When’s the last time you were in a toy store – without your children and for no other reason than to go in and wander around? If you’ve never done it, I highly advise it! Take your partner or your best friend and just roam the aisles, checking out all the new gadgets, games, and technological wonders that today’s kids have at their disposal.
You can also take a stroll down memory lane. I’m dating myself with this post (good thing I don’t care who knows that I’m 41!), but it really seems like childhood was simpler when I was growing up. I’ll admit I went to Catholic school, but the biggest infractions any student ever committed when I was in school were chewing gum and saying “Shut up.” I’m serious! In high school, they ditched and drank and all the “normal” teenage stuff … but even then, it was pretty tame, compared to today.
What follows is a list of nostalgic stocking stuffer ideas that come purely from my own childhood memories.
JACKS – I loved playing jacks. There was something soothing about the rythmic quality of bouncing the ball and scooping up the little plastic or metal spikes. I would still play today, except that I care a bit more about my fingernails these days, and the constant rubbing across the floor or table surface causes the nails on my right hand to wear down at an odd angle.
JUMP ROPE - What little girl didn’t jump rope at some time or other? Now I tend to think of jumping rope as more related to exercise than fun. As a kid, I never got to be anywhere near as good as the girls in this picture, but it was fun to recite the little rhymes:
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephant, elephant, elephant
Jump the fence, fence fence
They jumped so high, high, high
They touched the sky, sky, sky
And didn’t come back, back, back
Till the fourth of July, July, July
CHINESE JUMP ROPE – An odd combination of jump rope and hop scotch, Chinese jump rope was, in my opinion, more fun than regular jump rope. Of course, the knowledge geek that I am, had to investigate where it got its name. According to a very sketchy source, the game has been traced back children who played it in 7th century China.
BARREL OF MONKEYS - Don’t you sometimes wonder about the things that take off? Hey, Joe. I have an idea for a new toy. Let’s stamp out some plastic monkeys, throw them in an equally cheap barrel-shaped plastic container, and call it a game. That sounds like a good idea, Stan. What will we call it?
Interesting side note: I have a friend whose e-mail address attaches to a domain name he has never, to my knowledge, actually used: barrelofmonkeys.net. Every time I come across the phrase “monkeys in a barrel” (not all that often, to be honest), I think of him.
PASS THE PIGS - Apparently, this is the commercial version of a dice game called “Pig.” I admit, I never played this as a kid, but we did find a game at a yard sale when I was in my mid-20s, complete with instructions. Now, we bring it out once or twice a year as a break between cribbage matches at the holidays.
PADDLE BALL - I will admit to a certain level of gawkiness as a child, perhaps lack of coordination. But who doesn’t trip and bounce down the stairs on her ass during lunch at the boys’ school in her uniform skirt? Seriously, I’m not really that big of a klutz – but I could never get the hang of paddle ball. I think the most consecutive bounces I ever achieved was maybe 11 or 12.
YO-YO - Does anyone else think it’s amusing that one of the most famous cellists in the world has a name that many people still associate with a childhood toy? I was never much for the yo-yo, but the boys always knew they could impress girls by mastering yo-yo tricks.
HULA-HOOP - Yes, this one is probably too big to fit into a stocking, unless it is one GIANT stocking, but it fits with our theme of childhood games and toys. I know after reading about the stair-bouncing incident, you’ll be shocked to hear this, but I was never much of a hula-hooper or baton twirler.
HOP SCOTCH - Now here’s a game I loved! It was part balance and coordination – yes, I managed without killing myself – but there was also the skill of tossing your pebble just far enough that you landed on the proper square. Add to it the whole rainbow of chalk options, and you’ve got a game!
PLASTIC STRAW BALLOONS - Wow! Talk about a blast from the past. I couldn’t find a picture of an inflated balloon, but does anyone remember these things? With a smell strong enough to get an elephant high, this stuff had to have been every kind of toxic! You squeezed out a little bit of goo from a metal tube, affixed it on the end of the small straw they provided, and blew yourself a magical, psychedelic balloon. Crikey – who on earth came up with this? But we loved them.
SILLY PUTTY - I mentioned this one in my original post on stocking stuffer ideas. Not sure why Silly Putty remained one of the perennial stockings stuffers in our house, because you can’t really do all that much with it. We always thought pulling up newsprint (especially the color comics) was kind of cool … but in the days of low-smudge ink, that will be less likely today, I’m thinking.
PICK-UP STICKS - Another one of those games that, if brought to the market today, would probably fail miserably. It’s a great game, though, that certainly requires concentration and dexterity. I remember seeing collector game sets, with polished oak sticks in a velvet-lined box, back at an arts and crafts store in New Jersey in the late 90s.
