Batteries Now Included

              When I was a kid, toys didn’t come with batteries included. Most toys didn’t need batteries in the first place. I remember my Evel Knievel doll, with his white jumpsuit and motorcycle. There were no sound effects or flashing lights, but there was this great thing called my imagination, which made him jump higher and farther than even he would have dared in real life. 

                My Sunshine Family dolls were another favorite. They were the hippie version of Barbie, and acceptable to my parents when Barbie was not, probably because of vastly different body proportions. My Mom, Dad, and Baby Sweets Sunshine had a little hippie store, where they made pottery on a tiny potter’s wheel, and spun their own yarn, and Baby Sunshine was happy to sit in her swing all day long. I had Bristle Blocks, and Lincoln Logs, and a pink cardboard kitchen, inherited from my sisters. My most technologically advanced toy was a coffee pot that had disappearing coffee when tipped upside down. That’s endlessly fascinating to a 4 year old.

                I have happy memories of all those, but my favorite playthings were the most simple: A Little House on the Prairie skirt and bonnet and a child-sized cluster of small hills and invading boxelder trees, affectionately named “my woods.” My parents installed a tree swing, which became my refuge, my library chair, my circus trapeze, my lookout on the world, and my outlet for all my pre-adolescent angst.

                In contrast, my kids’ toys come with batteries from the factory and minds of their own. They beep, blip, zoom, chug, screech, and sing. (I swear the same woman’s voice is used by all toy companies, and she gets incentive pay for making grownups pull out their hair.) Several times, I’ve walked up and down the aisles at the toy store, looking for new toys to refresh our increasingly boring supply, but I just find a thousand variations of the same electronics. You’d think our preschoolers should be reading War and Peace and doing advanced algebra with all the singing ABCs and 123s that accost them every day. Or, perhaps, they just tune it out.

                Does anyone else get tired of the noise? The toys, the video games, the TV show theme songs, the computer games based on the TV shows. There are so many mass-produced characters for kids now that they don’t have to make up any of their own. Of course, like every other overstretched mom out there, I’m happy to ask those TV friends to keep my kids entertained (and quiet) when I need to do grownup things. Too much, some days, but other days, not at all. I hope it averages out and that the times in between, when I sit down and play imagination with them, or schedule playdates so they can imagine with real live friends, will keep their brains free from electronic rot.

                I happily admit that I’m addicted to the Internet and my smart phone. I love the instant gratification, the instant access, the instant communication. But I’m also addicted to a good book, a quiet walk in the woods, and the magical time-between-times at sunset, when the sky is on fire and the world hushes for just a moment. Perhaps this is what I want to teach my children. That technology is amazing and makes life easier, but if it’s not turned off occasionally in order to contemplate the parts of life and nature that were here long before man, it becomes distracting noise. Contemplation and imagination go hand in hand, which means that child’s play is actually important work. It sets the foundation for a lifetime of deeper thinking, introspection, and wisdom. I’ll remember that the next time my kids fight over the same toy and I’m tempted to turn on Dora!

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Unca Phil
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 09:03:27

    I too remember my battery-less toys. My GI Joe who did not survive the final attack on the anthill, maybe the cherry bomb had something to do with that. Earlier, my tons of 1″ tall plastic soldiers, one set green, the other brown so I knew which side was which. I would spend hours arranging battle arrays, setting strategies and in some cases bandaging them up with a drop or two of glue. Of course we did a lot of walking/running back then too. The neighborhood grew from our street to our block to a group of about four blocks to a large area bordered by two busy streets a small farm and a creek. Of course each of these new areas came with their new adventures and strange people who became friends (although some were still strange LOL.) At every step our imagination ruled. We would be big game hunters, the ever popular soldiers in the heat of battle, pilots, boat captains, and space cadets. Fun times.


  2. Unca Greg
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 10:21:08

    Hee hee, Unca Greg’s master plan is working perfectly… Noisy toys for Christmas!

    Also love the fact a Toys R Us ad shows up… makes it easy for Unca Greg to shop.


    • abbyplambeck
      Aug 31, 2010 @ 12:58:07

      Too funny that a Toys R Us ad came up…apparently, is good at tagging topics and presenting the related ads! Unca Greg, now that you have a condo, the noisy toys could be kept there for when the noisy kids come visiting! 😉


  3. Lynda Olsen
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 13:11:34

    As usual, I loved reading this latest blog, fun stuff. It also jogged my childhood memories (LONG ago)and I do believe we had the best of times as we played ‘house’, made forts out of old blankets and sheets under mom’s clotheslines, played non-electronic games like Chinese Checkers and Karoms, card games and many other childhood games.

    I think that life was much less hectic those many years ago when I was a child and I truly believe that I had the ‘best childhood’.


  4. Sherry Reising
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 03:03:50

    Totally agree Abs! I also think the non-stop lights and sounds are part of the HUGE ADD/ADHD problem we are having. From birth on up kids have constant noise, lights and movement (from their toys) until it’s time for school and then they are supposed to go to school and sit and learn quietly from reading and listening. It’s such a drastic change for their brains. Our Tommy is a pretty high-strung little fella- so I’m already being careful how many crazy loud/bright toys he plays with (luckily he loves to push trains and cars around- no batteries needed)
    the other thing we do is put duct tape over the speakers. There is no need for a toy to be so loud! We always said it was our “humane” way of dealing with things. We didn’t pull the batteries- it’s just not god-awful loud.


  5. Amy Kline
    Sep 27, 2010 @ 21:30:02

    Love your post Abby! I’m as techie as the day is long, but we never rush to put new batteries in any toy. Usually the kids start making their own fun with them and using their voice in place of the scary Fisher-Price lady.

    I also remember fashion plates, and lite-brites(does it count if it has to be plugged in?). Played with those things for hours!


  6. Angie Webster
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 16:21:31


    Somewhat ironic that this is the first of your blogs that I have read. . .considering you will very soon be getting aquainted with Discovery Toys! Maybe you noticed as you thumbed thru the catalog that a majority of our toys are not battery operated. In fact,the main focus is on toys that the child can be creative with and that encourage the imagination. At our National Convention this summer we got to hear a Child Development Psychologist talk about how play is important to a child’s brain development and how electronic games/computers really take away from their brain development and put the control in the programmers hands. . .scary stuff! But at the same time it makes me realize how the toys we have our really so incredibly needed in our society of electronic stimulation!

    Thanks for sharing.



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