T is for Toys: or how kids through the years are entertained

April 23, 2014 at 9:16 am | Posted in Experiences, Family, Family History, History, Mental Health, Ways of Living | 1 Comment
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A2Z-BADGE-000 [2014]


helmsdale-children-playing-marbles c1940s

Children playing marbles, c1940s

Times have changed since I was a child – and even more since my parents were. One of the ways that is very obvious relates to the toys we played with in those our grandchildren do. It was not always what we played with, but also their relative importance, and how toys and new ways of doing things have developed over time.

1920s doll& pram  Mum didn’t talk much about her childhood, and she died before I was able to spend real time with her, so I don’t really know anything about her actual toys. However, I can guess that she would have had dolls, perhaps a pram, and I know she would have had books.

Dad could tell me about his childhood activities. His toys, like Mum’s, reflected society’s gender expectations. What he had would always have been his preference1920s pedal car B anyway, as he loved making things and anything to do with machinery. When he was seriously ill as a four-year-old, his older cousin, also named Ernest, bought him a pedal car and hung it in his bedroom for when he was well again.

Along with other young boys, Dad played marbles and collected cigarette cards featuring famous sportsmen and historical figures. The cards people collected when I was young were put out by a clothing manufacturer, Stamina (no longer existent, and cigarette cards were still available, though not as widely. They are the same thing as the Pokemon or other cards that kids of today collect and play with. And toy cars, dolls and prams still bring joy to little kids.

When Dad was a bit older, his father traded poached game animals for things like Meccano sets and parts, and electric components to make crystal radios and speakers. Dad thus got a good grounding in skills that would serve him well in later years.

Crystal radio set 1930

Crystal radio set 1930


Meccano parts

He would also make things for his younger brother and sisters out of cereal boxes and whatever he could find. Before he was able to buy himself a bike, he found parts to create one. It had no brakes, only a piece of cloth for a seat, and wonky wheels, but it went hell-for-leather down the hill!

When we were young, we made billy-carts out of old pram wheels, a wooden box and planks of wood. Like Dad’s bike, they had no brakes, but they could be steered with ‘reins’, and if you were going too fast down the hill, you could (hopefully) steer into the long grass at the side of the road.

My sons made billy-carts too, and I was glad they did, because it showed creativity and initiative and a willingness to take a chance. All our generations suffered bruises and scrapes, but that was all part of the enjoyment.

Three of my boys & their billycart

Three of my boys & their billycart

We were also good at using whatever was available – for example, sticks became guns or swords or bows and arrows. A sheet became a cubby-house or the sail of a ship, or a cloak.

My 5 boys with their bikes in 1982

My 5 boys with their bikes in 1982

My boys had bicycles, though I never did – my parents couldn’t afford them. Instead, Dad made wooden scooters for me and my younger sister, as well as other toys, also from wood. My little brother got a bought pedal car at three years of age, but that was to help him exercise his polio-affected ankle. Dad also made him a metal scooter when he was a bit older.

Books have always been an important part of all our lives. Dad loved to read, as did Mum – as I did and most of my children, and as my grandchildren do now. Books are valued possessions. Dad didn’t own any when he was a child, and had to rely on the local library. When he was older and able to buy them, he and Mum had a small collection.

stack of books 04I didn’t own books either until my ninth birthday, when I received two. The library was a favourite place to go – when there was one. My children always had books, though not nearly as many as their own children have now. Things like that are much cheaper and more easily obtained nowadays, as well covering a much wider range of genres and interests.

Radio provided entertainment for my parents and also for us until we were teenagers. Then we got television. That took up some of the time we used to fill with toys and other activities, but we were restricted in when we could watch it. We were always encouraged to go out and create our own entertainment.

My children watched TV, but we also restricted their viewing. We also travelled and engaged in other activities. My grandchildren don’t watch nearly as much TV as many of their their peers, but they do have access to a lot more educational programmes than we had. However, my kids are also keen that their children reap the benefits of an outdoor life.

The biggest apparent difference between the toys of my generation and those of children now is the access to electronic devices that didn’t exist in earlier iPadyears. Although traditional toys are still a part of most children’s growing up, and the quality of those toys is much better, many children begin to use electronic devices at a very early age. That is what they want – easy and portable access to creation and adventure in other worlds and realities rather than in the real world. But perhaps that’s not too different to reading books and make-believe play; it’s mainly the format that has changed.

I suppose that wherever kids are, they will find something to play with. Whether it be creating a toy from almost nothing or receiving elaborate and expensive ones from their parents, whether building crystal radios or using an ipad or a Wii, what is important is the fun, the search for adventure, the learning, the exercise of creativity and initiative.

It might also be whatever will keep the kids occupied and out of their parents’ hair.


What were your favourite toys when you were a child? What did your parents have? Do you think children get as much out of their toys as the kids in your day or your parents’ day did?


© Linda Visman 23.04.2014  (1,076 words)


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