Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Buncha Blocks

I have mentioned Buncha Blocks here before, but hadn't shown them. The red pull cord in the picture above is my replacement (as is the squeeze clasp), so my two bags are easily distinguishable since this one contains the Froebel Gift 6 pieces, and the other contains the balance of the two merged Buncha Blocks sets. I wanted to be able to grab just one bag without having to check.

Portable construction, on beaches, in parks, alongside streams, is the intended mission for these. They are shown in just such circumstance at Golden Gardens Park, enjoying a little sunshine this morning.

Unfortunately, I didn't inspect my plan folder before leaving the house, and it was missing the Froebel Gift 6 example plans. So what you see is actually an Ankerstein plan sheet, which requires arches which weren't with me. I probably will be rethinking the contents as I go, since I would like the contents of this bag to be as fun and versatile as it can be for "one bag builds" (cf the "one box builds" I was blathering on about a bit earlier today). A pair of arches are likely in the offing.

Both bags will reside in the car, and will be combined when the mood strikes me.

Sunshine & good block play.

Sad Addendum: These blocks mildewed and were ruined when the bag became wet without my realizing. I wonder if rubberwood is more prone to that than maple? [4 Dec 2009]


The Ankerstein folks have a new set on their web site that got me rather excited as soon as I saw it: a new version of the wonderful Heinzelmännchen set, which I only knew from instruction manual scans on CDrom and the related download site (Downloads: SPECIAL : HEINZEL).

The Heinzelmännchen patterns have delighted me, with their fanciful little elves or ghosts and intricate background designs, since I first found them - be sure to click on the sample the right, to get a larger view, and if you like that, download the rest.

But the second thing that jumped out at me was that the block arrangement shown on the Ankerstein site above is almost the same as the Kleine Gernegroß (that is the German spelling for Gernegross, by the way) I have been enjoying, and previously discussed here. It differs only in the addition of two stones, which turn out not to have been in the original anyway - presumably they were added to make the new version fit in the same box as the Ankerstein sets 4 and 4A.

Filled with delight, I immediately printed myself a new set of Heinzelmännchen plans, not willing to waste any time looking for my old set, and began building with my Lil' Whippersnapper. Whereupon I got my next surprise: the block colors are different! The Kleinegernegroß and new Heinzelmännchen sets have a different color mix than the old Heinzelmännchen, and thus don't match the plans, even though the old plans are shown with the new set on the web site.

It turns out the set isn't actually in production yet, so maybe Ankerstein will correct that error before shipping. I hope so.

In the meantime, it was awfully hard to resist the temptation to borrow the "correct" color stones from my #6 set. But I think I managed for these two pictures, at least. I wanted to show HM plans built with KG stones out-of-the-box, no fudging. It was a real struggle with my Asperger side, which wanted to duplicate what was shown, as closely as was within my means.

For a long time, I have contemplated buying a #4 set, for those times when a #6 construction was more than I wanted to tackle, but the #4 is expensive, everything in the #4 manual (which I had printed for myself from the above sources) can be built from a #6 set. (Set #4 construction at right.)

Lately I have been thinking again about the importance of "one box builds" - how sometimes it makes a big difference that something can be built entirely with the contents of a single set, with no supplements or rummaging around for extra pieces. It can also be helpful if the "one box" doesn't overwhelm with extra pieces, which is why the #4 set kept nagging at me, and why I was so quick to get the Kleine Gernegroß. The latter is nice, and I am glad to have it, but those small stones are a bit much of a challenge for me sometimes, so I am going to get a Heinzelmännchen as well, so I can enjoy the comfortable big blocks when I am ability-challenged.

Good Block Play.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More unit blocks & Froebel 6

I guess today is cat day in Blockplay land. Though in both this and my earlier fischertechnik post, the constructions are supposed to be the primary subjects, I know there are some who will enjoy seeing Archie more than my projects - and will be demanding equal time for Webster!

The two larger models both use the full Froebel #6 sets, though there maybe substitutions, it has been a few days since I built them.

The smaller structure at lower left was built from a subset of the Froebel 6.

Having lots of different blocks to build with can be fun, and can be liberating. But it can also be intimidating. For younger children, and for those of us with developmental disabilities, whether they are full time limitations or intermittent periods of recovery from recurring autistic regression, it can be helpful to select at a subset with a limited number of blocks, of an even more limited number of types.

