The Joy of Toys


The true object of all human life is play.  G. K. Chesterton

What was your favorite childhood toy?  Why was it so beloved?

Toys — the objects of play — propel the child into another world.  They spark imagination, create adventure, and help the child gain a sense of mastery over events and experiences that are exciting or confusing.  They are at the heart of our identity development.

Your toy may have connected you to friends as your built worlds beyond the confines of your home; provided comfort during an upsetting time in your life; gave you a feeling of control when you felt weak or frightened; or it may have offered you companionship when you felt lonely.    It may have soothed you to sleep or helped you make it through your first day of school.  It may have helped you build physical confidence.

I’m betting some of your happiest moments during childhood were spent with that toy.

Does your toy have what it takes to be inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame?  Perhaps it is already a member of this esteemed group.

Established in 1998, and housed within The Strong (The National Museum of Play), in Rochester, New York, the National Toy Hall of Fame ” … recognizes toys that have inspired creative play and enjoyed popularity over a sustained period.”  Check it out here:

The Strong Museum represents a powerful salute to play at a time when it has been increasingly crowded out by a cultural focus on testing, teaching and learning standards, and technology.  Its mission:  “The Strong explores play and the way in which it encourages learning, creativity, and discovery and illuminates cultural history.”  True play — the kind the child pursues for intrinsic pleasure — is less and less evident in children, as their social activities continue to give way to adult hyper-focus on safety and  clusters of highly structured social and physical activities through which they are herded daily.

I’m guessing that when you played with your favorite toy, you were so immersed in the process that you lost track of time.  You knew you could step in or step out of the play at will.  You likely repeated play themes as you explored roles and tried to make sense of your own observations and experiences.  Your play probably became more complex as you grew and incorporated peers into your plans.  And you realized that to stay involved and connected, you had to adjust to other points of view.

If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.  Jean Piaget

I had many favorite toys.  The image of the doll at the start of this essay is as close as I can come to a favorite doll I had as a young child.  Mine had a soft, spongy body with bendable limbs, which I suspect was one of the reasons I adored her.  The more typical dolls, with stiff, plastic bodies that became dull and smudged with use, were less enjoyable to me.  Other favorite toys include swings, bikes, inner tubes, roller skates, wagons, jungle gyms, Monopoly, Life, card games, and coloring books.  Desired toys but never owned:  a Raggedy Ann doll, raggedy-ann-doll Gumby and Pokey, gumby-and-pokey, and a tree house. tree-house

I’ve since acquired a Raggedy Ann doll and my friends Gumby and Pokey, but the tree house fantasy has yet to be fulfilled.

Consider your favorite toy and check the Toy Hall of Fame website to see if it is already among the list of 59 inductees.  To win a coveted spot on this list, a toy must meet the following four criteria:

Icon Status:  The toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered                                                                                                                         Longevity:  The toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations                                                                        Discovery:  The toy fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play                                                                                                                                               Innovation:  The toy profoundly changed play or toy design.

A review of the current inductees is interesting and varied, as it boasts an array of toys that encourage social and dramatic play, fine motor play, large motor play, constructive play, board games , card games, and visual acuity activities.  It’s also a trip down Memory Lane, revealing how much toys have changed over generations.  More recent toys are less simple in design, with the emergence of technology evident a few inductees, e.g. the Atari 2600 Game System and the Nintendo Game Boy (the View-Master may have been their precursor).

So, which toys aren’t on the list but should be?  My suggestions:

Romper Stompers, romperstomperthe balloon, balloon the spinning top, spinning-top the pin wheel, pinwheel-anim2 the bean bag, colorfull-beanbags-485x485 Tiddly Winks, 2009_04_13-tiddlywinks the kazoo, kazoo the scooter, skooter  She-Ra,  She-Ra-she-ra-princess-of-power-13489582-820-1117

He Man,      he-man      and

Gumby and Pokey. gumby-and-pokey

Anyone can nominate a toy for inclusion in the National Toy Hall of Fame, online or via snail mail, but final decisions for induction are made by an advisory committee of educators, museum curators, and historians, in accordance with the selection criteria.  Submissions of this year’s nominations closed at the end of July.

The list of finalists:  Bubble Wrap, Care Bears, Clue, Coloring Book, Dungeons and Dragons, Fisher-Price Little People, Nerf, Pinball, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Swing, Transformers, and Uno.  As of this writing, Dungeons and Dragons is leading the pack, with the most nominations (57.81%), followed by Transformers (12.03%) and Care Bears (5.96%).  Of course, the obvious winner should be the Swing.

The 2016 winner will be announced next Thursday, November 10.  This important event follows another seemingly interminable contest that will have ended two days before (we hope).  Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, you may be jubilant or in the depths of despair at that time.  Regardless, I invite you to check out the website and the results, and let this be a cause for delight and celebration.  We could all use that right now.

Now for your homework, due upon completion of this reading:  In the Comment field below, list which toy you believe will win the 2016 spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame, along with your own recommendation for the 2017 contest.  And don’t forget to vote when the time comes!

Further suggestions:  tap into your inner kid and obtain your favorite childhood toy if you don’t have it.  Reclaim that inner kid if needed.  Take it right back and grant it its proper place in your world.  Or … obtain your favorite toy and give it to a child.

If you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or anyone who has contact with or an appreciation for children — preserve  and protect play.



A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.                                  Pablo Neruda



4 thoughts on “The Joy of Toys”

  1. Thanks, Cougar! I’ve learned that Gilbert’s Erector Set was not only the first construction set of its kind, but that it actually included a motor as well. Woah. According to Wikipedia, it was re-launched in August 2015 under the new name of Meccano.

  2. Sheila, I’ll try to upload a picture of my favorite little friend, which I received, I think, when I must have been about 4 years old. Geez, that makes him about 60 years old!

    Similar to the erector set, which my brother and I used to enhance our O-gauge Lionel train environment (an early example of the “built environment”!), was/is the Lincoln Log set. Much more rustic than the metal erector set, it also captured the inventiveness and creativity required for young minds to create and synthesize.

    Another beautiful entry. I wish that my university students could write like you do!!!

  3. Thanks, Jack! Your favorite little friend is now visible on my follow-up essay. It’s interesting to think how his identity changed as you grew older, since you’ve indicated that you later named him Nellie, for Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, White Sox Second Baseman.

    It’s gratifying to consider that Lincoln Logs, an NTHF 1999 inductee, are alive and well in many households and early childhood classrooms.

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