Monday, 24 November 2014

Getting 'em started...

Very simple models make an easy start
We all bemoan the passing of the progressive sets. The ability to build a collection from a small set to a larger set over a period of time was something that is just not in the mindset of our younger potential enthusiasts. Today the plan is to be entertained with the minimum of effort. When I was a kid there was not so many callings on my time as there is today. Television can be blamed for a good part of this but so can the internet. Sitting in front of a screen and either calling up endless TV programmes or playing games is much easier than making an effort to actually create something.

The progressive sets provided another sort of progression. This is the way that even the largest sets introduced the recipient to a world of Meccano building that started with a simple model. The table that Sue built for her lamp to stand on is one such model, see HERE. Throughout the instruction manuals provided in those sets, progressively the models to build got bigger and more complicated, culminating in the ones that used most of the parts. This is something that has been missing from the sets of recent years. All the models in the modern sets use most of the parts. There are no instructions for very simple models included. The thinking here was that the beginner would buy a small set and work their way through the range buying progressively larger and larger sets. This may be a good plan in the board room but is total nonsense in the retail world. It just does not work like that. Apart from the fact that most kids will not settle for 'small' when there is a big box available, some the smaller models can be as challenging (if not more so!) as some of the larger ones.

The 3-model set is a super little set, but...
When Meccano introduced the three-model set earlier this year I was impressed. The three models are easy to build and are instantly recognisable. The box-art model of the aeroplane is a little gem.  Even so, for the absolute beginner this build is not speedy. It lacks that instant gratification that instils the confidence to continue. To this end I designed a small selection of three models that can easily be built from this set and you can see the results HERE. All three of these small models can be built form one set, at the same time.

We have used those three models as the basis of our Make it with Meccano activity that we take to public events and it has proved immensely  popular and productive. As we intend to continue with this event and expand it I have produced a further five very simple models that I hope the kids will show the same enthusiasm for. All of them can be build in a few minutes and teach some very basic 'rules of the game'.  

The red tree...
The first little model is the tree. Granted, trees are not red but this is the point, the model is a representation of the real thing. Most people looking at this would recognise it as a tree first and then (and only then) maybe question its colour. It only uses five parts and three nuts and bolts making it look very simple, but it does teach a few things that we all take for granted. First of all the 'trunk' has a nut and bolt passed through its centre hole. As this does not hold anything together it can be inserted and tightened without the complication of having to hold anything together. This is a big thing when you have never put a nut and bolt together and facilitates the need to use tools; the hex-key and the spanner. The bolt head acts as a location stop for the two triangular braced frames that make up the foliage of the tree. The top bolt then has to be passed through three pieces and fastened with a nut. In this case the fixing does not need to be too tight as gravity is working with the construction. The final step is to add the stand. Here the nut and bolt have to be tightened reasonably firmly to allow the tree to stand. This not only adds another skill but also demonstrates the weakness of single bold construction.

...and silver cacti
The next model is the cacti. Similar in construction to the tree, it also demonstrates that all parts have to be fixed together firmly, and in order to get parts to sit nicely, some consideration needs to be given to the placement of parts; the 'branches' are fitted either side of the trunk so they can be positioned independently of each other without fouling. Again the colour is not an issue - form is the relevance here.

Mmmm... Ice cream!
Using the parts to 'draw' with is another way in which a child's creativity can be propagated. Again it is the form that wins out over reality. This flat ice cream cone with its red chocolate flake can be made in no time and can be presented to Mum as a gift, producing a smile on the face of  both parties. Simple construction provides instant reward. the fact that all these models can be built from just one set means that Mum can be eating her ice cream while the builder continues to create another masterpiece worthy of even more praise.

It doesn't have to work - yet!
The tricycle is a bit more complicated requiring the building of sub-assemblies and then assembly of the final model. Here is the progression moving up a gear. More skill is required to build this little model and a much greater degree of dexterity will need to be developed if the models is to be completed. The fact that the wheels revolve demonstrates the first steps towards a 'working' model. Moreover the fact that the steering is locked solid will set the seed for further development at a later date. We have all revisited models from our past with the intention of making improvements as our skill and selection of parts and tools grow. In this case, the need to have two spanners is required to enable nuts to be locked either side of components to provide a pivot. A skill that will only be acquired if it is explained. We all know about lock-nutting from a very early age as it was one of the basic constructions illustrated in the manual that came with the set, something that needs revisiting at some point in the future...

Finally the cute little baby is similar to the 'baby-bot' model from the first three alternative models I built from this set. It illustrates how one model can be developed into another by using similar construction techniques.

The whole idea here is to give the kids something that is easy to build to prove that they can do it and it is not hard. Once the "look what I built" moment has passed there is far more likelihood that the experience will not only be repeated but the desire to move on, to progress, has been well and truly established.


No comments:

Post a Comment