Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jumpers For Goalposts

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:


"Ever had a strong desire to make music, with no musical instruments to hand? Robert and Terry had just that desire the other day..."



"When it's raining outside and you are just longing for a game with a ball, why not try making a blow football game"



"Here is a good way of starting up some party fun. It is just the sort of game to get everyone laughing"




"You will find it great fun painting faces on the palms of your hands"



"Most boys like to make a noise occasionally, and Robert is no exception"


"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.

Every cloud...


The Poet Laura-eate said...

Tell them 'Of course, you're far too unsophisticated to enjoy this'...

It's how you sell it to them! ;- )

sustainablemum said...

I am intrigued by the wooden ball being made with scissors?

sustainablemum said...

That of course would be intriguing, I am now reading Woollen. Perhaps it should be making it with wood and scissors, spice the activity up a bit.

Canadian Chickadee said...

My husband and I walk our dog through a wooded area similar to the ones where we played when we were children. We have never seen children running around in there, yelling and screaming and swinging off tree branches or climbing the dirt banks, playing tag or building forts. We live in a nice area, but even here, parents are afraid to let children run around unattended. If my child was small, I probably wouldn't let them do it either. A sad commentary on the modern world.

Tim Footman said...

The Guess Who Game seems to require you to guess who's poking your eye out with a pencil. Fun!

nilly said...

Aaah - happy memories - I still have my copy of "Second Book of Hundreds of Things a Girl Can Make" and, yes, we DID have fun making paper trees. In fact at art college in the '60s we made a huge one as tall as a house and then watched it burn whilst we danced round. We called this "a happening", by the way.

MikeP said...

'You will require: books and competitors' - sounds like a business plan for Waterstone's.

Gypsy girl looks like a good sort. What happens next? A furious tarantella?

Annabel (gaskella) said...

I had a wonderful activity book as a child that had recipes for making sparklers and bangers in! Never had the ingredients to do that bit though. Shame the book has long vanished. I used to spend all my spare moments drawing and colouring and making my own magazines anyway so I was easy to entertain.

Today's holiday activity and rainy day books aren't that much better though... the girls' ones are so over-girly - Yawn.

Richmonde said...

The sheer tedium... I remember it well. Sometimes we were left on our own to craft things that were beyond our skills (connect Tab A to Slot B - I still wake up screaming). Or else we had to do terrible activities like the matchbox nose game that would only make sense if played by adults over 40 when extremely drunk. When played by children of 13 fuelled only by orange juice they were excruciating torture.

May said...

What about computer and xbox/ps? Those would keep your sons busy for more than 14 minutes (unfortunately).

Steerforth said...

Laura - I think my oldest son would reply something along the lines of "No, you're just a loser..."

Sustainablemum - I'd prefer wood - it would keep them busy for ages!

Chickadee - It's very sad. We've become so obsessed with protecting our children from real and imagined threats, that we are denying some of the happiest, most carefree aspects of childhood.

Tim - "We didn't have any of that health and safety nonsense then and you could get a perfectly good glass eye on the NHS..."

Nilly - I wish that I'd been around when there were 'happenings'. Higher education wasn't as much fun under Margaret Thatcher.

Mike - I think the two boys remove their ties and have a bare knuckle fight over her. The winner gets to play the matchbox nose game with her.

Annabel - I can't bear the current vogue for girly 'little princess' books and activities. If I had a daughter, I'd buy her a chemistry set, not a make-up set.

Richmonde - "The matchbox nose game that would only make sense if played by adults over 40 when extremely drunk" - that's Christmas in the Steerforth household sorted out. Thanks!

Steerforth said...

May - My sons are addicted to computers. I'm fighting a losing battle to get them to engage with the real world.

May said...

I am relieved to know that it happens in every family!

Camilla said...

What a claustrophobically boring set of activities! Reading this post has made me even more grateful for having my parents. They gave me a chemistry set, a microscope, a bike, and the freedom to run around with my two best mates, the boys next door, having adventures (and often getting into trouble). The freedom part, now that I look back on it, was extraordinary - I was born in Rhodesia, and much of my early childhood coincided with the civil war there. There were times we had to stay within sight of the back door, but a lot of the time we could roam the whole property (five acres) and go next door as we pleased. I remember climbing trees (pine trees, to a vertigo-inducing height), digging 'underground caves', and setting the paddock alight while playing with matches (luckily the gardener was keeping an eye on us and put it out before the whole neighbourhood went up in flames).

The chemistry set was a bit of a mixed blessing. My friend and I made a rocket with an empty bic pen and some of the ingredients, and upon ignition, said rocket vanished over the top of the fir trees never to be seen again. On another occasion, I gave my sister a nasty burn while trying to capture steam in a test tube. She still talks to me, fortunately.

I do remember making woollen balls as a child. We called them pom-poms, and they were actually quite fun to make, especially if you had different coloured wools.

My husband and I deliberately chose to live in a small village, with the hope that our son will have at least some of the freedom we had when growing up, but I must admit to being a little reticent about letting him wander off too far on his own these days.

In other unrelated news, we are on holiday in Brighton. I waved at Lewes as we passed it this morning after coming off the ferry!


Little Nell said...

Fourteen minutes would be pushing it I think.

Sandra Morris said...

As a child of the late 50s/early 60s I have to say that I willingly participated in, and enjoyed, most of those activities.

We had to make our own entertainment in those days.

I also had a bike, a chemistry set, and a microscope and got into no end of trouble ranging round the countryside from morning to night every day in the summer holidays.

Happy days.....