Garages and Traffic Layouts

These add interest to car games for the child who is old enough to organize his fleet of vehicles. Most bought garages are made of hardboard and softwood. The same rules apply to these as dolls’ houses. They should not be too elaborate, not too fragile and should offer plenty of scope for activity and the elbow room necessary to carry it out. A feature which allows for more than just parking cars, such as a ramp up to a roof parking area or, more ambitious, a lift, adds interest.

Making a garage is very easy and there are patterns to buy. If this involves buying large quantities of wood which has to be cut to size this is expensive. It is far better to look in the offcuts box at the wood yard and design a simple garage to suit the wood pieces. For an impromptu, one-session game many children use cardboard boxes, scissors and a felt pen and with a little adult help make a garage for themselves.

Car layouts are fun to use and are good for hand-eye coordination. They can be provided as strips of hardboard plus one or two intersection, roundabout and T-junction pieces and perhaps one or two shapes to use as car parks. Most wood shops could provide enough pieces for quite a large layout for less than 25p even in these expensive days. Older children are quite able to use a felt pen or a piece of damp chalk to mark out their own white lines. Younger children may need to have this done for them by adults. Used in conjunction with a set of bricks or blocks this is a favourite game for most boys. Other tracks made from polythene which one can buy are also popular. Unfortunately some of the clamps and supports provided with these sets do not fit as easily or last as long as they should. The cheapest possible set providing the longest possible length of track is the best buy. This can then be used with wooden blocks when the trimmings finally disappear. -J .The one problem with track layouts is that they take up a lot of space. In the home or where nursery groups have limited space a traffic board may be more useful. This is simply a surface which may be a special board, table top, the top of a storage chest or chest of drawers marked out and painted as a road layout. When planning the layout the idea is to get in as much road as you can and to provide for cross roads, T junctions, roundabouts and cul-de-sacs as generously as possible. It is also important that the track does not lead straight off the board, although one access point is useful. Where a board is used this can be hardboard edged with narrow batten. The size is not crucial but it is wise to curtail the width to the distance children can comfortably reach across to use both sides easily. Obviously a small board will be better laid out to a scale which will take Matchbox cars rather than Tonka-size ones.

Once the board has been planned using chalk, it is a good idea to try it oneself, or let the children try it, before painting, so that any obvious errors can be corrected at this stage. This kind of planning is not as easy or straightforward as it looks. A suitable paint can be made from powder paint mixed with PVA glue to give a thick cream consistency. A little water may be necessary but should be added sparingly. This is much better than using gloss or emulsion paint as it is easier and cheaper to mix colours, it dries fast to a non-gloss finish and is easy to touch up or repaint when necessary. For older children it might be a good idea to use blackboard paint for the roads so that they can chalk in white lines and traffic signs for themselves. Marking in these lines permanently with white PVA paint is a fiddly business and can be done most easily by using a matchstick to dot them on. Use of about three colours for the various large spaces and either black, dark grey or dark green, touched up with white or yellow, for the roads gives a board which looks attractive and allows the children to decide for themselves what the spaces are to represent.

A board edged with batten can be used on the other side as a layout for farmyard, zoo or harbour. Airports are less popular but for children who live near an airport this may be an obvious choice. These can be painted in the same way as traffic boards but, with the batten edging giving some protection for the surface, they can also provide a texture board. Farms with corduroy ploughed fields, knobbly green tweed meadows and farmyards covered with sand well mixed with PVA glue are a good start. Other possibilities are to cut different irregular shapes of hard-board or plywood to make slightly raised areas which children can arrange for themselves. For anyone who has a jigsaw, a large sheet of plywood and a fair amount of patience another possibility is to create a huge jigsaw-like layout where all the pieces fit together.

Improvised layouts can be made on a large sheet of brown paper. Older children may well be interested in making this themselves and if suitable glue and pieces of material are available this could be a dual activity providing foi a collage one day and traffic play another day. One of the best games I have seen involved the illicit use of a pile of builder’s bricks, delivered ready for use the next week, and a large lawn. The builders were furious, but ten years later the children still remember and refer to ‘that smashing game we had that time with the real bricks’. Other layout games tend to arise in a sandpit especially if it is a good big one. Sand trays do not give quite so much scope.

Discovered by accident rather than design is another idea which is very useful. To help with the inevitable transport problem I made up a traffic layout on the top of two old card-table tops, each about two feet square, which someone had given me. It was easier to carry two small pieces than one long one to show to students. The two pieces, linked with one connecting road when placed together, and the tray-like undersides were designed and made to look like a farm and a harbour. In fact when children used them as traffic boards they separated the two and made a linking bridge of flat bricks. Sometimes they used them as a traffic board connected to a harbour or by reversing them a traffic board connected to a farm. Younger children often claimed one each and used whichever side they were interested in. This arrangement could easily be reproduced by making two similar trays of hardboard with batten edges and would be helpful where storage space is a problem.