Technology is awesome, just sayin’. As I explained in my post “Video Games are Edumacational,” I fundamentally believe that video games can be a wonderful educational tool for children. Beyond that, merely interacting with technology actually gives children a leg-up in our tech heavy environment. With schools utilizing iPads, Smart Screens, and computers on a regular basis, those children who have interacted with technology at home on a regular basis have a distinct advantage over those who have not. Having said all this, there is something equally crucial about putting down the tablet and picking up a game of Pick-Up Sticks.
As I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I recently opened a toy store. There are a total of 2 electronic gadgets in a store that is stocked with over a thousand distinct products. This was a deliberate choice on our part, which may or may not bite us in the ass later, because we fundamentally believe that non-electronic play is vital to children. (That and the GameStop across the street totally covers the other market). We instead decided to stock our store with products that have been vital to the development of our own children and, to a great extent, important to our own childhoods. Retro is in these days, for a very good reason. Last week I mentioned that the DIY movement was an important aspect of raising my geek kids. Part of that DIY attitude is the reconnection with a “simpler” time, when people had to construct things with their own two hands. There are, obviously, a million motivations for getting involved in DIY culture, not the least of which are socio-economic and environmental responsibility. And part of that DIY culture is an exploration of HOW and WHY, which are absolutely vital to a well-rounded education.
What does this have to do with non-electronic toys? Well, so many of them are invested in the construction process. An easy example of this is legos: if you build it, you will have something super cool. That said, I don’t think I ever got my kids any. Why? Because there are so many other products that engender so much more creativity! Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys, for instance, have absolutely no building plans to guide you. Legos have, over the years, become less about building whatever you want and more about building exactly what the kits tell you to build. Which is cool and all, but we were less interested in building miniature playsets than we were in building, say, a robot (yes, I know, Lego has kits for that too, and I’m a huge fan of Lego Mindstorms, but they’re REALLY EXPENSIVE) or in building materials that required more engineering (K’Nex FTW). For that reason, our younger daughter has almost every Thames & Kosmos set EVER. Not only is the process of building these kits educational, but the end results often are as well. But even if you don’t BUY these pre-built kits, there’s really nothing more retro than throwing some vinegar in baking soda and seeing what happens.
Our other daughter has gone a different construction route – she constructs artwork. Talk about a classic playtime activity! Though, granted, she has started exploring digital media, her core creation process requires the old fashioned pencil and paper. Acrylics, oils, watercolor, and pastels are all a part of her repertoire and by giving both our children these tools to explore, we’ve given them the ability to tap in to some fundamental brain creative processes. And that, my dears, is so much fun to facilitate.
Beyond that, the physicality of retro toys is super important. Children need to learn how to use their bodies, not just to develop hand-eye coordination (seriously, you can totally get that from playing a game of Duck Hunt), but to develop an awareness of their bodies and minds, of how to interact with physical objects and to stimulate their senses. Building does this, as does art, but so does a spinning top or a jump rope. Hell, so does a patch of mud in the backyard. Particularly since that patch of mud is not only a great ingredient for a mud pie, but is also a laboratory for exploring insects and bacteria!
Seriously, mud is awesome. Go play with your kids in a mud patch sometime and discover how geeky the most retro source of entertainment known to humankind can really be.