The National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York recently announced its 2008 inductees into the Toy Hall of Fame, and to the surprise of many (though not to ten-year-old boys the world over), the stick was one of this year’s recognized toys (the others were the Baby Doll and Skateboard). In celebrating the stick as one of the most important toys of all time (and this is a case in which “all time” really means ALL time), the Museum writes, “The stick may be the world’s oldest toy…. When children pretend with sticks, they cultivate their creativity and develop their imagination…. They are the original building blocks for creative play. Sticks also promote free play—the freedom to invent and discover. They encourage playing outside instead of inside. Sticks are all around us—they are natural and free.”
I’m sure this is exactly what the big toy manufacturers wanted to hear going into the Holidays during an economic downturn: “Parents, give your kids the gift of good old-fashioned find-your-own-fun, and get them a stick this Holiday season!” Even if they know it’s bad for the retailers and shareholders, though, I bet some of those toy execs flying around in their toy-laden private jets once played with sticks, once created everything from forts to bats to uzis with sticks, once were bruised or cut or impaled with sticks. I bet they have a soft spot in their hearts for sticks.
I know I do. Sure, I had to wear an eye-patch for two weeks because of a sticks-as-light-sabers duel gone awry, but I still wouldn’t trade sticks for any of the other toys in the Hall of Fame (even LEGO’s). The Museum is right on in emphasizing the freedom that comes with a toy not designed by someone with a specific purpose in mind. When children have to use their own minds to find a purpose in an item, it builds reasoning, confidence, and creativity. The stick that anchors the weight of a fort anchors the structure of a developing mind as well.
So what might be on next year’s list of inductees? If the economic situation doesn’t improve, will the Museum highlight other free and ubiquitous toys? I offer a few nominations:
- stones: if you have sticks, you may as well add stones; I can’t begin to calculate the number of hours I spent throwing and breaking stones when I was a kid.
- dirt: I was an extremely mess-averse child, and even I liked playing with dirt on occasion.
- logs: maybe these fall under the heading of sticks, but if not, then logs certainly have stood up (pun intended) over the years to the inquiring minds and hands of youngsters.
- junk: what better than an attic full of old junk to spur kids’ imaginations?
- hills: you can climb them, roll down them, explore them, and get that rush that only comes with peeking over the peak.
These are my nominees. What are yours? What turned you from bored to engrossed, from lazy to exhausted, from dull to imaginative when you were a kid—without requiring a trip to the store? We’d love to know.
(Oh, and don’t look for sticks on Amazon. They don’t have them, and even if they did they wouldn’t be eligible for Super Saver Shipping since the distributor is most decidedly not centralized.)
To see all of the toys in the Toy Hall of Fame, check out their web site.