Kids may grow up, but some still love making toys
Not being a child psychologist, (and I don’t even play one on TV) I can’t with any scientific certainty explain the reason for the fascination of toys. However, what I can guarantee is that toys have been played with by every culture since mankind began walking erect. Toys aren’t found only in modern Christmas catalogues, they’re found in archeological digs from Asia to Europe, and from Africa to North America. And everywhere else. Dolls, little boats, balls, tops, toy soldiers, miniature animals, kites and countless other toys have been unearthed around the globe.
It goes without saying that toys are used for fun and recreation. But even without any scientific studies to back me up, I’m audacious enough to posit that toys offer much more simple amusement. I’d wager a large Sicilian pizza that toys provide valuable (shhh, don’t tell the kids) learning, imagination, understanding, physical and mental development, and even formation of identity.
Once upon a time I was a kid myself – although that was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. But I can still clearly remember the joys and discoveries made while playing with everything from cardboard boxes to high-tech things like Erector sets. Today, I’m in the enviable position of having lots of kids in our extended family and I get to experience that same joy vicariously through them. Consider this: a kid builds something with wooden blocks. Creativity comes with the placement of every block. If the construction falls over, the child learns a tiny bit about balance and gravity. When a child plays with a doll or a model airplane, imagination and story-telling join in the fun as the youngster nurtures or scolds the doll and flies off to other lands with derring-do.
Confession of a bias
Justified or not, I am of the opinion that the more the toy or game does on its own, the less valuable it may be for the child’s growth and development. Again, I come to this opinion with no scientific basis, but simply observation and personal experience. For example, over the years, I have played with wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, American Bricks, Legos and other related building toys. All of them are fun. All of them have value. But the only ones that come without constraints, without limitations on how one piece may fit another are the simplest: wooden blocks that can be arranged any way a child chooses and can become anything the child imagines his or her creation to be.
Similarly in my opinion, talking dolls can steal away the child’s own personal story-telling creativity. When an electronically enhanced doll says something, the child is put into the position of being the reactor, not the initiator. The story is the one the doll is telling, not the child’s. And don’t even get me started on video games. Yes, I have played them, and yes, I have felt the excitement and the addiction. But, what are we really doing when we play them? Wiggling our thumbs or fiddling with a joystick. The game does nearly all the work, all the creating, all the imagining.
Traveling back in time
And so, clutching this bias of mine firmly in hand, I have taken to tilting at windmills. Swimming against the tide. Rewinding the clock. Simplifying, simplifying, in hopes of letting kids regain the initiative.
I have taken to making wooden toys. Simple wooden blocks finished with beeswax. Blocks without instruction sheets that tell you what to build. Wooden puzzles made on a scroll saw. Wooden cars, boats and airplanes that make absolutely no sound unless a child goes, “Brmmm brmmm,” but can travel to anyplace under the sun – or even farther. Hoping that with each little wooden plaything that I make, the child and I will strike a blow for imagination, creativity, freedom and story-telling.
Some people I know think of me as a man misplaced in time. To some degree that may be true. After all, I enjoy woodcarving and sailing, which are surely two of the most ancient of activities. Before retiring, I made my career in the theatre – one of the most ancient of art forms. But on the other hand, I wrote this article on a computer, and took the accompanying photo with a digital camera. And a couple of years ago, I took my double hernia to an actual doctor and hospital as opposed to trying to correct the problem myself with a paring knife and spoon. Today’s science and technologies certainly improve the quality of all our lives and reign supreme. But there are times, places and situations when we should unplug and make our own music. Toys are surely among those.
Ed. Lange is a regular contributor to CRL Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.