Welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast! My name is Nina.
And today we are going to speak about toys. So I still play with toys sometimes because I work with children here in BigAppleSchool. What about you John? Do you still play with toys? Do you interfere with them somehow?
No, I don’t play with toys I’m afraid at all.
Okay. What about playing with our little students? I know that you work with them too. Do you play with them on your lessons?
Well unfortunately most of the lessons now are online, so that’s quite difficult but once we return to classroom lessons, yes, sure. I would use toys to try to improve their English.
That’s great. I also do the same and I think that all the children here at BigAppleSchool enjoy it. By the way, what comes to your mind when you hear the word toy? What is your first association?
I think of things obviously that I had when I was a child and I think that brings into mind first is Meccano.
Can you explain what is it? Because here in Russia we don’t have such a thing.
Well actually you do have it, but it’s called something else. It’s practically identical. It was a kit formed of strips of metal with pre-drilled holes and small metal plates with pre-dilled holed, wheels and nuts and bolts. You could assemble these things, make things.
Smallest kits you could make were a little crane or a little car. But the more sophisticated, obviously the more expensive ones they were little electric motors. You could build huge constructions, but they were quite complicated. Quite a good educational toy for budding engineers.
And I believe there is something, I don’t know what it’s called, but there’s something almost identical in Russia today.
Yeah, I think we had and we have still such a toy and we call it metal constructor. And yeah, typical it’s for boys. But I think it could be good for the girls maybe get bored with it pretty fast, because you know like all the girls love dolls, talking dolls, different babies and bla-bla-bla, stuff like mothers and daughters.
It’s interesting that you said it is for girls. Now of course 50 years ago when I was a child playing with toys – yes, there were boys’ toys and girls’ toys, Meccano was very much a boys’ toy, Cindy is a doll, was pretty much a girls’ toy, but I don’t think I’ll get away with saying things like that in England anymore.
And you know, there are toys, but they are certainly not gender-assigned. How different things were 50 years ago when you played doctors and nurses and the doctor was always a boy, the nurse was always the girl.
Oh actually, in my family we’ve got only sisters, we got no boys unfortunately. And every time we played, I don’t know, doctors and nurses, we were all girls here. But I wasn’t really interested in this game, because I preferred books, different crayons and paints in my childhood.
And for me reading was more interesting than playing with everything. And I think this is more productive and more effective to any child to evolve and develop his imagination with art, with art therapy or whatever than playing with different educational toys.
Because for now one of my nephew he’s got a lot of mechanical toys, just like robotic toys, they produces different stuff, music. Or they play poems and nursery rhymes, but what for? He doesn’t know anything of It, he doesn’t repeat after them.
The toy is smarter than the nephew and I think it’s kind of boring. Or kinda sad for me actually. So I think no matter how actually you interfere with it, toys, you need to remember about the age range for example, or some kind of gender diversity here, because I don’t know.
We need to help our children to play with toys and to develop their skill somehow and metal constructor, you called it Mecco..?
Meccano, I think it’s for boys because they could grow as mechanics, they could grow as engineers, it’s not typical, I don’t know, girlish jobs, occupations. And for girls it’s more important to develop such skills as, I don’t know, kindness, mercy or whatever, some kind of helping each other. So for them toys should be softer, I don’t know, more cuddling or whatever.
Oh I’m afraid that, Nina, that would be deemed as heresy in England and the Western Europe. Girls are almost forced to play with boys’ toys now and boys, on the opposite. Why should boy not play with a doll? However, boys be boys and girls be girls.
And boys are naturally attracted it seems to me to the what were traditionally boys’ toys. They’ll play the Action man, they’ll play the guns, they’ll play soldiers, and the boys would play with dolls, sorry, girls would play with dolls.
The thing about toys is I think that modern ones have taken some of the learning… usefulness out of them, they do everything for you. Things with lots of flashing lights, you just press the button and it does everything. But once you put the batteries in, once you turn it on, that’s it.
You’ve done everything you can with it. Whereas at least with the Meccanos or Lego which I know is still popular, you build something. When you finish building, you take it apart and you build something else. There must be…
When you’re young, you learn how these things fit together, you know, how nuts and bolts fit together. Whereas something you take out of a box, your father sticks the batteries in, and there’s an on/off switch, you don’t learn much from that, do you?
Yeah, I actually… I totally agree with you here, because I think, when we speak about toys, we should follow the rule of three E: new experience the first is. The second is express themselves, and the next is explore.
