A Very Different Toy Aisle

Hey Readers — Remember: If you ever need to get some perspective on how skittish we’ve become, look to another country or, today, another era. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I heard this episode of Engines of our Ingenuity on NPR today.

Even though the point of the episode was how much better homemade toys turned out to be, what really grabbed my attention was the list of materials he had at his disposal to create things with.

The 1930s often found me walking aisles looking for toys. But they were aisles ofhardware and drug stores.
That’s where I spent my allowance on the sulfur, saltpeter, and carbon needed to make gunpowder — on solder, glue, twine, alcohol and acetone. But, even before I was old enough to haunt those stores, my personal toy factory supplies had lain in the corners and crannies of my own home.

Remarkable. I, too, remember having access to all kinds of materials in the garage to build with and experiment with. We knew how to handle dangerous stuff. No way could a kid buy the things he listed today. I think that’s sad, and as a teacher I think it has dumbed down our kids. They don’t have any context in the real world to apply to learning.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. It’s just that what struck me about his story about his childhood in the 1930′s is how NORMAL it seems to him. It seems normal to me, too. I’m pretty sure it’s not normal anymore.

Best regards, Holly Ellis

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