocks.  Wooden toys in itself are not new and I am not sure when it started but it seems like people equate "wooden" with "educational."  For me, wooden toys mean quiet and quiet is good.

Magnets are not new either.  There are lots of magnetic toys around. They all share one thing in common.  They make building really really easy.  I love easy.  I love simple design too.  Check out this video.  It's beautiful.

Tegu Mobility from Tegu on Vimeo.

But then I thought about the price tags of these items and I have to say, I took a step back.  No, they are not cheap. But, if you are like me and decided to try out magnetic building toys, you'll find that the most desirable ones are never cheap.  I suppose with magnets, even if your kids are no longer toddlers, you still want them to be safe. Safe is usually not cheap. I have a toddler nephew who visits my home once in a while.  I never want him to mouth anything small that he found off my floor, heaven forbid a loose magnet.  At least with the Tegu blocks, I don't worry about that, you can't even see how they sealed up those blocks.  There isn't even a discernable seam.

So forgetting about the price tag for a moment, I decided to try the blocks out.   Luckily I heard about these blocks at a good time.  Tegu, the company that makes these blocks, had recently launched a line of cars as well as a set of wheels that could be attached to the blocks.  The wheels basically take your creation and instantly makes them mobile.  That's really cool.

This very simple creation became Number 2's "Pick-Upper." This photo from Tegu looks just like it.

So I decided that I would give it a try and had Number 2, who is almost five, try some samples out. I had a larger box of blocks that I still did not present to him (caved during an Amazon sale.) Thus he started out with just 10 blocks of various sizes along with a car (Maddy Micro) with its four wheels.  And Number 2, the boy who hates building started making things up with the blocks and wheels and moving them about.   My favorite creation: "The Pick-Upper"- a block on wheels that picked up other blocks.

More Than Just "Different"

So on top of being special that they are wooden magnetic blocks, now they have this magnetic wheel that goes with them.   Pretty soon, you start to understand that the blocks really have something that makes them stand out even more.

You may not perceive it but I think the size of the blocks will have you see things differently. You'll see that the kids may at first think that they have to build something big and structural like a castle but kids are quick and they'll start to figure things out.  Soon, you may see that everything they make is smaller than a castle and this is not because they have less blocks to stack.  The simple truth is that these blocks are not meant to be just stacked.  These blocks are meant to be connected and that means they can become just about anything.  Moreover, you realize that while there is no magnetic eye or foot in sight, the kids are making things that share one important element: people.

Could your child help design the next Tegu car?  See details below (photo courtesy: Tegu)

You don't expect it when you see a bunch of square and rectangular blocks.  However, the fact that you throw in a wheel implies that there is a human job to do.  Soon, you will end up seeing a little Tegu kid and a Tegu grown-up and they will sit in your child's car or train.  Maybe because it is made of plain smooth wood but the nature component of the blocks seems to lend itself easily to representing living things.  For me, that is the single most important difference in these blocks. They can be used to talk about life.  How do we talk about life? Adults have talk shows.  Kids have make-believe.

What's So Good About Make-Believe Play? 

According to New York City Child Psychologist Heather Goldman, children ages 3-6 are working on something called "constructive play," which is the practice of creating and constructing things.  Additionally, children ages 2-6 are also working on something called "make-believe play," where they are acting out everyday and imaginary roles.  Thus perhaps a hidden-genius-mom's intuition was surfacing when I looked at these blocks. Number 2 is nearing his fifth birthday. If he is naturally inclined to work on those two skills at this age then I scored by having ONE toy that is multitasking two important play skills.  Where is my ice cream treat?

However, what interests me more is the concept of make-believe play as well as representational play (AKA "pretend play').  Dr. Goldman, who is also the Psychology Consultant at the Quad Manhattan, a preschool and afterschool center for twice-exceptional children, helped me define this as when a child begins to use familiar objects in appropriate ways to represent their world.  I believe that all this is good stuff but I am often required to be the playmate and so dare I say it? I am tired and I need some motivation!!!! What does this kind of play do for kids?

"A child wants to say, 'Oooh, I'm the teacher and Mommy, you're the student!"  Dr. Goldman cited the common play scenario of school as an example. "It's a way of having different kinds of experiences in a safe realm."  Hmmm.  I never realized that this common game was a way for kids to try to take their teacher's perspective.   I wonder if we can play "Family" and let them be the MOTHER!  Try my perspective on laundry and maybe then they'll stop using their shirts as napkins.

You can do anything with your own set of wheels.  Beware of swiping siblings! (photo courtesy: Tegu)

"Children are experiencing things in school, different situations with their parents, with their friends..." Dr. Goldman continued to explain. "And then in their play, they are sort of recreating that and trying to gain their own experience over it."   Simply put, it's a way of understanding their world by playing out various scenarios.

Note to Self: More Pretend Play with Number 2

For my little one who is impatient during traffic jams, in crowded subways, and even waiting for dinner, Number 2 could use a little more "understanding of the world."  The great thing is that with Tegu blocks and their wheels, I can recreate traffic jams and subways and use the blocks to represent us waiting in them!  No additional toys are required although I am sure they would go well with lots of different toys, maybe even refrigerator magnets!

Everything that Dr. Goldman says makes sense.  If I want to teach my son a message about people and their roles, I can choose the safer realm of Pretend Play and let him practice seeing through the perspective of others.  Being able to understand other people's lives is the quality that I most admire in leaders.  Additionally, Pretend Play seems like a more effective alternative to my usual teaching method: lecturing.


I have a confession: I really suck at pretend play and thus not surprisingly, I am really good at lecturing!  But I end up turning off my child as soon as I open my mouth.  My idea of pretend construction play was to take two cardboard boxes (one on top of the other to make one thick box) and literally hammer plastic nails with a plastic hammer into semi-punctured holes pre-punctured just right (by me) to provide a nice hammering effect.  It's a nice idea but if my goal is to do pretend play, I can spend my energy differently.   Is there any help for the hopeless like me?

Come back tomorrow when we discuss the Tegu block sets and hear more from Dr. Goldman who gives us practical tips for making the most out of the pretend play time we have with our kids.

But before you go......

1- If your child is a builder, a doodler and/or a dreamer, do not miss this sweepstakes! Tegu's How Do You Roll's Sweepstakes offers folks a chance to win their own Tegu blocks and cars as well as an amazing grand prize of helping to design the next Tegu car watch that car roll off the production line in Tegu's factory in the Honduras!  Read my post to see how Number 1 ended up drawing something he really liked, making us both very proud. You could try this method at home! He's not entering so he'll be flattered that someone tried something that he did.

2- Here's a book suggestion from Dr. Jonathan Lauter, the child psychiatry expert consulted for the review on Perplexus.  For parents and professionals looking for a good book that discusses the stage of child development from ages 3-6, Dr. Lauter suggests The Magic Years by Selma Fraiberg.

Disclaimer: Tegu was kind enough to send me a few sample blocks and a Maddy Micro, (the orange car with four wheels).  I was so excited about them, I totally caved and bought the Tegu Discovery Set (Mahogany) before Tegu's product submission arrived.  Soon I discovered that with my two boys, you can not share wheels (like they both can't drive a single car) and so I caved again and bought a Riley Roadster.   Also, Toys are Tools is not part of this contest in any way.  

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