structure and interpretation of children’s toys


A Rosicrucian master’s take on the prime way of life:

‘To love where I am, love who I am with, and love what I am doing’


Pure joy! The pleasures of breaking open a contraption, studying – as to what is it  that makes it work – and finally, reassembling it. Fascinating.

Oh the imagination – the imagination of the toy makers, imagining the way they  imagined their ideas; okay,  ’nuff of this imaginative nonsense; should not go overboard, going gaga over obvious & magnificent things, Queen included.

And oh, the  Freddie Mercury! The remembrance of the things long past! Whoa, the gaga redux. :-( But isn’t he electrifying! 8-)


For the past few weeks, at the erdkinder (junior – earthchildren in Kraut tongue) classes, we have been looking at various toys – analysing among others:

  • Why they have been designed the way they have been
  • What are the cultural and historical factors that perhaps worked behind the scenes
  • What is interesting about the form-factor – as to how this and the colour combinations of the various parts of the toys – are related to the end-user children
  • What are the various aspects of ‘packaging’
  • What is minimalist (and functional) design
  • What are the various mechanical and moving parts
  • What are the various laws that govern the moving parts
  • Why were only certain materials chosen and not others
  • What are the basics of safety
  • How to handle tools…
  • etc etc

The fact that the children have spent nearly an year with the basics of science and math at the high school levels (with or without yours truly) does help.

The way we go about doing it is: We discuss the toy – how it is supposed to work, why it looks the way it looks  – just by looking at it. And then, we pass it around and take a call – on various ideas and opinions.

And then, we open it and discuss. Layer by layer, children learn the HowTo and WhyOnEarth  kind of ideas. They have delightfully picked up and internalized various kinds of skills for working with stuff – for example, yesterday, we discussed & demonstrated as to how to cut a sheet of glass with a pair of plain old scissors – would you want to know how?

We finally reassemble the disassembled multifarious parts – at the end of at least a couple of  hours of fun, that is!

We sincerely hope that this infection of HowAnythingWorksVirus   would be  bad and virulent enough in our children, goading them to apply the wonders of  ‘screwdriver technology’ (or hammer  technology, if you will) to just about anything at home! Hope they would able to take apart various things at home with a view to understanding, analysing and re-purposing them. Hope all the junk at their homes and in their neighbourhoods will be looked at – with a fresh  pair of eyes… and may be recycled, reused and what not.

And may be, just may be they would infect you too!


May be we would make a few toys with some locally and cheaply available materials when we graduate to that point…

I almost forgot to tell you – Actually, we are planning to look at the Barbie dolls in the next session – more from the point of view how anatomy basics are seriously violated by them! We would also look at the diabolically targeted design and appeal of the aforesaid toy range. GI Joe will have to wait, not that it really does mattel

The title of this post is shamelessly derived from the title of  THE best computer science book ever written – ‘The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs’ – the whole book is available online –  given time and energy, I would love to work with the children, borrowing ideas from this book.

But then, I also remember the um, that good old non-phantomish jingle saying:

Man Schemes, God Lisps

Oh, the pun of it….

JournalEntry# November 24, 2009

(with some additional notes)

இரங்கல்: ஜான் மக்கார்த்தி 14/12/2011

One Response to “structure and interpretation of children’s toys”

  1. Prabhu Says:

    Great article. I was reading about one of the dialects of Lisp(clojure) yesterday morning, when I came across your link to this book. Fantastic.

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