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Donguri Wobbly Wooden Toy Review

Here’s disturbingly real video review of a delightful toy that I picked up on holiday in Tokyo. It’s called ‘Donguri’ and it’s made by Comaam. Anyone remember the Weebles? Well these are similar, but a lot cuter:


As I state, in a fairly incoherent manner in the video, these sorts of toys are great for helping children who have attention difficulties to take turns in a small group, and children who have difficulties initiating interaction might  be encouraged to request them (verbally or through picture exchange).

Making things happen with words

I received a delivery this morning: 10 massive balloons. I’ll take the elastic bands off before I use them. These were just £2.29 from Amazon. They’ll last hundreds of sessions of language stimulation.

I use these in much the same way as I use my bubble trumpet: to elicit basic words from children who really want to make things happen. So this is words such as ‘balloon’ to request for me get the balloon out of the bag, ‘blow’ or ‘bigger’ before each breath for me to make them bigger, and ‘ready, steady go’ for me to let the balloon go for it to jerk dramatically around the room.

This represents a great deal of language from one piece of rubber. The child has to go via me to get what they want, and most children really do want to see the balloon whizz around (I do remember one child who dry heaved while I began blowing the balloon up… I tried something else with that child). There is also an element of cause and effect with the balloon – the child that requests ‘go’ without first asking ‘blow’ will just see me drop an uninflated balloon on the floor.

This type of approach (holding off before you give something motivating, and always expecting a little more from the child who is attempting to request) is ideal for children with autistic spectrum disorder and more generally for those who lack experience of directing the behaviour of others through language. These children are all, to one degree or another, inexperienced or disorganised with using language to request. They might look at your hand, pull your hand, get frustrated, go inert, do a shake of their body, and so on. They might use words, but at the wrong time. All of this can be seen as being partly intentional behaviour. The therapist’s job is to model the words (or in some cases, the signs), and wait for the child to make the leap and use them.

“Give me back my face!”

What is this abomination! A chicken with the head of a horse? A pig with wings??? This is my version of Build a Beetle, which I use as a turn taking game to keep children involved during phonology exercises.

It’s pretty simple really – they say the sound / word / phrase that they’re working on, and I get them to pick a piece of animal out of a bag. The child I worked with here wanted to play the ‘horrible hybrid farm animal’ version of the game – you can also do it in a more sedate manner and race to complete your own animal.

At the end, we build our animals, and invariably they end up fighting: “Give me my face back!”, “You stole my tail”, etc.

These packs (you can get Farm Animals, Jungle Animals and Dinosaurs) are made by US company the Learning Journey. They used to be available in TK Maxx for £4.99 but it seems that TK Maxx are more interested in their products that are more explicitly educational these days (e.g. rhyme bingo, that kind of thing). My previous copy of these had fallen apart so I have just imported them from Amazon USA – costing me around £12 per box. Still worth it.

These are available in my imaginary toy shop in Nottingham high street by the way.

Five toys that I think have merit

If you read my post a while back, you may have detected a touch of negativity in the way I view the toys that we are expected to buy for our children. Amazon is full of horrible, pink, plastic rubbish that children will probably pick up only once. If you dig a little deeper though, you will find plenty that will give your children cause to think, learn and laugh. Remember though, the thing that gives most toys their staying power is the child’s playmate (i.e., you).

Tumbling clown

You can buy click-clack tracks everywhere (the wooden toy where cars zoom down four little ramps in sequence) but this particular cause-and-effect toy you have to know to look out for. I use it all the time, because it’s compact, it attracts children’s attention, and it’s easy for children to get involved.

Set the little man up at the top (he can jump up the ladder, or even fly up there), give him a gentle push, and by the magic of gravity and a hidden weight, he will cartwheel his way slowly to the bottom. It doesn’t sound much, but it is what you make it. £6.78 at Amazon, plus £5.99 delivery – still a bargain if you ask me.

Bubble trumpet
Bubbles are the king of toys. They’re exciting enough to make almost any child find a way to ask for more (if you manage to hold off blowing more, that is). They give you and your child a real sense of shared purpose, of shared attention, and shared attention is the basic stuff of communication.

There’s no better way to sharpen that focus than to use a bubble trumpet to make one big bubble. It slows the process right down. It’s highly amusing when it pops, or is popped, in your face. Furthermore, it’s much easier for young children to blow their own bubbles using one of these. Only available on import at the moment from Amazon, with punitive postage. I bought mine for a rather dear £10.99 plus a couple of quid postage. I’m sure it’ll be back soon.

