STEP 5: Weights and Magnets

Barbie Mart - The convenience store looked stable, but Woe is Me!! Diorama Domino Effect was in full force.

My barbie-friend Marie calls it the diorama-domino-effect.

It’s when you’ve painstakingly arranged the barbies, their furniture and props, and then your pinkie finger or some other errant body part  inadvertantly taps a table or wobbles a chair …and…

You know what happens. You know because you’ve watched it unfold, in seeming slow motion, as all your hard work scatters to the barbie floor.

It can be so frustrating. It can make you want to quit playing altogether.

When Leah and I first started playing we didn’t have dishes and other small accessories but it wasn’t long until the memories of my teenage domino-effect frustrations came back. As an adult, I was not willing to accept this as unavoidable. I was an empowered adult. I was determined to take control of the situation.

Initially I reasoned that I could use some of my husband’s fishing weights to greatly decrease the chances I’d set a diorama-domino-effect in motion. I used a standard glue gun, which means I can remove the weights with a gentle tug and not leave any trace that they’d been there.

The weights helped.  Another problem was that playing on carpet made everything unstable. I wished for wood floors and considered buying some boards as a sort of modular “play platform.” Then I realized that if I purchased magnetic boards and glued high-powered magnets to the furniture we might have some truly stable play dioramas.

Small square magnetic boards designed as modular bulletin boards. Covered in various patterned Contact Paper.

After we’d assembled a number of magnetic boards I added contact paper so the different boards could look like different types of flooring. Once we moved home (we’d been staying in a hotel for my job) I tried out some even larger boards. We use both types of boards, large and small, depending on our mood, the scenario, or the number of items in our playset that day.

Two larger magnetic boards. The black and white marble is an excellent flooring option for Pizza Hut as well as our fancier Italian Bistro.

I started adding high powered magnets to the underside of furniture and other accessories.

In some cases I had to add wood blocks because of the underside structure of a particular piece so I bought some small wood blocks at a craft supply store (Michaels or Hobby Lobby).

This shows a combination of low powered magnets, wood pieces and foam tape used to create a stable magnetized counter. I used a hot glue gun to attach the wood to the plastic. It works well but isn't permanent and doesn's scar.

There was a time when Mattel used more magnets in their playsets but my understanding is that if a child ingests two of these high powered magnets they can get stuck together in such a way as to cause great damage and even a fatality. For this reason I gave Leah a long stern lecture explaining that she must never, EVER put magnets in her mouth and if she ever did and were to swallow one, she HAS to tell me immediately so I can take her to the hospital. I haven’t ever seen her with a magnet in her mouth (she much prefers to chew on barbie’s plastic shoes).

So, if your child is old enough to understand the dangers of the magnets, I  highly recommend magnetizing some of your items and combining them with magnet boards for frustration-free play.

Finished Product: the board can be moved, shaken or tipped and most things stay where they are.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. D7ana says:

    I am an adult collector/enthusiast, but I LOVE the idea of magnets. I can’t count the times when I’ve set scenes to photograph only to have those scenes fall apart. Why sometimes I’d end up with a boring wall background. Lots of your ideas for responsible, more interactive child play are applicable for adult tips. Thanks for sharing them.

    1. Marie Chandler, a diorama maker I profiled on this site, recommends a wax that is made for 1:12 doll houses for things like pictures on walls and shelves. I might use it for things on tables and counters as well. Weights help a lot. Thanks for liking my tip – I like your blog a lot too.

  2. Danielle says:

    Cool idea! I feel like I know the wax you’re talking about. Is it called Museum Wax or museum gel? I need to look for that…

    1. Marie called it “dollhouse wax” – I haven’t tried it yet but I always think of it when I am in the middle of trying to set something up. If you look under my category called “Player Profiles” you will see my only player profile – a woman named Marie Chandler. There is a link in that post to the Barbie Chat room thing on Ebay. If you post there asking Marie for details she’ll get back to you on it. She’s in there every day.

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