By Jonathan Reed
Video courtesy of CNET©
It happens every Christmas, the same dilemma faced by most parents. What toys to buy for their little ones this year? And, as each Christmas comes and goes, the list constantly changes of the top toys your children will ask for.
Last year, Fingerlings became the top seller with parents searching far and wide for the finger-sized mechanical animals. The year before, self-hatching toy Hatchimals stole the crown, and this year, following on with the technological evolution of toys, Cozmo Robot looks to be 2018’s big hitter.
Whilst it is obvious, the better technology becomes where toymaking is concerned, and the landscape of children’s toys evolve, it does leave a bigger question. Are today’s children much too easily unimpressed with the traditional choices?
If I was to walk down Memory Lane and look at the Christmas’ I enjoyed as a child, the toys which excited me paled in comparison to todays offerings. First of all, technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now, where instead of linking a toy up to the family Wi-Fi, you spent ages trying to find batteries to work the damn thing.
Also, sometimes the toys wouldn’t just be for the children. Whether it be a Meccano set or a Hornby Model Railway, the numerous times I would watch the adults in my family, specifically my Grandad, spend hours tweaking with something I had constructed or being fascinated by a huge toy Crane; today it leaves me wondering whether he too asked the same questions. Would I, his Grandson be interested in the toys he played with as a child?
I wouldn’t say that my Christmas toys were overtly traditional. It wasn’t like watching some scene from a Hollywood movie where there was a Rocking Horse – though I did have one – or a Model Train Set – I did have one of those as well. Ok, so maybe to an extent it was similar, but I can honestly say toys like those entertained me and my brother for hours on end.
And like my Grandad before me, who owned a rather impressive model railway, I’m certain that I was interested in the same toys he enjoyed as a child.
So, in realisation of this, why does it feel as if this similarity hasn’t been passed down through generations?
It is worth mentioning, that in some cases the same old toys and games still make the ‘Most Wanted’ list. Monopoly is still considered one of the best games for all the family and remains a firm favourite no matter what generation you’re from. And in recent years, Lego has made a substantial return to favour with the release of movies and themed building sets. Even ‘TOMY Pop-Up Pirate’ is regarded as a popular option this year! So, there are some exceptions to the rules.
But others seem to have fallen by the wayside, not because they weren’t brilliantly entertaining, but more so, what entertained then, doesn’t now.
Again, back to memory lane, I distinctly remember as a child playing with a set of polystyrene aeroplanes which you constructed yourself. Whilst the toy was simple, the hours of fun I spent playing with them was endless. Today this will sadly be deemed uncool. Why play with a polystyrene plane, when you can purchase a technologically advanced one that fires rockets and practically goes to the Moon and back!
Now, I’m not frowning on technology – after all one of my favourite Christmas Present’s was a Remote-Control Toy Rally Car, which lasted until it crashed into one of my mother’s dining chairs. I completely understand that as generation after generation become more attuned to the high-tech world, everything must follow suit, but it is sad to see some amazing toy concepts fall by the wayside.
Games such as Screwball Scramble – a game where you steered a magnetic ball through a challenging course within an allotted time – was fanciful yet, is virtually impossible to find now. The same can be said for Tonka Trucks and KNEX building sets. It is almost as if, when technology isn’t involved, don’t buy it!
And if we were to dig further into Santa’s toy sacks of old, other ‘modern toys’ have failed to live up to the expectations of children today. Take Hornby for example. Years ago, a Train Set was a guaranteed success. You were deemed relevant if you could boast of having a miniature layout with a speeding Locomotive chugging around its track.
As a child I had a small Hornby set which we added to throughout the years, and my brother and I would spend weeks watching our Trains chug through the tunnel and stations. My Grandad’s own model railway was in his cellar and allowed us to share some pretty sentimental moments with him.
I guess it is the element of spending time with family which makes me feel sad for the latest generation of children today. Most toys don’t seem marketed to this, and even when they are it is considered ‘old-fashioned.’ Take a prime example over the fallout of TOMY’s Kiddie Kitchen. A journalist in America deemed the toy, of which a version has existed for decades, as “backwards, offensive and teaching children life lessons that they no longer need.”
I found the entire article astounding, but this line struck and chord with me. Why? Because it fully confirmed why I think Toys from years ago could be dying out.
The pure essence of Toys is to provide not only entertainment but escape. They allow our kids to fully explore their imaginations, whether it’s wanting to be an Astronaut or Train Driver, a Princess or Superhero, and even a Chef if they so choose. Toys like ‘TOMYs Kiddie Kitchen’ provide a sense of realism to a child’s imagination. In some way it makes the dream a reality. Toys like these don’t deride children of life-lessons and neither are they offensive. They provide something of which many modern toys do not, to be children and children need to ‘play.’
In my eyes, watching a tiny Robot roam around a room and your unable to control where it goes is far more ‘backwards’ than playing with Lego, where truly you can build anything, or cooking plastic steak in a make-believe Kitchen.
I truly believe toys don’t need technology, or the latest modern designs to be successful. Children are pretty susceptible to most things and many will find entertainment in anything, even the cardboard boxes they come in. But as I look at the list today declaring which are the ‘top toys your kids will want this year,’ and I see nothing remotely interesting or imaginative, it does take me back; to sitting with family, playing with a large Crane with my Grandad, knowing that despite the generational gap, we both were enjoying it as much as each other. How sad that today some children are unable to say that.