The school holidays are always a challenging time for parents, but today I discovered a book that should keep my sons unhappily occupied for at least 14 minutes on a wet afternoon.
Published in the late 1950s by the Daily Mail, 'Things To Make and Do' is packed full of activities that seem to operate on the principle that less is more:
1. HOME-MADE MUSIC
"Ever had a strong desire to make music, with no musical instruments to hand? Robert and Terry had just that desire the other day..."
2. MAKING A COLOURED WOOLLEN BALL
3. BLOW FOOTBALL
"When it's raining outside and you are just longing for a game with a ball, why not try making a blow football game"
4. A PAPER TREE
5. THE NOSEY MATCH-BOX
"Here is a good way of starting up some party fun. It is just the sort of game to get everyone laughing"
6. A GYPSY GIRL
6. THE "GUESS WHO" GAME
7. HAND PUPPETS
"You will find it great fun painting faces on the palms of your hands"
8. THE SHEIK OF ARABY
9. PAPER SCREECHER
"Most boys like to make a noise occasionally, and Robert is no exception"
10. THE BOOK RACE
"Not one of the fastest games for a party or family gathering, but certainly one of the funniest is the 'book race'"
I was born too late to enjoy most of these pleasures, although I do have a memory of my father trying to organise a game of blow football on my 8th birthday party. I was so embarrassed, I wouldn't talk to him until my friends had gone home.
Did children ever enjoy these activities? To me, they seem a poor substitute for real play, in which children spend time outdoors with their peers in an environment that is not mediated by adults.
Very little of that happens here these days and we are poorer for it. The 'soft-play centre', where children manically run around health and safety-approved cages, bouncing off padded walls (whilst parents sit in a corner sipping overpriced cappuccinos), is a soulless environment in which play has become commodified, stripped of creativity, spontaneity and risk.
The days in which children could form gangs and find dens are long gone, whilst childrens desires for these activities have been sublimated into multiplayer computer games like Club Penguin, most of which are controlled by corporations like Disney.
On the plus side, at least no child ever has to endure sheer tedium of making a paper tree these days.