From Tinkertoys to Transformers: Have You Got Game, Gran and Gramps?

Buying kiddie toys, games and other gear is one of the pleasures of being a grandparent. Just ask those junior executives at Mattel, Hasbro and Toys R Us, who are banking their early retirement on it.

The problem is you’re bombarded with so many choices that it’s nearly impossible to know what to select. And no matter how carefully you weigh the options, these kids will be into something new next week, thanks to the nonstop marketing that turns them into unquenchable consumers while they’re only little squirts.

We’re talking board games, video games, musical toys, magical toys, tiny cars, tiny trains, kiddie boats, kiddie totes, books to read, dolls to feed, toys that walk, toys that talk. And on and on.

Add endless TV and movie tie-ins, and you’ve got enough loot to fill every home in America five times over. Soon children won’t be sleeping in beds anymore. They’ll simply carve out space to lay their heads amid all their wall-to-wall stuff.

As we contemplate this dizzying array, we can’t help looking back fondly on the modest selection that satisfied our young needs. Our toys ran on imagination and sheer kid power. They never needed rebooting. That was something we did in the winter, along with remittening, before we went outside to play.

Our bedroom floors were the original play stations, perfect for an afternoon game of Candy Land, Slapjack or Sorry! Who needed technology when we could build the strangest contraptions with Tinkertoys or an entire town out of Lincoln Logs? Of course, we took it for granted that kneeling and sitting cross-legged on the floor were part of our body’s repertoire then.

Being a child was a lot less complicated in the age of The Flintstones and five-cent candy bars. When we weren’t in school, Mom and Dad were happy to have us play and play. It kept us out of their hair during a time when parenting wasn’t the frantic, all-encompassing activity it is now.

We filled the hours with marbles and yoyos, jump ropes and jacks. We picked up sticks, acted silly with putty and got tiddly with some winks in our day.

Then Now
Toys to wind up Games to download
Howdy Doody Hello Kitty
Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop on TV Elmo Live
Roller skates attached to your shoes Roller shoes
“Buy me a pony.” “Buy me an Xbox and a pony.”
Rocky and Bullwinkle SpongeBob and Patrick
Roy Rogers lunch pails Hannah Montana backpacks
Jump your opponent in checkers Jump to the next level in Super Mario
Popeye Pokémon
Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my! Decepticons and Romulans and Green Goblin. OH, MY!

Now that the no-tech times are only a memory and the so-tech times are here to stay, childhood is a whole different ballgame. But that doesn’t mean you have to fill your grandkids’ toy chest with nothing but electronic wonders.

Many long-ago favorites are still on the market or just waiting up in the attic to be rediscovered. Why not introduce your grandkids to one of the oldies for every new-fangled item you buy? That way, the kids will benefit from the latest playtime technology and you’ll savor watching them enjoy some of the toys and games you and their parents remember so well.

If Colin craves action figures, give him Transformers, G.I. Joe and Halo toys. Then bring out your trusty old toy soldiers, and who knows what’s in store?

Since Anna loves to be on the move, you can’t go wrong with a new razor scooter. When she’s ready to slow down, introduce her to your vintage kaleidoscope.

Indulge Akira’s passion for video games by buying him Need for Speed. Later, you can dust off your old basketball and show him how to execute a crossover dribble.

Help the twins learn about earlier eras by giving each an American Girl doll. Once they master braiding the dolls’ hair, it’s time to teach them to play cat’s cradle with a single piece of string. Guaranteed to produce matching ear-to-ear smiles.

You can also bond with your grandkids over Internet versions of some of the games you used to love, like hangman, Yahtzee and Battleship. No need to shake your laptop when you want to erase that online Etch A Sketch, however. A couple of keystrokes and you can start again from scratch.

If only our childhood View-Masters had allowed us to see into the future, we would’ve been blown away by the evolution of toys and games that was on its way. As we watched the 3D exploits of Zorro and Mighty Mouse, we never imagined that our grandkids’ fun would center around a remote control, a palm-sized rodent or a keyboard of buttons to tap.

Old and new generations. Old and new ways to play.

 

Diana J. Ewing is the author of The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Grandparenting

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