We didn’t know it at the time but the toys we grew up with in the early 80’s were simply the best. Many of them are no longer being replicated, at least in the way we remember them. Wooden Tinker Toys are no longer being sold- there are plastic versions in “girl colors” and “boy colors” but nothing like what we remember. Mr. Potato Head, which used to be rather well-made, has evolved into a cheap and unfortunate tuber. The two new Potato Heads we bought new a couple months ago are impossible for my preschooler to do by herself and even though the female has a throw-back hairstyle they shout “Modern! Shiny! 21st century! Junk!” The pieces don’t fit well, the glasses fall off, the hair thunks to the floor at the least provocation.
Last week on a vacation in upstate NY my family was lucky enough to run across not one, not two, but three old school Potato Heads from 1983. The year is printed inside the butt flap in case you’d like to know when your own model originated. Now I’m not looking forward to answering questions about Mr. Potato Head 1983’s pipe(which is kinda cute if you don’t think too much about it) but you can’t dispute that the toys were built to last, to be functional, and to be fun. They were more than money makers.
When I was a bit older Domino Rally came out and I thought it looked incredibly entertaining. I got it for Christmas that year and couldn’t have been more disappointed. The loop-de-loop malfunctioned repeatedly,and the track was always falling apart. I should have realized then that the era of good toys was ending. If I’d made that realization I certainly wouldn’t have given away all the tangible pieces of my childhood. I would have kept them for my own kids. Alas, here I am searching thrift stores whenever I have the chance. My husband just rescued his childhood collection of He-Man action figures from his parent’s attic. We are both ridiculously excited about this.
For the most part we try to buy wooden toys and toys that are 2nd hand. Even better are toys that are wooden AND 2nd hand. Fortunately for me and for my kids, my dad is an amateur toy maker.
I grew up playing with a handmade pull-duck with leather feet that flapped along on a rolling wooden wheel. I learned my states early and confidently because I had a huge wooden map of the USA with puzzle pieces of all 50 states. I had a wooden whale puzzle that had only 5 pieces but was deceptively difficult and my dolls got rocked in a handmade cradle which eventually got donated to the Para Los Ninos foundation in Los Angeles. To my everlasting regret I didn’t keep most of the gifts my father made. I only have the whale puzzle, a jewelry box made out of a tree limb, and a giant rocking cow named Bessie. Incidentally, Bessie weighs about 50 pounds and won’t be living with us forever:)
My dad has begun making wooden toys for my kids. It’s a very lucky thing to have a toy maker in the family. My daughter has her own pull mouse which she delightedly drags all over the college campus down the road and my 11 month old has figured out how to push his wooden cars across the living room. I absolutely love watching them play with things that didn’t come in a box. Things that were made by a real person, things that have imperfections (not referring to Mr. Potato Head here), toys that encourage activity instead of passivity.
It’s a changing world. I do see the advantages of having a preschooler who knows how to use a variety of computers. But I also see the need to teach our kids how to build with their hands and how to race real wooden cars.
What’s your best old school toy?