#209 The best toys are still free

inching forward

Inching forward, photo by popofatticus, via Flickr Creative Commons

When Wired magazine publishes a piece about “The 5 Best Toys of All Time”, I automatically figure technology figures in there somewhere, even if the toys are as simple as the old Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys I loved as a child.

I was so wrong. When Jonathan Liu wrote the piece for the GeekDad column last January, he set aside the cool toys and awesome gizmos for something more basic and far more universal. His kid-friendly choices? Stick, box, string, cardboard tube, and dirt. For every choice he wrote his reasons. They were thoughtful reasons that celebrated the imagination kids bring to such simple playthings. This December he added a sixth: water.

Not having children of my own, I’ve had to send my mind back to childhood to think about the toys that delighted me most. All six of Jonathan Liu’s choices were top picks for me. Numbers 5 and 6 were a great combo in southern Idaho, where fine dust turned into silky mud with the addition of just the right amount of water.

I also liked blankets, for making caves out of a couple of chairs pushed together. Paper and pencils or crayons were constant companions. The button jar and fabric scraps of my seamstress aunt provided materials for all kinds of artistic creations, along with the worn socks we turned into creatures. On the playground, friends and I would play marbles, jacks, jumprope and hopscotch.

Christmas was magical, and I loved unwrapping special gifts as much as the next kid. But those free, or nearly free, toys that came from castoffs or our surroundings, along with a few inexpensive additions like chalk for hopscotch or a rope for skipping, stirred our imaginations long after the shine of any new toy had dulled.

So thanks, Jonathan Liu, for making me smile and for giving me hope that many of the best things in life are still free.

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