Sunday, November 30, 2008

Better Living Through Chemistry

I read a list recently that listed the toys that kids wanted this Christmas and I was sorely disappointed. The top of the list was a robotic Elmo followed by a series of presents lacking in imagination for children with no imagination: Guitar Hero, Wii games and a stupid looking Wall-E toy in the top 5. I know it's not the 1950's but what happened to toys that bear no relation to Disney tie-ins or current computer fads?

If I cast my mind back to my childhood, the toys that lasted the longest were the ones that could be reinterpreted using your own skill into other things such as Lego to something as simple as a cardboard box and a few pens.
Todays Lego doesn't give the builder the same freedom. The model is on the front of the box, instructions are given how to build it and you can't modify it into something else because the pieces don't fit. Also, your friends and neighbours would report you to child services if you gave your child a cardboard box.

Another toy that, after a quick research, seems to no longer exist: the chemistry set. Amazon only sells one chemistry set and it looks pathetic - it seemingly includes nothing and "fully complies to latest EN71 Standard, Part 4 (1998) for chemistry sets". Boring....

I remember having a veritable lab full of powders, most of which I hadn't a clue how to pronounce (Phenolphthalein anyone?) never mind what the heck they did but that didn't stop me mixing them up and hoping I would create something extraordinary.

I suspect one of the reasons chemistry sets no longer exist has something to do with this "post 9/11 world we live in" and how we would be handing "them" a ticket to create bombs if they had access to a chemistry set. That, or you'd somehow be able to establish a meth lab and create your own addiction.

It's a real shame because not only were these kits extremely fun but they were educational too. There's been a general trend towards dumbing down and treating children with kids gloves and I hope this downward spiral can be arrested and turned around before creativity no longer exists.


Blogger Jenny said...

I never got a chemistry set as a kid, much to my disappointment, but I remember trying to make stink bombs with my cousin. We concocted a probably explosive mixture of paint, rat poison, rotten duck eggs, and weedkiller, and put it into a big plastic syringe to shoot at a visiting friend. I can't remember now if we actually hit her with it or not, but I imagine the wrath of all our parents was heaped down upon our heads if we did actually get her.

Lego is the best toy ever. Although we had a lot of fun as kids with the Lego Pneumatic stuff, you're right that it was too particular to a certain design and didn't lend itself to as much experimentation. The standard blocks and some windows and roof tile blocks were all we needed.

I also had tons of fun with a build-your-own marble run (still available, I believe) and something that was basically a heap of plastic drinking straws and some plastic connectors. I made some really elaborate structures with that one!

3:34 pm  
Blogger Jenny said...

Hey look, you can still get it!

Happy times...

3:36 pm  
Blogger Phil said...

I'm pretty sure a friend of ours had the Connecta Straws although they might have been called something else. I also loved playing with Sticklebricks(?) which were basically a large version of Lego.
Another hobby of ours was a little tape deck recorder. Keith and I would spend hours making up fake radio shows and making weird sounds on it - wish I still had some of the tapes - I'm sure they'd be hilarious.

11:05 pm  

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