Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Toys Made in America

I am eight years older than my next youngest sibling, but when I was a kid, I was lucky enough to have a passel of first cousins, ages arrayed in typical catholic stepladder pattern.

On rainy afternoons, we'd take two or three chairs and drape them with my gracious aunt's sheets to create a playhouse. Sunny days, those same sheets hung from the clothesline and otherwise draped around the yard became jails, forts, tee-pees, convents. Add a few random items of clothing and we became gangsters, cops, soldiers, cowboys and Indians. (This doesn't sound very PC, but you had to have two groups that opposed each other to have a good game.)

We played jacks, jump rope, hopscotch and ball-against-the-wall. Some of us became experts in yo-yos, kites and gyroscopes. We played Red Rover, Mother May I and Red Light Green Light and the always popular Hide and Seek. Sometimes we just spun in circles on the grass until we staggered away and fell over.

(I just remembered how we used to pool our change to buy the forbidden Mad magazine.)

Of course there were toys-- especially I remember Mattel and Milton Bradley toys. And lots of wooden blocks-- we could use up every one and still not have enough. And bicycles, scooters and roller skates. Oh, my.

When I became a mom, toys became important to me again for a different reason. First, they had to be safe-- no parts small enough to swallow or sharp enough to put out an eye. Next, they had to spark the imagination in some way-- magic tricks, chemistry sets, ovens that really baked, woodcraft, beadcraft, papercraft. Both my kids liked to read so that helped a lot-- books were not boring gifts. Lastly, they had to be toys my kids wanted and many of the most wanted toys were those advertised on television. I certainly did my fair share of hunting through stores at 8 am. looking for Star Wars Action figures, Cabbage Patch dolls and My Little Ponies.

I'm sure it must be much tougher for parents today. Electronic toys, games and computers have increased kids' horizons and are great options, although I do think they tend to fill way too much of our kids' leisure time at the expense of too many other activities. Advertising intrudes into our kids' lives to a degree I would never have imagined possible. We have to teach our kids to understand just what marketing is, and how to resist, and we'd better not wait until they're ten years old to start.

Then there's the safety issue rearing its head again.

CNN covered the congressional hearings currently taking place on the safety of imported toys, and the situation is not good. While I reject the idea that all imported toys (especially from China) are dangerous, and all toys made in the U.S.A. are safe, let me just say that what's farther away is harder to see.

I looked online for American-made toys and found a number of great sites. They were so easy to find that I won't list them here. Some of them are a real blast from the past.

One suggestion: don't just think made in America, think local. Not only will you get a great toy, you'll be helping to keep the local economy going.

Shop Western Mass is a link to merchandise all of which is made in WMA. About has a listing of WMA clothing and toy manufacturers. Finally, Abbington Village's Shops on Main Street lists handmade products across New England.

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