Latches board
I don’t own this – it’s a bit dear for me, and I’d get minimal use out of it. You might wonder whether this is the right kind of thing to be giving your child. It really depends on whether or not there are latches in the house that your child can reach that you don’t want them opening. If that is not a concern for you, and you want your child to develop their motor skills and their attention skills, then why ever not?

Many children are enormously preoccupied with doors, switches, locks and latches. They don’t do it to annoy us – they recognise that the adult world is full of these things, and the adult world is out there for children to master. Giving them toys that accept that fact seems sensible to me, and the queen herself, Maria Montessori thought so too. If you’re handy, you can construct your own. Otherwise, it’s a hefty £17.20 over at Amazon.

Doll’s house (on a budget)

In my pretend play posts in this blog, I talk about large-world imaginary play. If your child has done a lot of that kind of thing – putting teddy to bed, giving him tea, wiping his nose and so on, then maybe they’re ready for small world play.

This is made of tough cardboard, tough enough to last long enough for a child to work out whether or not this is the kind of thing they’re into. A gamble worth taking – £12.99, over at Amazon, plus £3.95 delivery .


Is it just me that calls this stuff ‘floam’?

People have some weird things they don’t like touching. I personally can’t abide the idea of soap under my nails. Makes me shiver, ugh. Some people have a real issue with polystyrene. I’m not sure what they would make of floam. It is made of tiny polystyrene balls, held loosely together with an inherent gooeyness that seems to last forever if you store it correctly. It’s dry to the touch and weird on the eye. It’s not as good as plasticine for model-making, but then that’s not what floam is about. You can mix the colours together if you want to, but you’ll spend the rest of the night separating them back out. Floam is £12.20 from Amazon.

Three things we buy for children that sound like a good idea, but aren’t

Just because I live in the present, it doesn’t mean I have to like it. When I look at the TV that is created for our children, the amount of time the average child spends with a working parent, the level of distraction these parents submit themselves to, and the products we surround our children with, I truly wonder at the motives of the architects of this situation.

Q: When is a bed not a bed?
 A: When it is a toy. A toy that completely undermines the first rule of infant sleep hygiene – bed is a place for falling asleep, sleeping and waking up in.

This product is designed to milk parents who are struggling to get their children to sleep in their own bed. ‘He doesn’t like going to bed – he just wants to play’. ‘He falls asleep on the couch and I lift him into his bed’. ‘When he wakes up in the night either I let him into bed with me or he’s up the whole night’. These are the kinds of things I hear all the time in my job.

Some children find it hard to wind down at the end of  the day. Some children lack the emotional tools to understand that it is ok to be alone for a little while in your room. These children are not going to be helped in any measure by a bed such as this.

“Black sky” double-decker pram of doom
Which baby would you rather be? Front or back? I’d go for back every time. True, you might come to the conclusion in the end that the sky is black (unbelievably this product’s name is ‘black sky)’, but at least you might be able to get some proper sleep in there.

Quite simply, our prams face the wrong way. Can you imagine what it is like down there? Feet clattering. Cars, buses, fire engines, all careering along, just feet away. No control over the direction of travel. Exposed to the elements, until someone decides to wrap damp, smelly plastic around you. And that someone – how to get her attention? What is she thinking at the moment? What is she looking at? Is she looking at the same thing as me? This is a recipe for increased levels of anxiety and delayed development of language and joint attention. And studies do seem to be pointing strongly in that direction.

Baby ipod ‘aptivity’ case
Young children want to play with electronic toys. And no wonder – they are transfixing enough for us. These children are living miracles! Steve Jobs is ‘changing their OSes‘! Unfortunately, the online generation of the future also see us as a cause and effect toy.

Baby apps and so on are great if they are used for very short periods of time and if the experience can be explained and shared with another. However, we all know that this is not how these things are used. They are a babysitter that robs our children of the ability to find wonder in the normal, the prosaic. Maria Edgeworth, in Practical Education (1798) got it spot on:

When a nurse wants to please or to pacify a child, she stuns its ear with a variety of noises, or dazzles its eye with glaring colours or stimulating light. The eye and the ear are thus fatigued without advantage, and the temper is hushed to a transient calm by expedients, which in time must lose their effect, and which can have no power over confirmed fretfulness. The pleasure of exercising their senses, is in itself sufficient to children without any factitious stimulus, which only exhausts their excitability, and renders them incapable of being amused by a variety of common objects, which would naturally be their entertainment.