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Posts tagged ‘Modern toys’

The World of Strawberry Shortcake


An illustration of the title character and her cat, Custard.

Strawberry Shortcake was created in the late 1970s by the American Greetings card company. As the character became a popular fad among young girls, the company expanded the Strawberry Shortcake product line to include dolls, posters, stationary, stickers, clothing, games, etc. Beginning in 1980 Strawberry Shortcake animated specials began to air on television, joining the controversial trend of program-length commercials designed to advertise such product lines to children. To examine the claims of Gary Cross (“Spinning Out of Control”) about the negative effects of program-length commercials or PLCs, I watched the first episode of the Strawberry Shortcake television series.

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Smile! You’re on Barbie camera!

Toys, were the staple of childhood. Whether you played with Transformers, Hot Wheels, action figures, Barbie or GI-Joe’s, the toy required that you use your imagination to create a scenario or plot, with a particular goal in mind that you and your toy could achieve. I am purposely using past tense for this description because kids have become so absorbed with today’s technology that toys no longer require the extensive thinking and imagination that they one did.

The New York Times wrote an article on how toys have changed, and once caught ahold of it, Stephanie Clifford wrote an update version of the article. “Classic toys are becoming much less classic because of upgrades meant to entertain technology-obsessed children.” Stephanie explains that the reason for children growing up with the desire to be more technological is because they see all the gadgets that their parents are playing with and operating. The main attraction that they are writing about is the new Barbie. The new Barbie has become a digital camera, her camera lens in behind her and the picture then appears on her t-shirt. The photo can then be uploaded to a phone or a computer. In my opinion this takes away the whole point of Barbie, all that she will be now is a camera, little girls won’t know how to make up a story and have their dolls act it out.

There are a lot of people, myself being one of them, that feel toys and technology should not mix and that children should still have to utilize their imagination. I feel that this new technological advance could cause something similar, just not as extreme, as the moral panic that our society experienced when children became obsessed with comic books. Perhaps this new technological craze that is taking over the toys could stand to resemble how comic books were seen taking over children’s innocense.

A picture showing how Barbie is now becoming a digital camera.

Who Needs Board Games?

In an attempt to make up for the lost profits in the fourth quarter of 2011, and stay with the evolving times, popular toy companies like Mattel and Hasbro are adding technology into recent editions of classic toys.  In an article from the New York Times entitled “Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks,” Stephanie Clifford, documents the integration of technology into the most historically loved toys.

Hot Wheels no longer need to travel along tracks of small pieces that that children slaved away putting together, instead the newest cars have sensors and move across an iPad screen.  Remember the game of Life, and the spinner that went up to ten instead of the traditional six on dice? Remember the excitement that would come across a child’s face as the ticking sound slowed before the coveted ten space spin? Well that can now be done on the iPad too! Who needs to physically spin the wheel?  Better yet, remember the kid who cheats and lies about how much money he had accumulated during a game of Monopoly? That won’t happen anymore because now the virtual monopoly counts your money for you! When I was growing up Barbie and her plethora of outfits was enough to occupy my time for hours, but perhaps watching their parents’ excessive use of technology has taught kids that imagination and dolls are not enough.  Mattel has now inserted a digital camera onto Barbie’s stomach with software to upload the photos and videos onto a computer.

While it is hard to say what Stephanie Clifford thinks of this parallel evolution of toys with technology, as it is more of an informative piece and less of an editorial, it is easy to see that the benefits technology brings, also brings significant problems. Just as we discussed in class after reading the Rad Bradbury short story “The Veldt,” children who become dependent on technology for entertainment lose out on the imagination and play that is essential to what we think of when we think of a child.  Monopoly wasn’t just a game to see who could collect the most money, but it also taught basic mathematic skills that are eliminated when the child no longer has to count their own money.  Additionally Monopoly was a social game, a family game, and now who needs family or friends when you can play against a computer! Remember how boring it would be when you had to wait for someone else to take his or her turn?  That too can be eliminated while playing with a computer! You can fast forward through their turn!

You definitely lose out not having board games be the way they used to, it is amazing how young kids can use the technology so efficiently.  The father in the YouTube video below seems to think the benefits and educational games that iPads and technology offer, could outweigh the loss of mathematics and socialization.

