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Views from a (wiser) generation

November 3, 2013

Maybe it takes a few times around the merry-go-round.

Maybe it’s purely a matter of watching it all unfold the second time around.

Or maybe we live in a period that buys more heavily into the marketeering of childhood.

Whatever the reason, it seems parents of yesterday – the grandparents of today – have less invested in the branding and advertising of current trends and toys when it comes to their grandchildren.

And it appears to have grown out of more simple times.

Growing up in Northern Ireland, Lorna Hughes, the grandmother of a four-year-old boy, says they never had much in the way of formal “toys”.

“That did not stop us from inventing our own games and having lots of fun,” she says.

“We learned to share and take turns and – as my parents had a “laissez faire” approach to child-rearing –  we were left to sort out disputes for ourselves.

“Our play was not directed by our parents in any gender specific way. My sister and I wheeled a hot water bottle with a bonnet on its ‘head’ in an old pram … that was our doll until we were each given a real doll one Christmas.

“We read a lot, drew, learned to knit and played simple board games such as Snakes and Ladders and Ludo when it was too cold or wet to play outside.

“We learned to ride scooters and tricycles and played in the woods gathering bluebells and primroses in the Spring.”

It was this openness and lack of judgement that she took to raising her own children after moving to Australia.

“When I had my own children – a girl and boy – I bought toys and books that would stimulate their imaginations and encourage them to explore and find their own limits,” she says.

“They were encouraged to play outside when the weather was good.

“Boys and girls played together in the sandpit, building roads with trucks and bulldozers and making cubbyhouses.

“They also made up games in which they could pretend to be someone else, boys and girls wearing dresses and carrying hand bags or dressing as pirates or firemen as they pleased.”

It’s an openness reinforced by fellow grandparent Lyn Harrison who also raised a son and a daughter.

“Lego was a big hit with them both,” says Lyn.

“My son loved his Star Wars figures which his younger sister also played with. He also had a special rag doll and a panda. My daughter made dolls out of anything available. Both had bikes and sand pit toys and Textas were popular.”

Lyn says it’s the segregation of toys that she now notices as she shops for her three young grandchildren.

“I see there is now Lego specifically aimed at girls,” she says.

“While I don’t see this as necessarily terrible in itself I can’t really see why you need a Hairdresser’s or a Flowershop in hot pink to entice a little girl to play with Lego; most little boys though probably won’t ask for you to buy that particular item.

“Ultimately it comes down to culture … what is said and done in the home within the family and with people who are closely associated with the child.

“If a parent says that boys don’t play with dolls or wear pink then that will ultimately have far more impact on a child’s selection of toys and choices in other areas than any advertising ploy.

“If we don’t buy it, or buy into it, the advertising doesn’t work.”

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