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Craze of the month

There's Beanie Babies, Beanie Buddies and Teeny Weeny Beanie Babies. There's "ooh, at least 200 of them, miss," says Rosie. "And I've only got six, that's Amber, she's a cat, Nuts a squirrel, Nibble a rabbit, Spout the elephant, Silver the seal and Sable the bear." Her voice trails off disconsolately. "Juliet, she's got 33. Including a rare one."

Lobsters, unicorns, Iggy the Iguana, Springy the lavender bunny, Swoop the pterodactyl, even a big red cuddly dragon: the manufacturers of bean-bag-type soft toys will stop atno permutation of cuteness to part parents from theirmoney and confirm little girls in their addiction to collectable soft toys. Making some of them "rare", like black swans, is the icing on the cake.

But although Beanies, with all their paraphernalia of carrying baskets and showcases, are a cynical manufacturers' ploy, for many junior school children they are a deeply satisfying nurture-toy. Like dolls, they can be arranged, bullied, even dressed in scarves; like teddies, they can be hugged and kissed; like clothes, they are fashionable. Baby as accessory, if you like. For teachers, moreover, they can b a valuable teaching aid.

The obvious technology idea is to get some polystyrene beads (very cheap), some old clothes for fabric and get them cutting out and making their own Morrie the eel, perhaps going on to Frigid the penguin before tackling a difficult one like Wiggly the octopus (all real names). But there are other ideas, too. As well as the plays on words for names (Niles the camel, Aurora the polar bear), the manufacturers like to pick patterns to match. It's a very useful art task to work on abstracting a pattern from a representation. And it's also maths, picking out shape from form, rotating shape to form regular patterns.

There's more maths in dividing the whole tribe of Beanies into sets - warm-blooded versus cold, perhaps, Buddies or Teenies. Then move on to Venn diagrams, With interlocking sets, perhaps by colour, number of legs, hair (if any). And a good puzzle: if you have pound;200 to spend on Beanies, how will you do it? Will you buy the pound;95 monster, or splurge on 20 smaller ones?

Finally, a balloon debate. You have to throw out one Beanie. Which shall it be? Not the red dragon, surely!

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