I don’t shop for myself anymore. I remember during my first several years of teaching, online shopping and searching out the newest gadget was a daily habit after opening my computer. It was looking up on the newest style of shoes, or newest tech toy to purchase. I even splurged on learning and buying a motorcycle on a whim! I must admit though, I had a small sneaker obsession after spending a year in Hong Kong where sneakers were as common as the local Starbucks on the street. You can indulge yourself in all flavors, styles, colours, and brands of shoes at any of the big or small malls. Heck, there is even a “sneaker street” in Hong Kong where the entire street is dedicated to selling sneakers. But today, it dawned on me that I have not purchased a new pair of shoes for a very long time. My current shoes are these red Adidas running shoes that I got 3 years ago that were strictly used for running. But since my other shoes have slowly deteriorated with time, I wear these running shoes as my daily shoes even if they have been drenched in sweat, rain, and mud. So you must be thinking that I must have saved an enormous amount of money for not splurging on monthly sneakers. The answer is no. As I sat here and opened up my laptop. I realized that the most common item that I visit are these L.O.L Surprise dolls that my daughter absolutely adores. Now that the 2nd daughter has followed suit, our house is now littered with these L.O.L Surprise dolls and their tiny accessories. When looking from an outside perspective, these L.O.L Surprise dolls might be deemed as these expensive, impractical, and silly plastic dolls, and you might be right. These dolls are cleverly marketed and designed to cater to young girls and even to their parents such as myself. They come in these plastic balls where you open to find your ‘surprise’ doll. Every series has a number of dolls that varies with rarity. The majority of the dolls in a set are commonly found, while there are some that are rare, and the more exclusive ones are ultra rare. As a person who grew up in collecting hockey cards, the element of surprise compounded by the fact that there are dolls that are harder to find makes the surprise even more enticing. Perhaps this is one of the primary reasons why I am ok with my daughters playing with these.
But the other reason is that I am slowly realizing that my daughter is indeed growing up. And as cliche as it sounds, time does go by fast, and your kids grow up in a blink of an eye. It seemed like it was just yesterday that I was driving around the neighbourhood at 3 in the morning to try to get her to sleep. What triggered this epiphany was when we had lunch at the food court at the outlet mall the other day. When my wife went to order us lunch, two prepubescent teenage girls walked and sat within a couple tables from us. These two girls, who are probably no more than 9-11 years old, had their hair done, training bra, mild make up, designer tight fitting jeans, and a set of polished white sneakers talking on their cell phones. I must be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they were dressed, but it was the gaze that my daughter had on them that I realized that my little girl is growing up. My daughter’s gaze was one of wonderment, admiration, and in awe. I watched her stare at the two girls in this trance form of amazement. She wanted to dress like them, be like them, and hang out with them. That was the moment when I realized that my role as the cool dad will one day fade. I know I am still the cool dad because she still runs up to and jumps with excitement when I come home from work. I know I am still the dad that she still wants to play with. But as hard as it was for me to watch, I watched her, in her cute Niagara Falls t-shirt that we got during our trip last year along with her L.O.L doll laid carefully on the table, slowly transforming into a maturing, and independent girl.
So, as much as these L.O.L dolls are pricey, silly, and impractical, I will still buy them, and almost spoil her with them because these L.O.L Surprise dolls allow me to temporary pause time, even only for a short bit, so that I can still use these dolls as a way to keep her by my side, as her dad. Because I know, as time is inevitable, that someday, these dolls are another bygone, and that I may be replaced by her friends with nice polished white sneakers.
I remember when I first started my education career, there was this viral video named “Caine’s arcade” (see below) that came out about a kid who built cardboard carnival games. I was impressed by his engineering in designing and putting the games together. Having always been a fan of building things, this video and the kid in the video got me thinking in how I can incorporate the building aspect in the classroom.
After searching on Youtube, I found that there were a lot of cardboard game builders where they had instructional videos in showing you the materials and steps in building a fully functioning game. The games were simple yet fun to build as they require some precise measurements and engineering. The videos provides you with all the measurements, and design but in order to really test out your engineering skills, building a game that is to your liking requires you to do some trial and error work.
I built the basketball game with my 4 year old. Even though I did all of the big cutting with a box cutter, she did help me with other items such as using a hot glue gun to glue pieces together, deciding on the pictures to decorate, and to cut out the decorations to put on the game. One of the memorable moments was when I printed out a cartoon drawings of NBA players and cut them out to have them look like the spectators. After gluing them on, she looked at all of them and realized that they were all males so she asked if we could have some girls in the stands. We then browsed through Google images and searched for WNBA players and printed them off for the stands.
Spending them building the game with my daughter provided a lot of quality time spent together. It wasn’t just about her learning the skills, but also for her to observe the details and work needed to put something together. Sometimes the cut out pieces may not line up or fit together, but it is the grit of trying it and fixing errors that make the building more rewarding. Some people might not let a 4 year old use a hot glue gun all to themselves (she did burn her finger once), but with supervision, and some caution, her confidence grew as she did more of the task.
After building the basketball game, I saw that a pinball game was also a common build. The trick to building a pinball game was the mechanism in the bumpers, and the release trigger. The bumper mechanism is an interesting one since it requires the use of elastics, and to place them so that when you depress or push the trigger, a “L” shaped bumper is pushed by your motion. The harder you push the trigger, the harder it pushes on the bumper. But the question is, how do we get the bumper to its original position. This was the engineering part. I watched several Youtube videos in how others created their bumpers with each of them having a different type of mechanism but in the end, I used one and modified its design a little. I must say that the designing of the bumper and using the elastics really allowed me to understand the mechanism a lot deeper than just following the instructions on the Youtube video. I would consider trying this design process again once my daughters are little older so that they can appreciate the design and engineering process.
The next part was the trigger release. How do we get the ball into the game. The trigger release is a bit simpler since you just need to have a pull trigger that is created by the elastic (like a slingshot), but instead of it shooting out, you have the release trigger hit a stop. There are other ways of creating the trigger, which makes this design challenge a fun one.
Building this with my daughter allowed her to choose her favourite characters (yes, final fantasy VII heroes), and have her understand how the bumpers work. She might be too young to understand the exact engineer part, but for her to be exposed to the design, and visually see behind the foamboard of how it works is pretty amazing.
In the future, I would like to have the exact dimensions and draw it on Inkscape or Illustrator and have them cut in a laser cutter. Can this be fully assembled just based on a template? Other variations that can be done is to use a 3D printer to print off various objects to incorporate into your pinball design. I think this is a great activity for early years students to create.
This toy castle was a fun build. My daughter was really into her Duplo block people, and Playmobil that she wanted a castle for them to have a home. The tricky part of the design was to build the columns at each of the corners and to cut triangles to provide a cone type structure. I could have measured out exact triangles with appropriate degrees, but I realized that “eye balling” a triangle can do the same effect. After putting the castle together with hot glue, the lay out and texture can be simply added on from pictures from the internet.
A trebuchet was also made in hopes of showing my daughter how a counter weight can be used to propel something in the air. My daughter spent a lot of time playing and adding items to the castle.