I’m thinking of my favorite toys when I was young. I really liked the brio wooden train sets. We would always try and make the tracks do things they were not supposed to do like make roller coasters. Art supplies like neon poster paints were always a hit. But the best things we did probably were not “toys” at all but physical things. My parents didn’t exactly encourage us or take part so much as let us do whatever we wanted. We had lots of cushions and mats and one of those mini exercise trampolines to do flips off of. The living room was pretty big and we were allowed to do it inside too. Were were also allowed to make giant forts out of the furniture. We had two types. The very elaborate fort and the simple under the table fort where the object was to block out every last ounce of light. Once we made a homemade oujia board to use in the fort and drew a cross on the back in our own blood. Kinda weird.
Outside the sandbox was a great resource and the tire swings and the tree house. We had footraces and played in the sprinkler and limboed under a broomstick and jumped over hurdles. Thinking back I would have really liked a balance beam and a pullup/gymnastics bar. I’d still like a bar to play on to be honest. You should see my “windmills”. I can do at least 100 in a row.
I was up at the neighbor’s house one day babysitting and the kids wanted to play in their sandbox but the sand was wet. I asked them if they were allowed to play when it was wet and sure enough they were not (and too young to lie, I guess). Now of course I would let my kids play in the wet sand but I know how other people think…
As far as wild stuff…If an adult had shown me how to make a debris hut or any kind of decent shelter I would have absolutely loved it. All our stick forts sucked and never really got finished before they fell down. I remember making crappy bows and arrows too. If I had been able to sleep outside more in tents, igloos, under the stars…if we had gone swimming more in rivers and streams and ponds and swamps and in all sorts of weather, eaten more wild plants, I would have loved all that stuff. Kids take naturally to primtive skills, I think. This is funny but whenever we went out on the ol speed boat and landed on the shore the first thing we would do was construct or designate a bathroom. The desire to build things and make a place a home is there. We also always smashed different color rocks up on the beach for paint. You could usually get at least red, yellow, and black. I clearly remember my dad explaining about the sandstone and how you could only smash or scratch a rock with a harder rock. Once in first grade we were pretending we were stranded and I tried to write “help” on a rock in charcoal, but I wrote “hepl”. When my best friend who was in second grade pointed this out I was really embarrassed.
When were were on vacations my sister and I had this game we used to play called orphans. We would be sitting in a McDonald’s eating our happy meals and fantasize that our parents had just abandoned us and we had to figure out where to go, where to sleep and get food. Survival instincts. It’s a natural thing. You know what would be good? A series like the Boxcar Children but more wilderness skills. I know there are some good books out there like the stuff by Jean Craighead George (I just read Julie of the Wolves out loud to Nick!), and Gary Paulsen but an anti-civ Boxcar children, that would be freakin fantastic!
We used to go down to this little pond behind the subdivision and harvest clay to make pots and bring it home in plastic bags. It was sooo messy. I clearly remember sitting at my plastic blue and white smurf picnic table with my best friend Heather and pinching pots. Of course they never got fired so they were always “ashtrays”.
It’s also amazing the folk games kids play and the way they are passed along orally and differ from region to region, school to school, but remain basically the same throughout the states, sometimes the world…the songs, the rhymes, the jokes, the sting games, and hand clapping games. It seems like there is very little folk culture left here in the states but among children it still thrives as far as I know. Anyone else do chinese jumprope? Ghost in the Graveyard?
There is this one song…I learned it my cousin’s cousin and I’ve never met anyone else who knows it. It’s kind of racist. It goes:
I livey up on a teeny weeny house top
I livey up on the thirty first floor
I takey in a very biggey laundry
Ruffles on the petticoats ten cents more, ten cents more
I like a chow wow better than a pow-wow
I like a little boy and he like-a me
One day in Hong Kong the boogey man a come along
and take my little boyfriend away from me
All alone with the laund-a-ry
Anyone know that one?!
Also I was just thinking the other day what a weird handclapping rhyme this is:
Missus betty crocker
sittining in her rocker
watching the clock go tick tock tick tock four-o-clock
tick tock tick tock four-o-clock
wash these dirty spots off me
Moonshine moonshine now we freeze
(then you freeze with a silly face)
My conclusion. Screw plastic toys. Screw toys all together except maybe for the toddlers. Yeah I liked my barbies and trolls and my fisher price kitchen with its plastic hotdogs but playing outside is way better. Let them do whatever they want. They’ve got the instincts. Better yet, play with them. Yeah teach your kids skills and crafts but also let them teach you. Take them swimming in winter (At my babysitter’s house we were not allowed to go swimming until it reached (“70 degrees on the breezeway”. It was pure agony!) Sleep outside. Build forts. Don’t even tell them it’s useful information and skills. They’ll figure that out when they are older.
As far as books for younger children I really enjoyed the National Geographic Series for Young Explorers when I was a kid. I also have this newer picture book called Places of Power by Michael DeMunn that is very much about native american spirituality and finding a “secret spot” in the woods.