I have written before that in my early years all of my friends were boys. Above you can see the guests at my birthday party, six little boys, including the twins in nice white shirts. We played together for hours, mainly chasing, running, hiding, swinging, sliding and shooting. We all had cap guns and gleefully shot them with no thought about how later generations might condemn such play.
I had several dolls that I cherished, but I never tried to play with them with my friends. I understood that dolls were for girls, as were play cooking and tea parties. Once I started school I made my first friend who was a girl, and learned about hair styling and makeup applications, at least those that six year olds could master. I enjoyed this new kind of play, certainly never a part of my earlier fun.
By third grade the sexes had completely split. Girls played with girls and boys with boys. Our activities too became more gender specific, even on the playground. For instance only girls jumped rope, only boys shot baskets. I quit thinking of boys as friends. From fourth grade on, boys figured only in conversations with other girls about who liked which boy.
The 1950’s had very clear understandings about gender. The toy catalogs had boy toys and girl toys. Clothing was either for boys or for girls (I couldn’t even wear pants to class in college.) Boys talked freely about the cars they wanted. Girls fantasized about future houses. We really seemed to inhabit parallel universes.
I would love to know from my readers how things might be different now. I also wonder if this gender distinction was true in other parts of the world. Please comment.
Saturday a close friend reminded me of the toys we used to be able to buy for a dime. I have written in the past about the little balsa wood airplanes that cost that amount. But she recalled the paddle ball, a piece of wood with a rubber ball attached with an elastic cord to a staple in the middle of the paddle. Not very sturdy, but it did only cost ten cents!
In theory you bounced the ball out and back with the paddle, either overhand or underhand as the two children in the picture illustrate. In practice, however, I most often bonked myself or my sibling with the ball. This was not my favorite way to enjoy myself, but I always forgot that consequence whenever I bought a new one. Because, as you can easily guess, the previous one was either broken or confiscated.
Childhood seemed to provide numerous opportunities to be bonked on the head or face. Tether ball seemed to always leave me not only a loser (I really was too short to have a chance) but also bumped. Dodge ball’s sole purpose, of course, was to hit another child with a ball. A kickball, ineptly fielded, could hit my nose too. Where were all the overly solicitous safety concerns anyway?
I thought I had left all the chances to hit myself in the face behind me when I became an adult. But modern gyms have several pieces of equipment to repeat the experience. Perhaps naming one of them “slam balls” should be a clue. These can rebound off the wall right back at me if I am not careful. And weighted medicine balls can be hazardous too. Perhaps a full face guard should be the next addition to my home gym!
As kids we had a solid understanding of many laws of physics without ever having learned them in a classroom. Imagine how dull it would have been to have had to master a knowledge of fulcrums before being allowed out on the playground. Fortunately we had the teeter-totter and figured things out quite handily.
The equipment required two children, one on each end of a long board. Each had a handle which suggested that the child would stay secured to the board. One child would go down, push her feet and the other child would go down. A problem obvious in the photo above is that the two girls are nearly evenly weighted. We could stop and ask them to solve the issue with a law of physics. Instead we could watch as one child or the other scoots forward or backward until one end goes down allowing play to continue. In the center of this particular board is a fitting that allows the board to be repositioned in three different slots. Again no lengthy discussion would ensue. A larger child intuitively knew what adjustment needed to be made to allow fun to go on.
Teeter-totters seem to have disappeared from playgrounds. Apparently some cautious adults noticed the clever explorations of the laws of physics taking place. There was the famous jump off the board while the other child was still in the air maneuver. The stranded child would land with a thump, perhaps cracking a tooth on the handle. Another mischievous variation had the one child push so hard that the other child went flying, handle or no. I assure my readers that I have only heard of these experiments and NEVER tried them myself. If you find an archaic teeter-totter, please NEVER learn physics this way.
Schools have decided that learning things in books is much safer than learning them on playgrounds. What a loss.
Going in circles seems to fascinate kids. Merry-go-rounds certainly capitalize on this joyful movement. Not only did the horses go in a circle, they also went up and down as music played. I wanted to stay on the horse and go again, and no doubt this face shows me advocating for such a chance.