And when you play with different constructors, Lego, Meccanos or whatever, you can create the creature of yourself for example, I don’t know. Some kind of robotic dog, I don’t know, some kind of mechanical dancer and create the story to speak about it, I don’t know, maybe in the evening with your family.
Or make some photos. And then show it to your grandmothers or grandfathers. And here, with just like, I don’t know, simply turn on and turn off toys we don’t have such opportunity to create imagination of a child. And it’s a pity. It’s sad I think.
Yeah. You mentioned when you were a child you really enjoyed painting and coloring and drawing – did you have a thing, I think it’s still available in Russia, the thing called painting by numbers? Where you have a drawing and each drawing is divided into sections and each section has got a little number in it. And the number tells you what color to paint.
Oh. I think yes, but I wasn’t interested in it, because I didn’t and I don’t remember anything with the numbers in my childhood. But my mom, she can draw and sketch really well, and she always drew us some princesses of course, some different fairies, some animals, some, I don’t know, magic sceneries and we colored it.
And we really enjoyed it. And we.. I was the kind of, I don’t know, an elder sister, and then I drew such pictures for my little sisters. So for me it was more of create something myself than follow numbers. But I think it’s kinda cool even for now, when I’m an adult, I can do it because I think it’s kind of meditation – you follow the numbers, step by step. And you follow the colors, and it’s cool.
Yeah I enjoyed drawing and painting when I was a child. I still will dabble these days drawing. Not painting so much. I like to sketch occasionally, but it’s a good thing to develop one’s creative skills when you’re young and to keep it going when you’re older.
I also think so. Do you remember what did you draw when you were a boy?
I once ended at painting competition. I think I was about 7. And it was a watercolor painting. And it was a tiger in a forest and I actually won a prize which I’ve still got, it’s some book of fairy stories.
But that was all. That was back in the 1960s. And did you ever end at any competitions, your paintings and drawings?
I think not… maybe in school at some kind of a literature lesson, something typical, educational. Nothing special here. But I regularly took part in competitions with, I don’t know, like creation different models or different, I don’t know, girlish stuff like embroideries or whatever.
And for me it was good, I really loved it, because you can see not only your creation, but different. The creations of your friends and it was good. I think it’s more important than taking part in it when you’re a girl or a little boy.
You need to look to different points of view on this, for example how can people create a bird from a plate maybe on sticks. So many different ways. And you need to learn them, you need to watch them, to look at them, and I don’t know, admire them too. I think it’s really cool.
What do you think of today’s toys, the modern ones, you know, compared to things you had when you were a child and… well, when I was a child they didn’t have computers and I don’t know. Most of them were… If they had any power source it was clockwork, you know, we had to wind them up.
Yes, I also like it! We had the mechanical dog and you need to wind it up with a little key, a little pretty key, and it was good. Kind of an act of magic here, when for now you just turn it on and it doesn’t stop. I don’t like it.
And for me as a girl actually playing with girlish stuff, I can say that modern dolls scared me a lot. Because when I was little, my dream was and, I guess, of any Russian girl was to have a Barbie. It was like number one dream. The second was a happy meal toy, whatever it can be. And I really wanted this Barbie. I don’t know what for, but I really wanted that.
And for now we have kind of, I don’t know, freaky dolls with really big heads, extremely big to their body. Or, I don’t know, zombie doll. We have in toyshop different monster academy dolls. I don’t understand why, why it is good for the little girls. Why it is beautiful.
I can’t get the, you know, concept of it because Barbie dolls was just a human body or whatever. She was like a princess, this doll. And it was good. So she is beautiful, she is, I don’t know, maybe smart somehow, if you have a barbie cook or whatever or a barbie teacher.
Or it’s Barbie princess and you can follow your dream, create your story. And here you’ve got, I don’t know, doll werewolf in a mini or on high heels, just, like, extremely high heel. How can I play with that? What is the story behind her? Is it an Instagram model or whatever from a fairy tale?
I don’t like it really. I’m for simple toys which can develop imagination and actually for some, I don’t know, crayons or albums, for water coloring or coloring by numbers. I think it’s better for children. And I actually can’t say that I enjoy, I don’t know, stuffed animals.
I know that Teddy Bears was, Teddy Bears were actually an important part of childhood, but for now I think it’s changed, because every child can choose his own, I don’t know, protector in bed. Not only Teddy, but different rabbits, monkeys, even elephants, snakes.
