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Toy Technology

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					TOY TECHNOLOGY

Toy Technology
This resource has been produced for GCSE students who have chosen to design and make a toy. It is intended to answer specific questions students might have, suggest ideas for them to consider and provide guidelines to inform their own designing and making.
Before producing a design specification for your toy you need to research the brief thoroughly. You will need to investigate a range of toys and show that you have considered factors such as: suitability for different age groups; customer requirements and preferences; appropriate use of materials, surface finishes and components; safety; manufacturing costs and moral, social and environmental issues. This resource is intended as a starting point for your own, more detailed, research.

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What toys do children like to play with?

The sort of toys that children like to play with will vary according to their age and sometimes their gender. From your research you should decide which age group, and perhaps gender, you are aiming your toy at. Age ranges are only broad guidelines and toy suitability will depend on abilities as all children develop at different rates. For under 3 years old, however, special care must be taken as toys containing small parts can be hazardous due to the risk of choking.
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For the purposes of your brief, you could divide children broadly into five age groups: Babies (age 0-18 months)
Babies like toys that appeal to their senses, such as activity mats or tents that are brightly coloured with different textures and parts that move or make a noise. Very little babies enjoy mobiles which revolve and sometimes light up and play music too. Older babies like toys they can hold or shake like rattles, soft toys and squeaky animals, and toys that they can chew!

Toddlers (18 months - 3 years)
Toddlers like to manipulate and investigate objects; they have lots of energy and enjoy repetition. They like toys with buttons to press or dials to turn, such as jigsaws or shape sorters, where they have to select the correct shape to go through a hole or complete a picture. They like toys that they can push or pull along, toys that they can play with outside and in the bath and soft toys and dolls for comfort and imaginative play. Simple jigsaws are also important.

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Download NTC ‘Baby and Toddler Play’ leaflet

Pre-Schoolers (4 – 5 years)
Infants like toys that they can play “let’s pretend” games with such as dolls, action figures, puppets, play houses and toy kitchens; they like play sets with several pieces such as castles, pirate ships, garages and zoos. They like construction bricks and simple jigsaw puzzles. They are more co-ordinated than toddlers and enjoy playing actively outside with toys that they can throw, catch, push, pull or pedal.

Young children (6 – 7 years)
By this age, some boys have very definite ideas about what toys they do and don’t like to play with. They like vehicles such as cars, trucks, fire engines, diggers and helicopters. They like racing tracks, train sets and toy tool kits, and toys that they can play with actively, such as scooters. They like jointed action figures but may consider dolls to be only for girls! Girls are more flexible; they like dolls, dolls’ prams, dolls’ houses and household toys but will also play happily with so-called “boys’ toys”. Download ‘Toys For Boys & Girls’ leaflet

Older children (8+ years)
Children of this age are increasingly aware of peer pressure and will reject toys that they consider “too childish” for them. Many girls of this age like dolls, especially those aimed specifically at “pre-teens” with fashionable clothing and accessories. Boys like toys that use modern technology such as remote controlled cars or robots, electronic laser guns and toys that are linked with popular TV series or films. There is also a whole selection of activities such as science kits and craft activities that both boys and girls enjoy, toys which they have to assemble or make themselves and toys that require a degree of skill to play with. Board and electronic games are also attractive. Some toys are bought by adult collectors and young people, so you might decide to aim your toy at this market. Dolls and dolls’ houses are popular with female collectors, whilst men often collect models, such as train sets or military figures, or memorabilia connected to films or cartoons. Download ‘Solutions Through Fun’ leaflet

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What toys do parents like to buy?
Whilst some toys are bought by adult collectors and older children may save up their pocket money to buy toys, most are bought by parents or grandparents so these make up the majority of your potential customers.
The main concern for parents is that toys should be safe for their children to play with (see ‘Safety First’). They expect toys to be sturdy and well made as they know that children will often play roughly with them and become very upset if they break; toys for toddlers, in particular, need to be able to withstand lots of the same action over and over again. Some parents are prepared to pay for expensive toys, particularly if they think their children will play with them a lot; other parents prefer to buy less expensive toys. Many parents like toys to be educational as well as fun. They like toys that will stimulate their children’s creativity or imagination (such as play sets or puppets), enable them to develop a physical skill (like riding a bike), or improve their knowledge, memory and concentration and encourage problem solving (such as alphabet bricks, construction toys and shape sorters). Some parents and grandparents like to buy “traditional toys” such as rocking horses or clockwork train sets and many children enjoy playing with these items. Above all, parents want to buy toys that their children will have fun playing with!