Several toys in my childhood also featured spinning. My favorite was a simple top such as this one
It required no skill. You pumped the handle up and down for a bit and then let go. It twirled around the room making a satisfying sound as it rotated.
Later I received a gyroscope for Christmas, but I had no luck with it. I think it needed a bit more coordination and time than I gave it. However, this Christmas I gifted my grandchildren with a gyroscope based whirling, spinning, floating toy. As it lit, twirled and soared around the room, I remembered how joyful spinning can be.
When I was six my best friend I sometimes spent the night at my best friend Skipper’s house.(My friends had names like that, including Dude.) One special treat was sitting in the living room with the lights off while a toy shone constellations of starts on the ceiling. It seemed magical. Of course I was very used to looking at the night sky for the same arrays, but this was indoors and very unusual.
Later the local science museum built the planetarium shown in the image above. Here the seats reclined, the ceiling opened up, and lights mimicked the sky, changing over time and seasons. While we were supposedly listening to the scientist droning on and on about astronomy, I for one just relaxed into the chair and dreamed.
When my daughter was little, she insisted that we put adhesive backed glow in the dark stars on her ceiling. She seemed to find them as magical as I had at Skipper’s house.
Sadly light pollution, especially in the part of the country where I now live, has drastically reduced the view of the night sky with just a naked eye. I remember always finding the Milky Way as a child. Now apparently it is obscured for 80% of North America. So pervasive is light up and down the East coast that Maine distinguishes itself by having a “Dark Sky Festival.” I hope that all kids will have a chance at some point in their lives to see a night sky full of stars. I hate to think their only experience will come from the recreations of toys, planetariums and ceiling stickers.
As a child I had a set of dominoes but I only ever used them to set up and then knock down. I was fascinated later in life by videos of very long lines of dominoes set up and then tapped over to form patterns. But I never knew that they were made to play an adult game.
I have been in diverse settings all my life, and I was first introduced to the serious game of dominoes in my mid-20’s when I was a guest at a mainly African-American Thanksgiving dinner. After a huge meal, and after the pound cakes had been discussed and judged, the dominoes came out. Men set up a card table, four chairs, the box of dominoes and began to play. This was SERIOUS. Unbeknownst to me until then, dominoes can require thoughtful strategy. But what struck me the most was the vigor from the men as they played the tiles. One wasn’t laid down, but thumped down hard enough that the table shook. This was followed by groans and whoops from the other players.
Curious about the game, I read about it on line before writing this post. Because the language was too crude for me to insert a direct link, I am not sending you over to a video. But I did find examples of the raucous play and insults I remember from watching that afternoon. I also learned that the game is very popular in the West Indies.
I wonder about my readers. Did any of you ever play the game or witness an animated game played by others? I would love to know where it occurs.
A close friend who works with toddlers in a Montessori classroom assures me that today’s children’s scissors actually cut. Doubtful of this claim, I looked on line and discovered that it does appear that today’s are vastly different from those of my childhood. So if you are young you may have trouble understanding this post.
Above are the two types of scissors available to me as a child both at home and in school. Ignore the middle one with sharp points. They would never have been on hand. As you might surmise by checking the images, these scissors were mainly designed so that when a child ran with them she would not succumb to the ever present threat “you are going to put your eye out.” They were not engineered to cut anything. Imagine trying to cut smoothly around an image drawn on a piece of paper. Not possible. Many “childish” looking art projects probably just reveal the poor tools available to the child.
But my brother, sisters and I had a solution. My mother owned sewing scissors which she kept in the top dresser drawer in her bedroom. We were absolutely forbidden both to open her drawer and to use her scissors. Needless to say, when the need arose, we did both. Her scissors worked wonderfully, producing smooth edges with no effort. We usually remembered to return them.
I can still hear her voice, sixty years later, yelling across the house “WHO USED MY SEWING SCISSORS TO CUT PAPER?” How she knew I have no idea. And certainly none of the four of us was going to own up.