Kids these days get all the cool toys. Whether it’s a talking strip of bacon, a T-Pain microphone with built-in auto-tune, a giant inflatable Titanic waterslide, an animatronic kitten, or sticky bath-time goo, it seems that every absurd flight of a child’s fancy can be met. “Sure, it may seem counterintuitive,” writes Travel + Leisure, “but as anyone who grew up playing with a Slinky, a Squirmle, or Silly Putty can attest, it’s often the strangest toys, the ones that freak us out or make us squeal, that become our childhood favorites.”
But if you ask me, parents and toymakers these days don’t give kids enough credit. Given an odd-shaped rock, an empty cardboard box, an old make-up compact, or really weird bug, kids will entertain themselves longer than with a plastic action figure with multiple outfits. There’s something to be said for the classics, the timeless toys that transform in a child’s hand: the piece of string that becomes a magic rope, the soup pot that becomes a knight’s helmet, the couch cushions that become a house.
In a flashy consumer culture that finds new ways to add laser sounds and glitter (for the little ones) and wholesome educational elements (for the nail-biting parents) to otherwise innocuous toys, it was nice to read Geek Dad’s roundup of “The Five Best Toys of All Time.” Writer Jonathan Liu, who often reviews gadgety toys for technophilic parents, takes a step back and considers the essential components of a good toy. “These are time-tested and kid-approved!” he claims, introducing a list that includes cardboard boxes, mailing tubes, and dirt. “And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.”
His tongue-in-cheek description is nostalgic and refreshing. Here’s his review of one of history’s most popular toys, commonly known as “Stick”:
This versatile toy is a real classic—chances are your great-great-grandparents played with one, and your kids have probably discovered it for themselves as well. It’s a required ingredient for Stickball, of course, but it’s so much more. Stick works really well as a poker, digger and reach-extender. It can also be combined with many other toys (both from this list and otherwise) to perform even more functions.
Stick comes in an almost bewildering variety of sizes and shapes, but you can amass a whole collection without too much of an investment. You may want to avoid the smallest sizes—I’ve found that they break easily and are impossible to repair. Talk about planned obsolescence. But at least the classic wooden version is biodegradable so you don’t have to feel so bad about pitching them into your yard waste or just using them for kindling. Larger, multi-tipped Sticks are particularly useful as snowman arms. (Note: requires Snow, which is not included and may not be available in Florida.)