Toy Monday: Retro Toys and Games

Child with Hands Full of Marbles

You’ve probably thought about introducing your favorite childhood toys to your own children.

My children have been playing with their wooden pinball game this week. It has a wooden plunger, pins (nails), metal balls, shoots for the balls to fall into. I’m sure it is not safe for children under 3 years old, so I’m glad we’re past that stage. I can never quite tell what inspires them to fixate on a particular toy for a period of this, but pinball is the toy of the moment. We bought this because it reminded my husband of a game he played as a child, classic pinball called bagatelle.

My Childhood Classic Toys

In some cases, I’ve just given my old toys to my children. At other times, we’ve tried to replace the toys I’ve told them about because I’ve managed to make them sound interesting. That was the case with Emerald the Witch doll. I told my daughter about the purple skinned, green haired witch with flashing green eyes, and she was very interested to play with this doll. After we watched dolls go on eBay for hundred of dollars, we decided that it would be a much smarter move to just dig around and find my old doll, which we did. Now my old doll has joined a crowd of dolls next to my daughter’s bed. For both of us, the search itself was a big part of the appeal with this doll.

My children also have access to a closet full of my old board games: Scrabble, Parcheese, and half a dozen other games that have become classics. We do play these games frequently, both the children alone and the whole family. I kept other tabletop games as well. Kerplunk still works, but some of the simple mechanical games don’t work anymore.

I have found that the simpler the games, the longer they last and the more likely they can be passed on.

I do wonder why the cool classics have been updated to become classics in plastics. Mr Potato Head has long had a plastic body, but I remember somewhat closer to his birth in 1952 when you stuck the decorations into an actual potato. A friend of mine worked at Fisher Price. When she told me that they still prototype all of their toys in wood, I begged for them! No success, of course. They didn’t take my advice to revert to the classic wooden toys either. No surprise.

A couple of my building toys, Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, are now made of plastic. But, there are wooden Frontier Logs and Fiddle Stix available that are closer to the originals. We have these, but my kids don’t really gravitate toward them as I did when I was so completely focused on Tinker Toy engineering for many years. I thought a nice, classic metal erector set would get more play, but they just built the building showed on the box and left it there for months and months. These have not turned out to be the imagination catalysts that I had hoped.

Classic Games

What other classic games have I introduced my children to?

  • Hopscotch
  • Cup and ball (cup on a stick to catch a ball on a string)
  • Yo-yo
  • Marbles
  • Jump rope
  • Jacob’s Ladder (they have a version my grandfather made)
  • Ring toss / horse shoes
  • Jacks
  • Cat’s cradle

Most of these are less about branded toys and more about the games played with them.

Of all of these games that I seem to remember filling up my young days, my children only play very much with the jump rope. The rest come out occasionally for a couple of days, but they haven’t captured my children’s imaginations.

Historical Games

One set of games that did capture my children’s imaginations were the games they learned when they went to camp at a nearby living history farm. They played 19th-century games like Annie-i-over (or Annie Annie Over), in which children throw a ball over a roof or a wall then run around to tag someone on the throwing team.

They also played a couple of stick and hoop games, which were apparently segregated by gender. The game for boys was Hoop and Stick, in which the boys use a stick with a head like a double-headed golf club to roll a metal or wood hoop (metal is heavier and works better). The object is to keep the hoop rolling. Girls played Graces, in which they use a lightweight stick to toss then catch a small wooden hoop tied with ribbons. “The hoop looks really pretty with lots of ribbons tied to it,” my daughter told me. “And for me, it was a lot harder than the boys’ hoop game.”

These weren’t my games, but I really liked the idea of my children learning games that my grandparents and their grand parents were likely to have played.

Pinball, the Kind with Pins and Balls

The retro game that my children seem most attracted to is still pinball. For them, I think the connection comes from playing Bagatelle at their Granny and Grandpa’s house. My mother-in-law played with this same game as a child, as did her own father. They like putting their hands where their father, their grandmother, their great-grandfather and others have put their hands as children. This is the classic Bagatelle board game that is still made. My children love this hundred year old Bagatelle game and our newer little classic wooden pinball game.

Once you get a good look at these great pinball games, you might be inspired to make your own wooden pinball game. Making a DIY wooden pinball game is quite simple. A little planning and painting could result in a family classic that can be handed down for generations.

I think the key to successfully introducing your children to classic retro toys and games is to share your love and enthusiasm. Your childhood joy is at least part of the attraction for your children.

Image © Peter Hansen |

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