Yesterday I wrote about the concept of "heirloom design", that is, building something to last a long time, long enough at least to be passed from one generation to the next.
One of the examples given of heirloom design is Lego blocks. They're made of plastic, which isn't the most environmentally friendly material around, but they're built to last. I have friends in their 30s and 40s with huge piles of blocks from their childhood that they've already passed down to their children.
I was never a big fan of Lego and always preferred Construx. None of my toys survived the unfortunate stage I went through in junior high school when I decided I was entirely too cool for toys, but I recently rediscovered the joys of Construx through Ebay and Craigslist.
Construx were first introduced by Fisher-Price in the early 80's and feature beams and connectors that can be formed into any number of configurations. Over the years Fisher-Price created new modules that added different shaped panels, wheels, pullies, engines, flags, and other fun accessories.
I was moved to revisit my love for Construx after deciding to introduce them to my own children. I scoured Craigslist and Ebay for used Construx (sadly, they were discontinued in 1997) and found a couple of reasonably priced large sized lots that were shipped in time for Christmas.
I wanted my daughters to get a good idea of what was possible to build with Construx, so I made a giant spaceport, landing pad, and spaceship to go under the tree.
The Spaceport is on the left, the landing pad on the right, they're connected via a bridge see in the photo above. My cat Cali is chasing something under the couch (probably a Construx connector — they're like cat hockey pucks) in the background.
Another angle on the fort, notice the spiral staircase on the left. You can't see it, but there is a lift-operated elevator on the opposite side of the spiral staircase.
Here's the spaceship. It pivots in the middle and has rotatable engines that would actually maneuver the ship if it were real. I built it after reading an article on Gizmodo about the real physics of space battle and tried to make my ship as realistic, physics-wise, as possible. Yes, I am aware that I am a geek.
All made of out simple pieces like this.
Construx are a great toy because they can be incorporated into any other kind of play. My daughters have already used them to make princess crowns, magic wands, scepters fit for a queen, race cars, spaceships, string racers (think NASCAR on zip lines), giant skyscrapers, and random abstract pieces of art. When I was little I used them to make battle tanks and real sized swords and armor. They carried my GI Joes into battle against my Transformers. We've only been playing with them for a few weeks, there are hundreds and thousands of forms just waiting for us to create them.
When I compare Construx to some of their other toys my girls play with I start to appreciate how much greener Construx really are. Someday my daughters will grow out of their love of Hannah Montana (curse you Miley Cyrus!) and the Hannah-plastered plastic play guitar will be put in a closet. It might enjoy a stopover at a thrift store and then another home, but will eventually, all too quickly, find its way into a Dumpster then a landfill. The same can be said for most of the toys all of our kids play with — cheap plastic crappy fad toys live very fast and short lives.
Toys like Construx on the other hand are made to last. Not only are they durable, but they're infinitely re-configurable and timeless. There's nothing that can go out of style about them- kids will always enjoy putting things together. I consider our Construx to be familiy heirlooms that will be passed on down the Gunther line.
What about you? Are any of the toys you played with as a child heirloom quality? Did you save them for your kids?
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