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Old-Fashioned Toys for Modern-Day Kids

The Hillside Public Library hosted a class exposing kids to toys of the 1800s.

Played with a whirligig lately? How about Jacob's ladder or dominos? What about gee-haw-whimmy-diddle? Most people have probably never even heard of these toys, which is why the has teamed up with The Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum to bring these toys of the 1800s to today's 21st century children. 

As part of their regularly planned children's programs, the Hillside Public Library hosted an interactive and educational class for children ages six through 11 on Friday, Dec. 3.

Alison Simmons showed a group of 14 kids toys which to their surprise did not require electricity or batteries to operate. Simmons, who is an employee at Cold Spring Harbor museum, set up five stations of activities involving games and toys which were used and played by children in the 1800s or before.

The first station consisted of whirligigs, which are objects traditionally made out of a button through which string is threaded and tied at the end. People can then twist and twirl the thread which causes the button to spin.  The children were given paper buttons to decorate using markers. Once they were finished decorating, they were encouraged to spin their whirligigs to see their designs take life before their eyes.

Station number two allowed kids to use their mental skills in a game of Jack Straw, more commonly referred to as Pick Up Sticks, while station numbers three and four involved traditional games of hop-scotch and Marbles.

Station five, labeled "Old Fashioned Toys," was perhaps the most intriguing station for the kids. At this station, children were introduced to Dominos, Jacob's Ladder, spinning top, wooden Whirligigs and a Gee-Haw-Whimmy-Diddle. While dominos and the spinning top seemed a bit more familiar to the kids, the prize winners were jacob's ladder and of course the tongue twister, gee-haw-whimmy-diddle.

To one bright-eyed little girl, Jacob's Ladder, which is said to have been named after the biblical Jacob who saw a ladder leading from earth to heaven in a vision, was like "magic." In jaw dropping bafflement, the seven-year-old, repeatedly allowed the stacks of wood to fall as she held them upright.

Other children were equally amazed by the magical movements of the gee-haw-whimmy- diddle. When asked to explain "how does it do that?" Simmons patiently detailed how the instrument is made and what causes its propellers to move.  

The toy, she said, is made using two wooden sticks, one of which has little notches on top and has a little wooden propeller attached to the front by either a small nail or a pin. The other stick is simply used to rub against the notches to create a vibration which causes the propellers to spin .

Finally, as their last activity in the hour-long class, the kids were allowed to paint their very own wooden yo-yos to take home with them.

But after all the interesting and exciting toys and games, these modern day kids all generally agreed that they still prefer their video-games over the toys of the 1800s. 


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