Friday, February 15, 2013

The Best Toy Ever

One of my friends and I are secret toy fiends. We love when Christmas rolls around, because it means we get to go on shopping trips together, looking for the rare Monster High Dolls, the coolest American Girl outfits. We managed to acquire Zhu Zhu pets for the kids back when they were as difficult to find as Cabbage Patch thingamerbobbers in the 80's.

Now I have a big box of Zhu Zhu's in the basement and no idea what to do with them. Zhu Zhu's, in case you never heard of them, are battery-powered hamsters that run around and make weird noises. They have houses and tracks that connect the houses, and you can build a whole city for these things.

My kid was ecstatic when she received them, years ago. For one glorious afternoon she played with them. And after that, she abandoned them, and now they lie in that box, collecting dust. 

I've noticed that is usually the case with battery-powered playthings. In fact, the more batteries involved, the shorter the play-with-life, unless there is a lightbulb included and we're talking EZ Bake.

Perhaps it's different for boys, although I remain skeptical.

This lesson came home to me over the summer, when my daughter's friend invented the COOLEST TOY EVER. It was so much fun that she and my kid, as well as all of their friends, played with it for months. 

Here's what the cool toy was: my kid's friend invented a planet, and her mother donated basement space for world-building. The kids made the houses out of old boxes and the alien inhabitants with cotton balls and swabs. Someone created a dress shop and sold fancy clothes made out of cupcake liners.
image courtesy of

Other parents donated boxes and supplies. The houses and stores expanded, and one boy was in hot demand for his building skills. The kids started a message board near the planet, where they would leave notes for each other to create new aliens, to invite the planet dwellers to parties, to ask that boy to build them a new house.

The planet grew to the point where it took over the entire basement, and I had to applaud the mother for allowing it all to continue. Because, without a doubt, it was the coolest game / toy / playdate EVAH. The kids made movies of the aliens and showed them to each other. There were commercials for the cupcake dress shop, as well as reminders to frequent the boy's construction business.

At last the mess was too much. The basement had dissolved into a crafty, glittery, gluey nightmare, and the parents spent several days cleaning it up. But for one summer, the kids had interacted and built and experienced the fun of just being kids, without anything electronic to interfere.

I know my kid will always remember that summer when she created a planet with her friends. And I must add a word to all toy makers everywhere - how are you going to compete with that? A doll that talks, a dog that walks, a gun that shoots nerf darts - nothing is better than creating your own world.


John Ross Barnes said...

That sounds like a great family and neighborhood project. Cool Idea.

Hart Johnson said...

Not different with boys... My son has a range of remote control or robitic things that also were very fun for an afternoon (all suggested by my husband who had the secret goal of playing with said toy himself).

Now that PLANET sounds FABULOUS. and I will confess... as a child we were poor. I had a doll house my dad had built and some very cheap dolls, but my FAVORITE thing to do (again and again and again) was to make furniture and clothes out of things like kleenex boxes, tissues, fabric scraps (I was much more a decorator and architect than a role-play girl)

Alison DeLuca said...

Isn't the planet fab? It kept kids away from TV's and iPods for over three months, with nary a battery in sight.

As for supplies:

1 box swabs
1 bag cotton balls
tape (LOTS of tape)
many cardboard boxes
several bags of pompoms

I think the total cost was maybe 50$, most of it in tape. Yay!

PS - I was poor too, and I also fashioned clothes from tissues. That was the best!

Johanna Garth said...

It's so true about the limited life span of things that go beep and whir.I think it's because they are very prescribed in the way you play with them and so kids lose interest because there is no room for their imagination.

My daughter's friend down the street has created something similar in his attic. His parents let him build a Harry Potter world out of cardboard and paint murals on the walls so all the kids go over and paint and built to their heart's content. God Bless those parents!!

Unknown said...

So to begin with I am also recieving these B.S. "Anonymous" comments on my blog too, about not being able to read my page, etc. If someone is going to run a scam with writers,posing as a writer, they better learn how to write PROPER ENGLISH!!! Perhaps we need to turn our comment filters back on...I haven't seen them anywhere else but they seem to be infiltrating our little circle. I wouldn't acknowledge them, lest they make inroads into you hard-drive and take over your computer!(Honestly, you should delete them.)
Anyway, about your lovely post, Alison. I loved reading it! We had a similar-type situation that overtook our basement, except it was "pioneer house" a.k.a. Laura Ingalls Wilder, complete with fireplace, clothesline, and acoutrements typical to a thrifty log house. And it was ALWAYS blizzarding, let me tell ya.
I grew up with parents that bought me toys for my birthday and Christmas. Period. (There was the exception of the plastic doll bought with green stamps that made such an impression on me that I still recall the whole experience, but that was why! It was so unusual!) These days, I can't even go to Walgreens without my youngest expecting some trinket or toy, or as she puts it, "something to entertain". I recently picked up a big box at the grocery store, carved some windows and a mail-slot in it, and voila. The thing is my toddler's, (and the cat's) haven. Hours of endless fun and not a Disney princess or Dora in sight!
Thanks for sharing such a lovely post. There's something so fun about watching our children get lost in creating their own little worlds. ( I particularily liked how the whole dress shop took off!)
Have a great week-end everyone!
~Just Jill

Alison DeLuca said...

ARGH! I hate those spammy comments. They were filtered for the most part for a long time, but now they have crept in. I hate to turn on comment verification since its such a pain, but I'm afraid I might have to soon.

I've gotten rid of LameO McAnon now, and if you're reading this, LameO, I bet you're still living in Mom's basement, now aren't you.

Thanks for the memory, Jill. I certainly recall green stamps, although I think we always got useful stuff with ours. I distinctly recall a new toaster, and maybe a pitcher for mixing up our "Tang."

Our toys came at birthdays and Christmas, right out of the Sears wish book. We were allowed to choose up to 12 dollars worth, and we spent months on that choice. The best gift ever was a Grow-Your-Hair Barbie; I played with her until she fell apart.

However, the other best toy ever was the refrigerator box my sister and I turned into a house on the front lawn. That thing ROCKED.

Unknown said...

Omg. That comment made me tear up! (Not the part about Lame-O spammer living in his mom's basement--that made me laugh..the other part.) It used to be so simple, and so thrilling, choosing things out of the Sear's catalog--circling them in red pen. $12.00! I think that's borderline child-abuse now, isn't it? I got a growing-hair Chrissy doll from Santa, and I'll never forget it.
I must leave before everyone in the world thinks me over-sentimental and I start waxing on about Johhny West and my Raggedy Ann doll.
Too Late!

Rachel Tsoumbakos said...

How completely awesome! As kids we would play dentists. We'd go outside, find a bunch of embedded rocks and they'd be our teeth. Our drink bottles helped to clean the teeth and gums as well as making the all important fillings (since the rock teeth belonged to rock monsters and we all know the damage eating rocks can do to one's teeth). It kept us entertained for AGES!
Oh, and if you find a buyer for all those Zhu Zhu pets, please pass on their details, since I also have two tubs worth of them :-/