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The holiday season is bearing down upon us. It’s been edging ever closer for a while — and now it has lurched into undeniable view. Turn away if you like, but it will remain in your line of sight. Shortly those lights will be front and centre, and carols will soundtrack your every excursion. Did I mention? No escape.

This year, in spite of myself, I find that I am looking forward to the spectacle of it all. Why? Because this year, unlike so many previous years, I am determined to plan and prepare some relaxed, loving holiday experiences for the family.

I’ve even tackled the shopping early so as not to become stressed by crowds and depressed by rampant materialism, not to mention the affliction of poor impulse control.

Since late November, I’ve been thinking a lot about toys and games, and what it is that makes a toy a great toy. In the spirit of giving, I’m going to share with you my Top Three Toys of All Time.

3. Cardboard Box

Cardboard box was inexplicably beaten by Stick in Wired Magazine’s wonderful ‘The 5 Best Toys of All Time’ post by Geek Dad:

Another toy that is quite versatile, Box also comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Need proof? Depending on the number and size you have, Boxes can be turned into furniture or a kitchen playset. You can turn your kids into cardboard robots or create elaborate Star Wars costumes. A large Box can be used as a fort or house and the smaller Box can be used to hide away a special treasure.

Got a Stick? Use it as an oar and Box becomes a boat. One particularly famous kid has used the Box as a key component of a time machine, a duplicator and a transmogrifier, among other things.

 

2. Bubbles!


Did you know that bubbles are the best selling toy worldwide of all time? Well, you probably do if your house is anything like ours, and you have a shelf of bubble bottles and wands you can’t possibly keep up with and a ready supply of gifts of bubble mix that are given at birthday parties and even doled out at some restaurants.

Bottles of bubble liquid are so ubiquitous that we forget how enchanting blowing bubbles can be. Each bubble blown is a surprise that forms right in front of your eyes. After we manage to form one, we all – I am sure of this – hold our breath just a little to see if this is the one that’s going to be largest bubble ever, or the one that floats the highest.

Incidentally, this is why battery-powered bubble machines are so un-FUN. Making bubbles by pressing a button is completely misses the point.

And here’s the surprise at the end of the post!

. . .

1.  Nerf Football

Surprise!

I suspect that you didn’t see that one coming especially if you also happen to know I’m no fan of football, professional or otherwise.

But I love throwing around a Nerf football with my son. The nerfiness of it all ensures a mis-catch doesn’t result in a bloody nose. And the shape of the football provides important affordance (go on, click to find out) that makes throwing a football so much more fun than a regular ball.

Also, when you miss a football (which I frequently do), the ball is likely to bounce around in a completely random and unpredictable way. This makes games like keep-away all the more delightful. The other reason I love throwing a Nerf football it is that is so hard (for me) to throw a satisfying spiral. Whenever I do manage to throw a laser pass without a single bobble it makes me feel really skilled. Those who are serious about play know that sometimes play takes some work.

I mentioned my son already and I want to assure you that I haven’t been neglecting my daughter when it comes to catch. We don’t play as often because she’d much rather ride her bike in circles than throw a ball around. While I haven’t done it enough, I’ve been cajoling my daughter to play catch with me from time to time — ever since I read this post from Jason Kottke some years back.

In almost every case, the perceived skill-level gender gap between males and females is overblown. One exception: Throwing. According to one researcher: ‘The overhand throwing gap, beginning at 4 years of age, is three times the difference of any other motor task, and it just gets bigger across age. By 18, there’s hardly any overlap in the distribution: Nearly every boy by age 15 throws better than the best girl.

Whatever gift you end up getting you child, I’m sure they will will find the fun in it. After all, it’s their job. And I’m sure my holidays, as yours, also holds similar potential. So I hope the holidays brings you good tidings and joy.

Mita Williams is a Twitter rock star, user experience librarian and the Activity Book columnist at Bunch. She’s a lot of fun — catch up with her here.

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