Video from YouTube of a 2 year old efficiently using an iPad and playing an educational game

Beanie Babies

When I was three years old my mom got me Lucky the Ladybug, my first Beanie Baby.  Lucky quickly became one of my favorite toys and after receiving her I wanted all of the Beanie Babies.  Back when I was growing up I would spend hours playing with my stuffed animals.  For some reason they were more appealing to me then regular dolls.  I suppose since they were animals it allowed me to use my imagination more.  Beanie Babies were a huge deal for me and for many other kids when I was in elementary school.  Beanie Babies were stuffed animals made by Ty Warner Inc. in 1993 with only nine different animals at the time and they eventually became extremely popular in the late nineties. There were several different animals and styles that you could collect and I wanted all of them.  The more Beanie Babies I had, the more crazy and exciting adventures we could go on.  Many parents got their kids Beanie Babies so they could collect them and have them be worth something someday, and many limited collections are very valuable.  Some rare collections can go from hundreds to even thousands of dollars in certain markets.  I, personally, wanted the stuffed animals with the sole intent of playing with them.  Their bright colors and individualized name tags were very appealing to kids because they all seemed to have their very own personality.   Beanie Babies were definitely a very popular childhood item, which relates to the reading by Stearns and Cross.  They state that “an array of new consumer products was aimed at children” (Stearns 3).  These stuffed animals were directly aimed at kid’s imaginations.  They also were not necessarily gender specified like dolls; boys and girls could both collect the stuffed animals without feeling pressure from friends or their parents for collecting them.

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Glitter Crayons

When I was about 4 years old, I received a set of glitter crayons from my friend Robbie in a pre-school class gift exchange. This may have changed the course of my life forever. That sounds dramatic, but my parents swear that glitter crayons were my entrance into the world of picture-making. Before, I only did indiscriminate scribble drawings, but after I got glitter crayons, I started making pictures. I had long explanations of what was happening in each drawing, which my mom dutifully inscribed on the back of the drawing. What was it about glitter crayons that attracted me so much? Well, the glitter, obviously. For kids (or at least for me), it heightens crayons from everyday color-making tools to a world of magical sparkling colors.

My first drawing with glitter crayons, December 1994.

With the glitter crayons, which were a novel item in the early nineties, I was inspired to create drawings as often as possible. Because of my newfound interest in art at age four, my mom signed me up for a parent-child art class at a local art museum one summer, and since that class, art has been a passion of mine.

Crayons in general are very important objects of childhood. Crayons are made specifically for children, and after childhood most people rarely use crayons. They are not regarded as a high art medium, although they have been used by a few artists in amazing ways. I think that crayons have impacted most of us more than we know, in how we think about, describe, and differentiate colors. Given to us by our parents as a non-toxic and easily removable medium to keep us busy, crayons are more than just that; they are generally our first experience in using color on our own.

Glitter Crayons, courtesy of

“At Crayola, we are all about kids. Kids inspire us, our work, our products, our offices, and our culture. Our kid-inspired culture defines who we are and how we act, which enables us to be creative and allows us to think like the kids we delight everyday.”

Crayola was founded in 1885 as a company called Binney & Smith. In the first few years of the 20th century, they produced slate pencils and invented a dustless chalk to be used in schools which was extremely successful. In 1903 they came out with the first set of crayons under the name Crayola, an eight pack which sold for 5 cents. The name “crayola” came from “craie”, the French word for “chalk”,  and “ola” from “oleaginous” (oily/greasy).  According to, glitter crayons were first released in 1993 (when I was 2 years old).

The idea of crayons as a childhood item connects directly to the course readings by Peter Stearns and Gary Cross. In the 20th century, when parents were more anxious about the development of the child and methods of parenting, “an array of new consumer products was aimed at children” (Stearns 3). Crayons are wholly an item of this 20th century phenomenon as they emerged on the market at the very beginning of the century and are still very popular today. It is also apparent in the above statement from Crayola’s website that they are completely marketing to kids.  Also, because of a “sense of responsibility for providing fun” (Stearns 5), these new consumer products were widely purchased by parents in the 20th century. Also, “a crucial shift involved consumer items for very young children” and “this new consumer practice both reflected and encouraged further commitments to the use of commercial toys to provide childhood pleasure” (Stearns 7). Crayons are commercially produced items that provide childhood pleasure; most people look back on crayons with some sense of nostalgia. The idea that “home should become an entertainment center of sorts” (Stearns pg8) emerged in this time, and Crayons were a way of keeping children entertained and busy. If one views crayons as a type of toy, one might think of them in terms of Gary Cross’s article in which he states that “playthings through the ages have served common purposes in introducing the young to the tools, experiences, and even emotional lives of their parents. But only in modern times have toys become primarily objects for children, props in a play world separated from adults” (Cross 44).

