The lists of hot holiday toys for 2012 came out with a vengeance this week and indeed, the latest from K'Nex is pretty cool and I like to see light-up globes making many of the lists. However, I'm a firm believer that some of the classic toys we grew up with are still the best, along with the large cardboard box which is still a kid favorite.
Here are five retro toys that I recommend for every kid. (And most grown ups.)
Spin-Art – Usually, battery-operated toys are my least preferred, but I will make an exception for this paint-whirling machine. The concept is simple: you secure a piece of paper or cardboard to the platform – it will have to be a specific size to fit properly – and then you turn it on (some have different speeds, some don't) and the platform holding the canvas starts rotating. Then, you squirt paint droplets onto the canvas while it's spinning and let centrifugal forces do their thing. The results are always different and cool. We use our finished Spin Art creations for gift cards, and I particularly like this art form because, like all art forms, you don't have to outgrow it. I still get stoked seeing the end result of my creation after it stops rotating.
Easy-Bake Oven – Invented in 1963, the Easy-Bake Oven, which is a working toy oven, has gone through 11 different models. We have a '70s version of the oven, which is still my favorite. It's rectangular and red and implements a push-through system and a light bulb to make the little round cakes. (More modern ovens have an electric stove-top or look more like a microwave and a heating element instead of the light bulb). The oven comes with cake mix, but you can use any cake mix / batter. The key is to spray or grease the pans (you really need the original pans for best results) and not to overfill otherwise the light bulb method of cooking doesn't work. Like many beloved retro toys, there have been plenty of recalls and injuries with the ol' Easy-Bake, so be sure to hang around when the kids are cookin'.
Chess – Chess isn't really retro, it's more timeless, however, all of the cliche statements about the merits of chess are true: the game improves concentration, logical thinking, math skills and the ability to foresee consequences of actions. Kids "get it" right away and it's truly an all-ages game. Come to think of it, I really should have played more chess in my twenties. I could have used a little more of that ability to foresee consequences of actions and checked off a few mates. Meh, live and learn.
Magic 8-Ball – During my childhood, the Magic 8 Ball made many of my decisions and doled out plenty of advice. I consulted with it on all sorts of things, like whether or not I should clean my room or if that boy in gym class liked me. I'm not sure my sons have as much faith in the black ball filled with blue liquid as I did, but they definitely like shaking it. Just don't ask it a question that's not yes/no otherwise the "advice" – which includes "you may rely on it" and "my reply is no" – might not cut it.
Etch-A-Sketch – Sorry, Magnadoodle, but you are not the same. This classic drawing toy is still the best, but it's not easy to master. Any seven-year-old schmo can create lots of right-angled letters and designs, but to conquer the art of using both white knobs at once and creating diagonal, even rounded lines, is a true challenge. The only annoying aspect of this toy is sometimes the screen got cloudy and then you couldn't see your black lines as well. I think there's some kind of aluminum powder inside the Etch, but I don't really understand how it works. Maybe I'll ask the Magic 8-Ball. Oh wait, that's not a yes-or-no question.
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