In praise of simple toys

If you know what this is, you probably have a child between ages seven and twelve.

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And if you don’t: It’s a kendama, and it’s currently the toy of the moment at my sons’ school.  At morning dropoff the other day, I noticed no less than five kids playing with one as they waited for the morning bell.

For the uninitiated, it’s a game where you try to swing the string in order to make the ball land on the wooden bowl on the side.  That’s the most basic step; once you master that, you can move onto really hard moves, like getting it to land on the spike on the top, or doing a series of intricate maneuvers (side, spike, side, etc.) without once messing up.

I stink at this, maybe because I’ve always been about as gifted at coordination as I am  at understanding particle physics.  But my boys adore the kendama, as do their friends both male and female.  And they’re not the only ones.

“I love that this toy is so low-tech,” another mom told me recently, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by other parents.  In our digital/plugged-in/constantly wired age, how refreshing is it to see something so darn simple in our kids’ hands for a change?  (Very refreshing.)

I would suspect that part of its appeal for kids is how tactile it is (yes, I’m all about the senses these days).  You can only get so much joy from swiping a screen or hitting a keyboard, but when you are holding a wooden handle and feeling the tension and release of the string and the victorious vibrating thunk of the wooden ball finally landing on the spike, you get a kind of concentrated sensory feedback that many toys don’t provide.

Similar sentiments crossed my mind a few years ago, when we were helping my in-laws clean out their basement and found a jar of marbles.  How old these marbles are  we can’t begin to guess; it’s highly possible that my mother-in-law and her brothers played with them in the thirties and forties.

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My boys glommed onto them immediately, and who can blame them?  They are so beautiful, with those vivid swirls of color, and they are so cool and smooth to the touch.  We figured out how to play, and Matthew and I had some fierce games last summer, and it was so nice to play with something so simple and real, hearing the emphatic click as one knocked another out of the circle.  They make such a satisfying squidgy sound when you hold a bunch of them in your palm and rub them against each other; it’s almost the sound snow makes when you crunch it down with your feet.  It’s great that a toy so simple has such complex and positive rewards.

What about you? Are you (or your kids) partial to simple toys?  Which are your favorites?

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One response to “In praise of simple toys

  1. I’m crazy for marbles!