I think the diversity is good there, but for me it’s kinda not typical, because in my childhood we had only bears or rabbits. What about your childhood John?
Oh we had bears and a rabbit, yeah. Dogs, a cat. I know there were available like giraffes and lions and stuff, but that was the limit of what we had in our house. The soft toy variety. I remember one particular, it was a type of poodle, I had another clockwork wind up mechanism in its stomach that could make it bark.
But I think it broke very quickly. And… we didn’t have anything with batteries. One of the greatest disappointments to me I presumed when the other child is you’re given a present on Christmas day, which requires batteries. And the person giving it to you forgets to buy the batteries and the shops are shut.
It’s a personal tragedy I think. I think it’s very good.
But you’ve mentioned Barbies, cause Barbies have been around for, I don’t know, they were certainly around when I was a child. And they were around for a while, but that as you said mainly a girls toy, but there was a boys doll.
Yeah, we called it Ken as far as I remember.
Ken, yeah. But I never had one of those. I had one that was called an action man. Is there a Russian equivalent to that? It was a doll, we could move its arms and legs, and it was a soldier and you could dress it different uniforms. So it was a doll for boys and you could buy various types…
You could buy a tank for the thing and I had a Gemini space capsule for it, he was dressed as an astronaut. But after you dressed it, you stuck it in its capsule and then what you do with it?
Was there or is there a Russian equivalent to that?
I think we don’t have and we didn’t have, in my time we didn’t have a boyish doll or whatever. We’ve got different action figures like toy soldiers, but they, I guess, are not tall. Like 10cm, so they are not big, and there’s definitely not any clothes for it. So you can only, I don’t know, buy this action figure and pretend that you’re a bad guy or you’re a good guy with this. Mostly we have different options like dresses and I don’t know, clothes for dolls.
Yeah, I think that I used to do a lot when I was a child. There was a thing called Airfix, they made plastic kits, which you could then assemble. So you could make airplanes and cars. Everybody had a spitfire, everybody had a messerschmitt, everybody had a Lancaster bomber.
And they’ve… In England at least they’ve retreated into the world of model makers, maybe adults. And it’s a very niche area. I was in the Aura a few weeks ago, I went to the big shop there which is for arts and crafts and hobbies.
And there was a huge display of all these boxes with these plastic preformed parts to stick together and paint, to make your airplane, and your ships and your tanks. And so is that a big thing in Russia? Did you do that when you were a child?
Actually not. We’ve got some collages from colored paper, something simple, but nothing to do with models. And I actually can’t say here anything, cause I would like to maybe google it later after the podcast, to have something to speak even in Russian here.
Okay. So, now, cause I’ve just been talking about military-tied things, action men, soldiers first, then you got a gun, you buy him a tank. I talked about military aircraft. I think in the West at least, there’s a lot of people would think twice about buying their children militarized toys. Is that same here do you think?
I think not here in Russia, and especially speaking about my childhood. It was, I don’t know, an image for a boy. Barbie, a princess for a girl. And a military man, a true soldier, I don’t know, dedicated to his country, for a boy. So, I don’t know, it’s kinda good here, ordinary stuff.
And I think just like computer games here, they could be more, I don’t know, dangerous for little kids and children, because they provide aggression and violence. And they keep it like it’s okay. Because here in computer games they can kill, I don’t know, different maybe animals or maybe they are enemies, whatever, and then here, in true life, they continue to do it maybe.
So I think it’s more about computer games that are dangerous and actually could think twice about buying it or not. Or allow to play or not to kids.
Yes, this is the modern toy, what a modern toy is, the computer game. I am quite ignorant about this, since I’ve never played a computer game in my life. But I read a few things about the influence of computer games on people, on children.
That you can play these very violent games like Mortal Combat I believe is one of them, it has several series. You’re fighting incredibly bloody war. But there’s no consequences.
Yeah, of course, you can just severe some people like it’s okay.
Which desensitizes perhaps people that there’s actually consequences to their actions. What do you think?
I think actually that age range is the most, you know, important thing here when you choose a computer game to your child. And I’m here for more educational games maybe, to learn some alphabet or sounds or, I don’t know, some math, some basis.
Or speaking, I don’t know, stories with your child or talking toys. It would be better than a lot of games where you can kill people or which can deal with some of the weapons or fighting. I think we can actually face it because all the teenagers I have been teaching here, they play computer games.
