Nostalgia Sparks New Waves of Play
Pop culture has been in the grips of a nostalgia bear hug with no shortage of reboots and remakes. The love letters to yesterday pour in from the hit series Stranger Things to more recently 80’s dystopian novel turned 90s nostalgia revival Ready Player One. From Fuller House to Power Rangers, it seems nearly every day we hear about an old property given new life in media. Working at a toy company certainly has its advantages and I couldn’t help but notice how the steady stream of nostalgia-laced products reminded me of my favorite memories and the toys that sparked a lifelong love of play.
Growing up our family played Pick Up Sticks with mismatched chopsticks until dad found the actual game, complete with an old school wooden storage box. It was a game he had played with his family and it became our tradition. It seemed a little thing back then but Pick Up Sticks was a way for my family to spend time together. It certainly kept my brother and I quiet and settled, even for a bit and perfect when we couldn’t play outside. The game was and still is inexpensive, accessible and fun to play after all these years.
When we weren’t playing as a family, I was usually hanging out with my little suitcase of Barbie and friends. Not too far behind would be my brother, while I tried to keep him from nibbling on doll boot or plastic hairbrush. Playing dress up, combing their hair and swapping out their miniature accessories, I spent hours making up stories and life histories for each doll. This exercise in make-believe was a creative outlet and likely had a not so small part in me wanting to tell stories or still marveling at tiny shoes or shoes in general if you saw my closet.
My husband and I even have a set in our game room filled with other representations of happy childhood memories we hope to share with our future kids. I wondered if others felt the same or had similar memories. So, I decided to ask friends and coworkers about a few of their favorite (childhood) things…One of the perks of working at a toy company. 😉
Build a Whole New World of Imagination!
Polly Pocket was great because it was like a little doll house on the go! You could just fold it up, snap it shut, grab your bike and head to your BFF’s house with it. It was very much a millennial, “minimalist” toy, well before it’s time! Polly Pocket was just so cute and tiny too, and you could collect a bunch of different ones. I remember taking Polly Pocket to my neighborhood friend’s house and playing with them for hours! As for how Polly and friends impact my life today; I’m not really sure, I guess. I think as I mentioned above the whole “minimalist” toy idea – that may be a correlation. I tend to have a minimalist mindset as an adult and I think a toy like Polly Pocket was appealing to me because I liked that it was compact, tiny, and you could just pick up and go. I don’t think Polly Pocket is available today unless you buy it from a collector. I probably wouldn’t play with Polly Pocket today, but it would be a toy I’d like to introduce my daughter to!
As for Lincoln Logs, I really enjoyed building with them. I also remember that they smelled like real, authentic wood, which was awesome! I would build houses for little dolls and stuffed animals with my Lincoln Logs. I also spent time playing with Lincoln Logs with my younger brother. It was a toy that either gender could enjoy so I’m sure it made my parents happy at the time Lincoln Logs are still available today but I don’t think they are quite the same as the original Lincoln Logs. Lincoln Logs are a toy I’d probably play with today and also a toy I can see my children playing with.
Add Fantastic Color to the Everyday
There’s something nostalgic about having a piece of your childhood. You get rid of it all in your teen years thinking you are too cool for it. As you grow older, you find that being yourself is what matters most. By that time, you’ve rid your life of all the things that once made you happy. Even though it’s a child’s toy, or in my case a type of school supply, it still brings you back to that reality of being yourself and not conforming to the “demands” around you. You may not play with it every day but it’s a nice reminder of how carefree and easy life was as a child.
I wouldn’t call them toys, but I absolutely was obsessed with Lisa Frank folders, pens, binders, and other school supplies. I was in love with dolphins as a child and they seemed to have adorable dolphins on everything. That’s what got me started. Then I started loving all of their unicorn, kitten and puppy stuff too. It has definitely crossed over into my adult life. I see a planner, binder with a cute design or a set of matching pens and my bank account has no defense. Lisa Frank helped me become a more organized child in school and it this trait has definitely stuck around for my adult years. I wouldn’t be ashamed to carry around a unicorn folder, that’s for sure!
Passing on Play, One Generation to Another
My brothers and I used to take our little plastic figures of army men, cowboys and any random character you’d get in a kid’s meal and make little cities in dirt walls. There were a lot on construction sites, ditches or quarry type areas where one could find a wall of dirt, a little cliff if you will. We’d dig tunnels and build rooms similar to the native Pueblo structures in the Southwest. I don’t think the toys themselves were all that remarkable, but they did spur on some creative ventures. We’d spend hours being outside and getting dirty and using our imaginations.
We also played with anything that you could throw, toss up or fly. Balls, discs, darts and any accoutrements used to make them go as far as possible. My memory of playing with my brothers is always of a lovely sunny day in our back field trying to outdo each other. I really enjoy the similar type of days I get to enjoy with my kids. The Toysmith Go! Line is perfect for recreating those memories.
I really enjoyed building with wood blocks and connector type toys. My brother would build structures like houses and actual places, while I would build abstract Dr. Seuss-type “things.” My kids continue to enjoy playing with building blocks, even as teenagers. I think it is part of what led my oldest to join the robotics team at his school. The addition of electronics to toys these days has both encouraged a different type of play and stunted some possible creativity. I’m glad my kids still like to make stuff from scratch.
Toys Shaped Our Play
As adults, we tend to forget how important play is and often need reminding whether it’s from our children or pop culture nostalgia. Looking back, I realize now a simple game made of colored sticks encouraged focus, stillness, patience, critical thinking, and competition. It’s no wonder Pick Up Sticks still enjoys popularity today. Who’d have thought a pile of tangled sticks could be so fun and engaging? Take a moment to think about your favorite things. How did toys and play shape you?
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