A very good sequence is the Froebel 4, followed by the Froebel 6, followed - in due time - by a little more variety.

All my best toys offer multiple levels of play: an easy level for regression periods, or for reentry after a period of neglect long enough to forget some of how to play with them, a medium level for regular use, and advanced level - partly for occasional bursts of enthusiasm, but mostly so I don't feel constrained at the intermediate level: I know I am there by choice.

I consider that one of the key secrets of Good Block Play.


The image above shows a variety of operating models from different fischertechnik sets, under Archie's supervision. Right front is a carousel from the former Universal set, left front is a windshield wiper mechanism from the older (but still new style) Basic Mechanics set, while the larger amusement park ride in back is from the current Universal II set. All operate by turning cranks - the rides via bevel gears and drive shafts, the wipers via an eccentric crank.

The gray-block scale at left is a from an early 1970s set 50, while the black-block hut next to it is again from the Universal II.

The conveyor belt model at lower right has a more complicated lineage - the plan is from the caterpillar track expansion set for the old Master series, but it expected most of the parts to come from the core Master set, which I don't have. Not a problem at this point: I could borrow all the parts from sets I do have - in the correct colors, except for the X-strips bracing the vertical elements, which I had to borrow from on older gray-era set. The horizontal braces are from the same source, for color match,.

It's a fun model: you stack 30mm blocks in the vertical rack, turn the crank, and the blocks feed onto the conveyor, move across to the right end, and are dumped off. I should have borrowed a toy wheelbarrow from my wife to pose there to catch them. Or better yet, built a wheelbarrow from the old 1960s manuals - though it might have been too high.

Aside from having to scrounge the parts, this was the most problematic ft plan I have done yet, with part count inaccuracy and the finished model showing a tendency to malfunction (I straightened cattywumpus blocks for the photo). It was still fun.

I haven't done a fischertechnik construction yet that wasn't Good Block Play.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Unit blocks & Froebel Gift #6

Among the Froebel Gifts, the blocks in the Sixth Gift show the most promise for being fun to play with. But this hasn't seemed to necessarily translate well into print. I think the biggest problem is the Froebel rule that all blocks in the gift be used in each construction. I do much better in free play when I allow some to lay on the table, and better still when I have a few extra to supplement here & there.

The secret here is probably to build something from a design sheet, but when it is finished - or even before - break loose and build freestyle, using the starting design simply as inspiration.

The design in the photo is from Bauen nach Fröbel - Vorlagen und Anweisung, by Friederich Seidel, Vienna, 1890. I downloaded the source image at right in January, 2005, from - I believe - a Japanese site which doesn't seem to be there any longer, so I can't request permission to share more of the 10 pages of diagrams for Gift #6 (source corrections or updates welcome). Though they tend to be repetitive and with many artist errors, they are still interesting and potentially useful.

The image at left is from Royal Gifts for the Kindergarten, by Frances Post van Norstrand, Chicago, 1888. You may recognize design number 7 from an earlier post here, though it in fact was done from a different book - the Royal Gifts designs are a subset of those in the Wiebe book cited in my recent Gift 4 post, albeit with new art.

Compare the Gift 4 designs in the Royal Gifts scan at lower right to those in Wiebe to see the similarities. I include this scan not just to illustrate my point, but so that those wanting a compact and simple set of inspirations can print out the two single-page Royal Gifts sheets (click on the images for a higher resolution version for printing), perhaps laminated back to back for durability and convenience.

For building to the Gift 6 designs, as well as Gift 4 and a good deal of freestyle fun, I suggest IQ Preschool's "Buncha Blocks." The sets come with nice canvas carrying bags, and I divide my two sets so that all the Gift 6 style blocks go in one bag, all the other blocks (arches, dowels, planks, triangles, semicircles) go in the other - they come out almost exactly even in bulk. While this means 16 of each of the three shapes are in the Gift 6 bag, instead of the 18 + 12 + 6 of the formal Gift 6, only the strictest Froebelian formalists will suffer much. Since two of one or the other of the alternate shapes can always be made to substitute for the "oblong block" (Froebelian terminology) or "unit block" (unit block terminology), there is no constraint on building by being two short in this shape.

Whatever the blocks, whatever their size, Froebel's Sixth Gift is a fine entry point to Good Block Play.