Toys And Games As Seen By Children And Parents

excerpts In 1888, popular health magazines would dedicate generous coverage to children's games, at the top of their education column. "The main endeavor of parents must reside in the education of their infants from their very first day of life onwards, for health, astuteness, good upbringing – in a word, their future – all rely on it!" Under the catchword: "Children with children," pediatricians advocated genuineness and socializing. Children are allowed to engage in any "harmless game," that "should be plied, as far as possible, in the vicinity of same-aged children; for lonely hanging about and lack of play also have their shortcomings." Additionally, as "children will be children," "they have an urge to satisfy their childish passions by their own instinct. It is far more preferable for them to be put into contact with infants their own age than to play with any of the governesses or servants around the household, who are grown-ups and therefore, unmistakably, take pleasure in things entirely different from an infant's pleasures and plays. Children must amuse themselves with other children, and this is what society ought to opt for; for this is the instrument by which they can grow, become sharp and go through a sheltered, healthy evolution. In isolation and melancholy, children are not able to experience genuine play as one of the cardinal elements contributing to their health. Solitude is fatal to their physical and moral profile." As a result, "a child's character must be shaped in the company of other children who are of the highest morale and always under parental supervision, for therefrom derive all its health and happiness."[1]For children of the villages and slums, isolation has been an impossibility, therefore many of their handicaps are not related to solitude. Conversely, doctors would deplore a childhood spent in the families of the upper middle class or aristocracy, where "one can regrettably observe isolation and futile lingering in infants not allowed to play with the neighbor's offspring, as the latter could not flaunt the same noble title! Nor are they allowed to mingle on their way with those that are beyond their station, thus forfeiting the company of comrades with whom they'd have had good, old-fashioned fun and some occasional thrashing – for their lonely play makes them sluggish and dim-witted. These children, as a result of their nobility title, are not in a position to share their play or any other pleasure, as their parents ban them from contacting possible playmates born to non-aristocratic families. Because of such preposterous demands, we are firm in our beliefs that neither can the parents of the nobility enjoy the happiness of non-noble parents, when they see hosts of children playing and running around the garden, the meadows, under the sun, and inhaling the clean air that should invigorate them and develop their brawn."[2]Several decades later, at the outskirts, children would turn the wastelands at hand into huge playgrounds, enjoying an unfettered freedom. "As soon as the weather warmed up, they would start their hopscotch, tripping and leap frogs, accompanied by customary yelling in Molière's tongue: Abiolan! Bonjournal! Conjournal! Santoucher!"[3] Ethnographers and anthropologists believe that "the majority of traditional games to be found in the children's repertoire, as well as a considerable part of the physical games, once carried a religious and magical substratum. For instance, ball games, hoop games, pebble games, widespread in the rural areas, "once had a solar or lunar symbolism and were attributed cosmogonical functions." Even close to our times, not only children, but men and women used to play ball "to have their plants, especially their hemp, grow."[4] Society has imposed its rules and bans in children's games and preoccupations, according to social status, level of education and degree of culture. Nevertheless, "insulation" has never fully succeeded, while the transposition of ludic matter constantly ferried across these worlds. The wish to feed children's play with highly-desired accessories – toys, constituted a creative impetus and a profitable business as early as the 19th century. In time, the typology of toys has fanned out immensely, eluding the sphere of naïveté implied by children's play. As early as 1934, pediatricians cautioned parents in the habit of buying their children "dangerous toys" – rifles, swords, revolvers, cartridge cases, bludgeons – "certainly, under the guise of harmless toys" and "proudly gazing at their little boys who, armed with these, strut about in a cocky and provocative fashion, much like genuine heroes, waging 'war' with other children. Could it be possible that parents in their right mind, adults, buy their children deadly weapons – for playing objects?"[5] The debate surrounding violent games was just emerging, and experts were no strangers to the fact that "all children, notably boys, instinctively search for violent games to further the development of their body. We are fully aware that, atavistically, at the back of each child's mind, lies the belief that every soldier is a hero. We know all too well that all children favor stories about wars, adventures, or the murderous behavior of the apache tribe, or of assassins and their street fights with detectives and constables." Aggressive, often bordering on what is morally tolerated, cartoons, comic strips and computer games have sparked protests and heavy debates over the last years, albeit failing – for puny reasons such as the above – to give in to more angelic productions. Similar to the alarm raised in 1934, expert advocacy for bland and preferably educational games, is clashing against a social and political climate that glorifies war-like stances and violent triumph, even if the purpose served is or, at least, would seem to be, one of a noble kind. The disquieting state and incertitude present in our current educational milieu bear much in common with the anxiety caused by "defensive warfare" mechanisms – handed to children by a society that had just freed itself from a world war and was preparing for another.Neither are little girl's dolls anymore what they used to be. While they play, it is currently believed that little girls hone their maternal instincts, learn to sew tiny dresses for their dolls, speak words of endearment, thus preparing "to be future mothers." A sizeable part of this pedagogical function faded away after the 1960s and 70s. Dolls were transformed into movie stars, spy agents or fashionable models. A miniature model would mimic the female typology claimed as ideal, be it on the small and on the big screen, while the moral school turned into a school of image and self-show. Dwelling on body language, its eroticization and desacralization, has led to substantial changes in the traditional female plays and toys.[6]In 1934, the alternative to war games recommended to boys was building: "mechanisms that can teach them how houses are built, how trains, ships, aircrafts are run, are equally, instruments to develop their sagacity and dexterousness." Physical exercise and activities organized in a peer environment to finish their civic education (scouting) seemed crucial to Romanian pedagogues between the wars. A great deal in the fulfillment of these desiderata would fall into the care of the school, which would thus relieve parents previously warned about their responsibilities: "What you cram into the brain of children will stay with them for the rest of their lives as adults!"[7] We could perhaps avow – without too much fear of being wrong – that Romanian society has – across its urban and more illuminated rural layers – acknowledged, from a very early stage, the importance education has in the first years of one's existence (i.e. "the seven years of home"), prior to entering the schooling establishment. And that – to the best of its abilities and resources – it has offered its offspring "the pick of the bunchcrop" – in order for them to be able to enjoy life. from Romanians' Childhood, Compania, 2006
[1] Popular Medicine, October 1888.[2] Ibidem.[3] Alexandru Stefanopol, Living in Grant Slum, Eminescu, 1971.[4] Ivan Evseev, Dictionary of Romanian Magic, Demonology and Mythology, Amarcord, Timisoara, 1998.[5] Medicus in Health and Happy Life, June 1934.[6] Ivan Evseev, Traditional Children's Games, Excelsior, Timisoara, 1994.[7] Medicus, op. cit.

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)