Since the advent of video games, kids have increasingly spent time inside huddled around game consoles. Even for an older guy like me, I grew up with Atari and early handheld video games that were pretty damn addictive, but nothing like the sophisticated games out today that not only look amazing, but give players the ability to interact with each other.
As a result, Christmas gifts are almost entirely focused on electronics or things you do inside while sitting down. From cell phones to video games to tablets and other sophisticated computer technology, sedentary pursuits are where it is at for kids.
When I was growing up, despite the emergence of video games and personal computers, there were still a large number of activity-based toys that were a huge part of Christmas for kids. Maybe if we brought back a few of them, kids would spend a little time outside...and not just playing with their new remote-controlled cars.
Fortunately, still a staple of holiday giving every year, the bike is a kid's first real taste of independence. Even adults get on their bikes and ride miles and miles. When a kid realizes they have actual transportation for the first times in their lives, it's like having a car. Also, you can pop wheelies. If the vintage Huffy ad above is any indication, you can also "Ride Like the Wind."
Whenever I see those kids scooting along with those shoes that have the little wheels on the back heel, I feel bad for them. They could be rolling around like Tootie from Facts of Life on actual skates that just look like tennis shoes. Back in the day, it seemed like magic until you encountered cobblestone. Then, you looked like an invalid hobbling around in your tennis shoe skates and knee-high, rainbow-colored stockings. But skating was HUGE in the '70s. Just ask the Babe in the above commercial.
Scooters & Skateboards
Too often, scooters are now motorized. Where is the fun in that? Skateboards on the other hand have remained relatively unchanged. Scooters were the more wholesome choice for parents who didn't want their kids to smoke weed by the age of 10 and get arrested for gliding down the stair railings at City Hall, but at least they were active! And if they got good enough, they might turn into Tony Hawk...or a burnout carnival barker. Either or.
I swear to God, I had a Nerf frisbee. Sure, it was a very lame frisbee, but it was Nerf which meant I could heave it around inside the house without fear of reprisal -- or broken vase. On rainy days, my friends and I played spirited games of Nerf baseball in my living room with an old Louisville Slugger replica I got from an Astros game. Once the skies cleared, we grabbed the Nerf football because, as kids, we could throw it a lot farther than a real one. Of course, when it hit a puddle, it soaked up the water like a Sham Wow, but it rung out like one too.
Take one pole and cement it into the ground (or just dig a hole if you are lazy). Attach one end of rope to the top of the pole and another end to an inflated volleyball. Instant fun. I always got my ass kicked at this most frustrating game, but the constant leaping to try and stop the damn ball from flying over my head must have been good for some part of my anatomy if not my pride. Simplified versions of this game like the above Zimm Zamm (sweet name) came along, but nothing beat a plain old ball tethered to a Festivus pole.
When you were too cool for a tricycle, but not quite big kid enough for a bike, you got the Big Wheel. It was essentially a crappy plastic trike that, according to the commercial, let you come to a hockey stop at any moment. It didn't really work like that, but it was the closest thing a four-year-old could have to a car, and it was damn hard to pedal making it an excellent workout. Huffy later copied the Big Wheel with its more sophisticated Green Machine, but we all knew who was first.
Sit 'n Spin
So simple. So stupid. Yet, when you got on this tiny plastic disc and starting ripping yourself in dizzying circles, some kind of magic took hold. Maybe it was light-headed euphoria that kept kids from puking every few minutes, but this weird little contraption could keep a kid going for hours. Skip to 6:00 of the above video for the classic commercial. "LET'S GO INSIDE!"
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Before Tupac there was the Hippity Hop. This big, inflated rubber ball -- think a yoga ball with a handle -- was a joy for kids who wanted to bounce around the house and a nightmare for parents who wanted them to bounce anywhere BUT around the house. Truth be told, it was a pretty fun activity, like a personal ass trampoline. My cousin had an orange one with a handle that was actually the head of some animal (you grabbed the ears for stability). Like a poor man's bumper car.
The parents in A Christmas Story were concerned Ralphie would put an eye out with his Red Rider, yet parents never seemed worried about a pogo stick, which could put your whole brain out. A toy clearly designed for use only by the Cirque Du Soliel, the spring loaded aluminum stick let kids bounce up and down, over and over. Maybe kids were just more sturdy or maybe hospitals didn't keep records, but I'm shocked the number one child-related death of the '70s wasn't pogo stick-related.