They play Counter Strike, some kind of military game with actually killing people. And I guess for them it’s okay, because they understood that this is just a situation of a war, actually, they just like … and they’re kind of part of it when they are playing it. But in real life they don’t do it.
But if you are a little little kid, you can play and actually, I don’t know, make some bad, I don’t know, actions when you play with your little friends or whatever, because you don’t understand which is good or which is bad actually, from your computer game when you kill and bite, I don’t know, people.
So, for me it’s actually the most important part. You should think twice, for yourself and for your child.
So this brings the subject- is there such a thing as a good toy and a bad toy?
I think there is no like an answer to this question, because everyone will have their own answer. And mine is – the good toy for me is which helps to develop your skill or imagination. I’m for books, I’m for stories, I’m for just developing artistic skills more than having something like ready-made fun.
And sometimes I think yes, it’s okay to have a stuffed toy, but it’s better to have your room full of your pictures and full of your stories, because it will help you to learn how to speak faster. It will learn how to interfere with different events in your life, how to deal with people, how to…
I don’t know, improve your communication skill when you’re 5 years old and you try to explain your mother who is mister Huggies or who is Mister Broccoli. So for me that’s it. What about you John? What is bad and good?
I sort of agree with you on it. Anything that stimulates the creative mind must be a positive. So painting, drawing, Lego, Meccano. Doing something, creating something. Something where you just switch it on and the lights flash is not only boring, but pointless.
I’ve heard of people who’ve bought very expensive toys for children at Christmas, and they are very big and they put the batteries in, and they’ve turned it on and within 10 minutes the child put the toy to one side and it’s more interested in the box that it came in cause it can be turned into a dan or a house.
So they’re being creative with a box but a very expensive electronic gadget is pushed to one side. So I think there are… I don’t think these that just have flashing lights are per se bad, I just think that they are possibly a waste of money.
But I think there are some toys out there that might have a negative effect. And I think it’s one that you alluded to, that maybe a little bit too violent, desensitize people to the consequences of their actions. And computer games themselves – you shouldn’t play them for hours and hours a day.
They can become addictive. What about getting outside and getting some fresh air and getting some exercise? And it’s been instance in Britain of people getting rickets again. Now this was a disease, children, sorry, which was thought of being eradicated, it was common, well, not common, but it used to occur 70-80 years ago.
And was caused by a Vitamin D deficiency. And in those days it was because people lived in dark dank horrible conditions. It’s reappeared because children spend all day inside playing computer games and not getting any sunshine.
Definitely. And if you are a pro-gamer actually, you need to play in a dark room, because you need to watch and look at your marvelous computer full of, I don’t know, light and et cetera. So I think that’s kind of type – if you play a game, a computer game, you need to do it in a dark room.
And I think it’s not good for your eyes or for your health, you need to go outside and maybe play on your balcony, I don’t know, as a kind of a compromise here. What I’m here for – you can play actually, maybe one hour or two hours, it’s okay.
But then go outside, do something there, reads a book there sitting on a bench in the park. Or just run around your house, it’s really cool. Physical activity is the best part we can do with our bodies, not just like sitting here and wasting our time, typing something.
Speaking about typing and different time we spend in front of our computers. What do you think about electronical books?
Kindles. I have got one, I actually prefer the feel of the book to be honest. I know if you’re reading a book on an airplane or a train and you’re travelling you can fit all library on a kindle and it’s much more convenient. And if you’re on holiday why take 12 heavy books with you? But I’d still rather have a book.
Speaking about the child – imagine the situation that you need to give him a present. Will give him an ordinary book, just like paper, or a Kindle?
That’s an interesting one. I think I might give them an ordinary book. I know some ch8ildren go – What is this? They haven’t seen this before. They may put it down and pick up the electronic gadget again, and maybe giving them a kindle would encourage them to read.
Because they’ll play with the gadget first in a book, but I still think there’s something magical about opening a book. Especially for young kids with, you know, the pictures that are in there. You know, the book of nursery rhymes, the fantastic pictures.
I don’t know, not as jarring as the flashing… I keep saying flashing lights. Well, the electronic gadget, blaring into your eyes… Well-crafted picture I think is possibly better, but that’s maybe just me being old.
It’s not only you being old, I’m with you here in this situation. I think that, just like typical and classical books are the best. Because they have pictures, they have words typed in the back, and you need to read it, you need to imagine the world inside and you can follow the pictures to create your own story.
I think it’s for the best. And Kindle I think it’s more for maybe teenagers, who know how to deal with books. And you were speaking about how to make a child read. It’s, I don’t know, more effective to start with more ordinary, classical books.