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Download ‘Toy Safety’ leaflet

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Safety first
Safety is the main consideration when designing toys for children. Children under three will put objects into their mouths to explore them so their toys must be soft, with rounded edges. Toys with small parts are unsuitable for this age group as children could swallow them and choke, or put them in their ears or noses.
All toys designed for children should be strong enough to withstand play without breaking and potentially causing injury. If there are any moving parts, it should not be possible for children to trap their fingers in them. There should be no sharp edges that children could cut themselves on, or spikes that could poke in their eyes. Any surface finishes, such as paint or varnish, must not contain excessive levels of heavy metals such as lead or cadmium. A toy should be accompanied by the appropriate safety mark, warnings and instructions for use.

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What materials to use?

The materials you use for your toy will depend upon a number of factors including your design, where children will play with the toy (indoors, outside, in the bath), availability and manufacturing cost. If your brief is to design using different materials then you will need to consider the following:
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Plastics
Man-made plastics have now replaced wood and metal as the most common material used in the manufacture of children’s toys. The first synthetic plastic, celluloid (a thermoplastic), was used to manufacture some toys, such as dolls, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but was dangerous because it is highly flammable. Now flame retardants can be added to plastics during the manufacturing process, as can pigments (to make them permanently brightly coloured) and plasticisers (to make them bendy). Plastics are waterproof and can be moulded into almost any shape. The raw materials used in their manufacture are relatively cheap and products can be easily mass produced. These properties make plastics very popular for children’s toys. There are many different types of plastics, some of which are more suitable for certain types of toys than others. For instance, HDPE (high density polyethylene) is very tough and can be injection moulded, making it suitable for outdoor toys that children can sit in or ride on. ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is hard, strong and scratch resistant so can be used to manufacture toys such as construction bricks and play sets, while polyurethane can be rubbery and flexible so is ideal for babies’ toys, dolls and jointed action figures.

Wood
Wood is still used to manufacture a number of traditional toys such as rocking horses, hobby horses, jumping jacks, jigsaws and some push or pull along toys. Parents often like wooden toys because they find them more visually appealing than plastic ones and know that they are durable. Wooden toys are usually more expensive than plastic, both because of the cost of the raw materials and production techniques: many are handmade, at least in part, rather than mass produced. Softwoods, such as pine, are most commonly used to make toys as they are relatively easy to cut and shape. Hardwoods are more expensive but beech is popular for indoor toys; elm is good for steam bending and cherry is splinter resistant. Manufactured boards, such as plywood or MDF (medium density fibreboard), are also used in toy manufacture. You might consider making your toy out of a combination of woods; you could use pine, for instance, for the frame of a rocking horse because of its strength and MDF for the horse itself because it is easy to shape and cheaper. Because wood both absorbs and releases moisture, it is not suitable for bath time toys, or many outdoor toys. You will need to apply a surface finish such as wax, varnish or paint.

Metal
Before the commercial production of plastics in the 1950s, many children’s toys were made out of non-ferrous metals, particularly lead and tin. Lead is now known to be an accumulative poison so is completely unacceptable to use in the manufacture of toys. Tin is still used in the manufacture of some traditional style toys such as trains, cars and wind-up toys. These are more suitable for older children as they may have a variety of small components and will damage more easily than plastic toys. Tin toys are generally surface finished with paint; you would need to apply a primer and an undercoat before the final colour. Ferrous metals, such as steel, are iron based. Mild steel is very tough, can be bent or twisted, is easy to weld and can resist strong impacts without breaking. You may wish to use it, for instance, for the frame of a toy that children will sit, climb or ride on, or for the links in a chain. If used in this way, metal usually needs to be dip coated in plastic, or galvanised with a thin layer of zinc.

