From NPR: Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

The Mattel toy company began advertising a gun called the “Thunder Burp.”

I know ”” who’s ever heard of the Thunder Burp?

Well, no one.

The reason the advertisement is significant is because it marked the first time that any toy company had attempted to peddle merchandise on television outside of the Christmas season. Until 1955, ad budgets at toy companies were minuscule, so the only time they could afford to hawk their wares on TV was during Christmas. But then came Mattel and the Thunder Burp, which, according to Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, was a kind of historical watershed. Almost overnight, children’s play became focused, as never before, on things ”” the toys themselves.

“It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys,” says Chudacoff. “Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.”

Chudacoff’s recently published history of child’s play argues that for most of human history what children did when they played was roam in packs large or small, more or less unsupervised, and engage in freewheeling imaginative play. They were pirates and princesses, aristocrats and action heroes. Basically, says Chudacoff, they spent most of their time doing what looked like nothing much at all….

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Children, Health & Medicine

4 comments on “From NPR: Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

  1. selah says:

    Thank you for publishing this article.

    I think that a lot of parents have let our culture do our thinking for us regarding our parenting. We let our culture tell us that we are depriving our children if we do not usher them back and forth to events, recitals, practices, and playgroups. Our culture tells us that our kids need the newest “educational” toys so that they will know their ABC’s by their third birthday.

    In my view, the most “educational” toy out there is a big bag of blocks. Sticks can do in a pinch.

  2. libraryjim says:

    I highly recommend “the Dangerous Book for Boys” and “the Daring Book for Girls”. They are great manuals for how to introduce true play into the lives of our children once again (in case the parents have forgotten).

  3. libraryjim says:

    My son loves his legos! And when he was smaller, tinker toys and Lincoln logs. The main problem with legos, however, is that he only builds what’s on the box. So, again, while you have the means for imaginative play, you get a follow the directions kit.

    Thank goodness he’s in Boy Scouts!

  4. Hakkatan says:

    I remembering hearing about the “Thunderburp” and wanting one. I was about 9 when it came out. I never got one. In those days, I lived in a small town on the Gulf Coast. We played in the woods, with toy guns (fighting either the War Between the States — my brother hated being the Yankee because he had been born in SC, further north than the rest of us — or WWII, our dads’ war) — or any number of other things. We were given the run of the town by our parents, within a fairly wide boundary. Everybody knew us, and if we did something wrong or got hurt, there would be someone to call our parents. We had a lot of freedom — and a lot of responsibility, and it was good for us.

    I listened to this yesterday morning. It was a great piece. My own kids did not have as much freedom as I had had, but we did go pretty easy on the electronics with them, and I think that it helped.