TINKERTOYS – Somewhat on the stick theme, these classics were loads of fun for building, way more so than the ubiquitous Lincoln Logs, in my opinion.
LEGOS - When it came to building, though, nothing topped Legos! I still love to give and receive the little kits as stocking stuffers. Far and away, my favorites are the castle and pirate kits. I think we wound up merging the two, having the dragons and horses do battle while the knights and pirates drank ale and watched the goings on with tacit interest.
If you have any knowledge of/affinity for New York City, you won’t want to miss this creative use of Legos!
PLAY-DOH – Also somewhat related to the building theme, there’s the colorful and horrific smelling Play-Doh. It’s one of those scents that you’d recognize anywhere, and for me, every time, it takes me straight back to childhood. Never personally much got into this machine that squeezed out tubes of the Doh. Was more intrigued by blending the colors to come up with new hues.
ETCH-A-SKETCH – Who can forget the magic of the Etch-a-Sketch? Some people (a) have too much time on their hands and (b) are amazing artists! To navigate those dials to create such detailed images … kind of takes your breath away. On a personal note, this is always my default gift for the annual Toys for Tots campaign.
FRISBEE - Of course, there were basic staples like the Frisbee. In order to partake in the Frisbee sport, however, a certain amount of coordination is necessary. I don’t think I ever noticed before how many of these toys require coordination!
Recently attended the Fiesta Bowl Parade here in Phoenix. At one juncture, toward the end of the parade, they had a gaggle of people tossing Frisbees to the crowd with some bank’s logo on them. One gal, though, was walking up to people and handing them the plastic discs. You had to wonder if she was Frisbee-challenged…
NERF FOOTBALL – I have a confession to make. While we had a couple in the house during my childhood, I never learned how to throw a football. When I throw one, it flips and turns, end over end. No nifty spirals like even an average 9-year-0ld on a playground seems to be able to manage. Ah, well. There’s still time.
SLINKY - Also mentioned in the original post on Stocking Stuffer Ideas was the ever-popular Slinky. One question: WHY? They have even less functionality than Silly Putty. Sure they can “walk” down a set of stairs, but they sure can’t walk back up. Oh, well, who can argue with pop icons? Would you believe there are still nearly 4 million Slinkies sold every year?
STRETCH HULK – One of the stranger gifts we ever got was a Stretch Hulk when we were in the 3rd or 4th grade. I can’t even imagine my dad’s thought process behind that one. Really. He’s in the store. He knows he has two daughters. He knows less than nothing about what’s popular on TV or the latest fad impressing the kids. So he picks the Stretch Hulk as a Christmas present.
Actually, it belonged to my sister, but we both played with it … whatever that meant. She had a friend who was something of a dingbat who wanted to know what was in it to make it stretch. We neither knew, nor cared, but Erica was determined to find out. She she kept poking it with a ballpoint pen until she broke through the green “skin.” I remember it being a blue, sticky, oozy substance. I also remember being really ticked because she broke our Stretch Hulk.
LIGHT BRIGHT - Easily the most technologically advanved of all the toys and games of my childhood, Light Bright is another one of those things you just look at now, in hindsight, and wonder, “Why?” We loved it, though. And I imagine it might still hold a certain amount of fascination for small kids.
UPDATE – 8 January 2009, 1115 p.m.
Today was my mom’s 80th birthday, and I had the chance to talk about this post with my sister over dinner. She explained the Stretch Hulk mystery – she asked for it! She also reminded me of a couple other games we had that fit the “stroll down memory lane” theme.
TIDDLY WINKS - OK, I have to admit I don’t have much of a memory about Tiddly Winks, but maybe it’s because my sister says she was the queen of the game. If she won all the time, it’d make sense that I’d forget about it, wouldn’t it?
But it must have made some sort of impression, because I used to use it often as a toss-off line at networking functions when we’d do “dancecards.” This is where everyone puts their business card in a bowl and draws one other person’s card, giving each individual two pairings. The idea is that each couple get together sometime before the next meeting, for breakfast, coffee, lunch, drinks, dinner, a phone call … or to play Tiddly Winks … so they can get to know each other better.
BATTLESHIP - Wow, have they upgraded this one. Gone all electronic and everything. I think I might prefer to watch paint dry now, but when we were kids, this was a pretty exciting game. Check out the name of the link where I found this picture: http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-board-games-we-secretly-hate.php.
PERFECTION - I can’t believe I missed this one earlier. This was the game to end all games! I loved racing the timer to beat the trigger that caused all the little plastic shapes to loudly explode across the table/floor. Not sure how I’d like it today … but I think it fed my need for detail and precision, even back when I was a kid.