And maybe even go to the library because for me it was a very good experience for my childhood. I saw a lot of books in one place and my mom said it was their house, their home. Oh my god, it’s so cool, so many books I can read them all if I want! Yes, you can. So it was little victory as a bookworm when I was a child.
So, what toy would you buy for a child?
I think that we need to pay attention, I don’t know, to the child himself or herself. To her tastes in toys, but me? I think it would be some kind of artistic kit or a play dough and some kind of Meccano. And no dolls, no, never. I won’t do this. Maybe some kind of doll you can sew yourself.
A stuffed toy you can make yourself. But, more practical I think. And you now, like, for future. Not for 10 minutes’ fun, like you can actually reuse it or replay it for a lot of times. And I think it would be good for the child and for the parents too. And that would be the best answer in the world for them I think. Great.
I once bought a niece of mine, when she was 11-12, I really was rather cruel, I wrangled with her mother, I bought her an electric guitar and an amplifier.
Her mother’s face was a pitch I can tell you.
I’d done that with her brother a few years earlier.
This is great! Actually I think that musical instruments are a huge present to have, In my family all of our adults, our parents, aunties and whoever, they encouraged us to play different sounds with, I don’t know, maybe parents and spoons for the first, but then we got a piano, we got a guitar, different flutes, different drums.
And it was just like okay, go with it, have a go, continue. And well, all of our sisters, we finished music schools and for us it was just like natural. Because we loved sounds from our childhood and we used to deal with it just like every day.
Mom, I’ve got my electric guitar. Look, I’ve got a song! And mom was like – yes, it was so good! You are so, I don’t know, great!
So what instruments can you play now?
I can play guitar and piano. And for now I’m learning how to play ukulele and I think it would be great opportunity here at BigAppleSchool to sing songs to my ukulele one day.
So you’re living proof that buying a right toy for a child when they’re young can stay with them for the rest of their life. How they can benefit. You are obviously very musical. And you’re gonna hopefully introduce this to the next generation.
Yes, I think it’s like the best way the teacher can, I don’t know, teach kids. So, look at me, do like me. And I would like to spread it a lot. Spread it, I don’t know, over the world. Take ukulele, have it a go, and enjoy the sound of it. It was good. Actually, by the way, if you could be a toy, what would you be?
Oh, what I’d be. I think I’d like to be a leather-bound classic novel. So I’ll sit on the shelf and be admired.
I don’t know. I don’t wanna be stuffed animal. I don’t want to be a doll and I don’t’ want to be an action figure. Maybe I would like to be a balloon. Because I will be somewhere up to the ceiling and not in the girl’s or a boy’s hands.
Or I would like to be maybe a Lego kit, because speaking about imagination, I could be everything in proper hands. And I think it would be great experience to be everyday something new. So, the last thing to discuss is about internet. Bill Gates actually once said that about the Internet – a nice toy, but waste of time. What do you think about it?
Well I think he was wrong.
I don’t know why he would say such things. After all, he wouldn’t be as rich as he is without the internet. I mean the internet is a wonderful piece of invention. I need to find something out – I mean, not everyone has got the time to go to the library. The library is big enough to have the book you want.
It’s information available to everybody, one that has got a computer at least. And it’s a great boom to the enquiring mind. But the internet has the downside – it can be used to spread all sorts of unpleasant material, I’m not gonna say any more than that, on it. And as such it can also have a very negative effect on a young unimpressionable.
Personally about you. How much time do you spend on the Internet?
Actually, quite a lot these days. Cause I’m always searching the things to fit in to my teaching lessons. And I’ve been using things like, just been looking for pictures for people to describe. I’ve been using estate agents pictures actually, you don’t know it, a realtor, people selling houses in Britain.
Pictures of houses and get students to describe them. So you can imagine before the Internet I have to go and find some pictures in a magazine, then photocopy them. But this – just bring that up. There is a picture in front of you. Perfect! I also use it to watch films or a tv program.
I do the same. And I can download pictures for future describing, just like all days. For example, what a beautiful bedroom to describe, wow, it’s a beautiful living room to describe and then you go further. Somewhere in the magical garden or whatever. It’s pretty addictive, dealing with pictures.
So, I think for now we can stop our discussion on this positive note. Thank you very much John for sharing your experience and it was my pleasure to speak with you today. So, keep calm, carry on, and bring right toys to your children. Good bye for now!