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Production systems
In addition to the choice of material, the scale of production will have an impact on manufacturing costs. For instance, is your toy intended to be a unique item, perhaps made by one person from start to finish? If so, this person will probably need to be highly skilled and the process will be labour intensive; as a result your toy is likely to be expensive.
Perhaps you intend to produce relatively small numbers of similar toys, in which case batch production will be cheaper than job production but may have “hidden costs” in the time lost in resetting machinery to make a new batch. Mass production of your toy will require very high initial investment in the necessary machinery but, if you can produce and sell large numbers, will lead to a lower cost per toy.

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What different components do toys need?
Most toys have a variety of different parts, including mechanisms to enable them to move. Simple push or pull along toys will require wheels and axles; cams can be attached to these, for instance to make a toy animal’s head bob up and down. Toys for children to ride on may also need pedals, a cogwheel and a chain. Dolls and action figures need to be jointed; some jointed toys, such as jumping jacks and puppets, can also be made to move by the use of string. Pendulum toys use string and weights to create movement. Other toys, such as Jack-in-the-boxes, use spring mechanisms to make the toy jump upwards. Rocking horses need rockers or a frame. Wind-up toys can be turned by a handle, or use clockwork mechanisms which require a key and a steel coil (to wind up) a balance wheel (to control the speed of the release of energy) and cogwheels (to convert the energy into movement). Some toy vehicles use a friction wheel to make them move, while battery powered toys require an electric motor.

Social, ethical and environmental considerations
Some people argue that playing with toys such as weapons, model soldiers or action figures encourages children to be aggressive. Other people argue that pretend fighting is just harmless fun. You will need to decide for yourself whether you consider this kind of toy appropriate.

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Download ‘ “Aggressive” Toys’ leaflet

Whilst girls and boys do seem to enjoy playing with different sorts of toys after a certain age, some people dislike toys that they think encourage “gender stereotypes”. There are, of course examples of many toys and games which boys and girls play with which have slight variations between models to appeal to boys on one hand and girls on the other. (e.g. different colours) A number of people are concerned that today’s lifestyles and modern inventions such as cars, televisions and computers mean that many children do not do sufficient exercise or interact with other children outside school. They consider that this contributes to childhood obesity and socialisation problems. Perhaps you could design a toy that would encourage children to play actively, or one which requires several children to play with it. Download ‘Active Play’ leaflet You should also consider the environmental impact of your toy. The recycling and disposal of materials is becoming a very important factor when producing toys. Oil, a finite resource, is the main raw material used in the manufacture of plastics. Some types of plastics do not corrode so it may be best to consider thermoplastics. Thermoplastics can be recycled by melting them down and some new plastics are biodegradable. Wood is a renewable resource and biodegradable but high demand for timber places great pressure on forests. Metal ores are mined either by blasting or quarrying, which can lead to environmental problems. Metal extraction processes also use a great deal of energy. You might consider making your toy out of recycled materials, such as reclaimed timber or scrap metal, or out of materials which can themselves be recycled when the toy is at the end of its life. Your toy will need to be packaged to protect it whilst in transit and to discourage shoplifters but the disposal of this is likewise an environmental concern. Can you minimise the amount of packaging needed, or ensure that this, too, is recyclable?

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What should I do now?
Go into a toy shop, or the toy department of a large store and look at the range of toys available. Collect catalogues or look on the internet. If you have a young brother or sister, niece or nephew, ask if you can visit their school or nursery to observe what toys children like playing with and how they play with them.
The V&A Museum of Childhood, at Bethnal Green in London, has a superb collection of toys, both old and new, with information on subjects including child development, recreational and educational toys, materials and mechanisms. Once you have completed your research, you should evaluate what you have found out and produce a thorough design specification. You should regularly check this to ensure your design ideas are fulfilling what you set out to achieve. Good luck!

Denotes image supplied by V&A Museum of Childhood The information in this document is provided for private use only, without responsibility on the part of the Association or its officials and where the information has been obtained from another source, without responsibility on the part of themselves or their officials.

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