Toy Horses

Plastic Toy Horse

As Gary Gross said “parents expected playthings that imitated current adult roles. [1]” With this mentality, there is no doubt why growing up with a farming father I was showered with agriculture animal toys. My favorite ones to play with were the plastic toy horses. With them, I would imitate everything my father would do in real life. I pretended to feed them by laying them on the grass so they could eat or dipping their head in the water so they could drink.

To me the rocking horse was pure amusement, but its creation was intended to provide additional benefits. Dating as far back as the 17th century, where King Charles I of England rode one as a child, toy horses were used to advance child development. The rocking horse would provide a form of exercise that helped build balance and coordination in the child. Additionally, it embedded in them the basic skills of riding a horse-mounting, proper seating and riding, holding on, dismounting. The model horse became so popular, adults practiced their use as well. Knights in the Middle Ages rode on wheeled horses to improve their jousting techniques just like children practiced their riding skills on rocking ones[2]. Unknowingly, I was gaining more than enjoyment out of my toy horses. I was improving my physical skills and preparing for the future role I was to hold in the farm. If I showed I could took good care of my toy horses, it displayed I had the knowledge required to take care of a real horse.

Georgian Rocking Horse Hall Museum Washington USA

Initially, the rocking horse was made of materials such as barrel,  wood and cloth[3]. Due to the abundance of the material, the rocking horses were very affordable. Rich and poor alike could own one. For this reason, it became such a popular toy everywhere. Today toy horses are still abundant and being created in additional materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Unlike the old days where the rocking horse was simply the bareback figure of the horse, today they closely resemble the real ones by being equipped with saddles, horseshoes, and riders gear. Children now are more prepared than ever to learn everything necessary to become great horse owners.

[1]  Cross, Gary. Kids’ Stuff.  Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: Harvard University Press, 1997 (pg49) 
[2] “The History of the Rocking Horse.” Casam LLC, Tampa, 2012
[3] Rolo, Jeffrey. “History of the Rocking Horse.” Alpha Horse, 2011

My Size Barbie

My Size Angel Barbie (1998)

Growing up I would have to say one of my favorite toys was the My Size Barbie. My parents bought me my first one for my birthday when I was around five or six. I named her Kimberly after the Pink Power Ranger and I played with her practically everyday. Like normal size Barbies, My Size Barbie was produced by Mattel. Now I didn’t play with Kimberly the way that Mattel probably envisioned for little girls. I would play gymnastics with her and I eventually broke one of her legs off. My parents sent her back and I got another one and still played with her rather roughly. I tried researching when the first My Size Barbie came out but I could not find the exact year. However I ran into some people selling their My Size Barbies dating back to as early as 1992. My Size Barbie was 36 inches tall and came with two outfits so the little girl and Barbie could wear and trade outfits. Mattel no longer makes My Size Barbie so I am not aware of the exact prices especially during the nineties. On eBay currently they range from $70-$200 depending on the model. Growing up I was not aware of the gender roles and stereotypes that My Size Barbie was pushing on little girls, which is probably why I played with Kimberly so unconventionally. Barbie was and still is the icon for what the “ideal woman” should be, which is beautiful, skinny, social, and mainly just concerned with her image and nothing else. As Gary Cross points out, toys throughout the centuries have been made to reflect “conventional work roles” for both girl and boy toys (Cross 49). Cross also states that the rise of dolls for girls to play with happened due to families having less children which resulted in doll play that taught “child-care skills necessary for future maternal roles” (Cross 54). Almost all my friends who were girls growing up had a My Size Barbie  and whenever they played with her they would either be princesses or mothers. In conclusion gender stereotyping of toys may not effect every child in the same way, but they continue to instill the mainstream social constructs of gender.