An alternate title to this post is "10 Toys in Lauren Patti's 1978 Basement I Coveted". As a kid I tagged along (annoyingly I'm sure) on as many play dates to my sister's best friend's house because she had all the best toys. True, Barbie's Dreamhouse lived in her bedroom, but it was her basement that was the real toy wonderland.
Many of the toys I remember best from childhood are still around, perhaps a testament to the power of nostalgia if not their intrinsic play value. Below are ten that loom large in my childhood memories and that have endured through the years, with minor or major tweaks.
The top photo is my sisters and me, circa 1977, with my younger sis, Anne, atop a sweet, sweet ride—The Big Wheel. We had one Big Wheel for the three of us to share and I believe the expression on Anne's face here says "Take this photo quick! I've got some Big Wheelin' to do!" I've yet to see one in my neighborhood (c'mon Brooklyn, this screams retro, hipster throwback), but they are still making the Big Wheel. If you want to indulge your nostalgia, check out The Original Big Wheel's history page to see themed Big Wheels including Miss Piggy and Kermit, Wonder Woman, C.H.I.P.S., Mr. T., Qbert and more.
Okay, who remembers The Little Professor? Who remembers the day my sister Bridget's blueberry yogurt spilled in her school bag and killed The Little Professor? Just me? Okay, moving on. Although it looks more like a calculator, using the professor is more like taking a math quiz over and over, yet somehow...fun. The biggest change to the current professor isn't that he now looks like a Metro North train conductor, it's that he runs on solar power.
"Hey mom, can I have a snack?" "No." "How about just some...ice." The Snoopy Sno Cone Maker was a toy, an appliance and a workout rolled into one. Add ice, crank, crank, crank, crank, and crank some more, add syrup or juice or a weird concoction of things to flavor your ice - refreshing!
I have written before about my (faux) Cabbage Patch Kid doll and readers fondly reminisced with me about these odd, yet somehow endearing creatures with names like Alura Bea, Arty Benedict and Jacobina Tallulah. CPK dolls have changed licensing hands many times over the years and to celebrate their collective 30th birthday, the current, er, crop are a limited edition vintage range.
My son received a knock-off version of the Spirograph for the holidays so I was glad to discover the real thing was still around. For someone who struggled with drawing as a kid, making groovy patterns (it was the 70s) was a fun, semi-artistic outlet.
The Easy-Bake has been around since the late 60s and, until recently, used an incandescent lightbulb to bake kid-mixed cakes and treats. In recent years a protest by an eighth grader against the toy's "girly" color and marketing (did she not remember the Queasy Bake Cookerator?) prompted Hasbro to release the black version above in addition to a purple-pink one.
If someone told you to "sit and spin" these days, you would rightly take offense, but as a kid who could resist the temptation to spin yourself dizzy, nearly sick as I recall, emerging in a fugue state only to repeat again once your eyes settled back into your head.
Playskool's Glo Worm didn't come out when I was a baby, but my own nostalgia stems from the hundreds of hours of babysitting I did as a teen and teenager. Every baby and toddler I knew had a Glo Worm in their crib. The original, if you recall, was all in green with a yellow tassel on its hat, resembling a pea pod more than a worm (not that I've ever seen a glow worm in nature, so maybe I'm wrong on this point).
Remember when Lite Brite seemed high tech? At least to me as a kid it did. Choose a design to follow or make your own and poke through the black paper with your plastic pegs and then light it up to see your creation glow. As I recall, pulling the pegs out was a huge pain and seeing your black paper supply diminish with each use was anxiety-producing, yet I really loved this toy. Perhaps I missed my calling as a neon artist. Not surprisingly, these days there's also an app for that.
Fashion Plates was the pinnacle of my fashion life—it's been all downhill since. You mixed and matched plastic plates with heads, tops and bottoms to create your fashionable lady, did a paper rubbing (using the textured patterns on the back of another plate, if you were feeling fancy) and then colored them in. You can still find some of the original Fashion Plates on eBay or at thrift shops (my sister recently snagged a set at The Salvation Army). Mena Trott scored a set for $10 and posted pictures on her blog The Sew Weekly that will bring it all back for you (like "Cindy", or whatever you called her, the yuppie tennis player in the jaunty visor). Alas, the true Fashion Plates are no longer around, but there are a few companies who have tried to approximate the idea and are worth noting. Above is Schylling's version and Melissa and Doug make a similar product called Fashion Design Activity Kit.
Thanks for walking down memory lane with me. What about you - what are some of your favorite childhood toys and are they still around?
(Image credits: Carrie McBride; YoYo.com; Texas Instruments; Young Explorers; Toys R Us; Fat Brain Toys; Hasbro; Target; Magic Beans; Lite Brite; Schylling)