ROYERSFORD PA – For many children in earlier times, educator Dave Willauer explained Monday (July 17, 2023), their first toys weren’t toys at all. At least, not as we know them.
“They were sticks. And dirt. And if you had a little water, some mud,” Willauer told an audience of about 40 adults and children (below) during a presentation on childhood games and toys. It was a featured event of the family summer program series held at the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society, 526 Main St.
Things have certainly changed over the decades.
The Toy Association, an industry trade group, reports that retail toy sales in the United States during 2022 alone amounted to about $29.2 billion. Consider, too, that Barbie, the trendy and fashionable plastic doll, is the subject of one of this year’s most hotly marketed movies.
Toys as teaching tools
Willauer, the society’s treasurer and retired principal of Royersford Elementary School, also discussed what hasn’t changed. That’s the importance of toys as teaching tools.
- The first sling-shots given to boys in earlier centuries were not intended as amusements, he said. Instead, they helped young shepherds control the movement of their flocks.
- The fun of making “pies” from mud and straw, historians report, later translated into molding bricks for building construction.
- Plenty of budding engineers began their future careers with Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, and Legos, Willauer suggested. “They really stir your creativity and imagination,” he observed. And,
- Early board games like “Parcheesi” and, later, “Sorry,” have lasted for generations. Although they entertain and occupy time, they also reinforce math skills and encourage strategic thinking.
Both kids and adults sat captivated by the talk, during which Willauer offered illustrative photos and several of the toys themselves. A few parents accompanied by their children could be seen pointing to toys they once played with, and describing how they worked. The kids asked questions of Willauer, and also provided answers about toys with which they were familiar.
From what many participants said, though, the best part of Willauer’s well-researched presentation wasn’t the talk itself. It was the chance to play with most of the toys on display. Youngsters also created their own toys and games (above) with materials provided by the historical society.
Watching the Dominoes Fall
Send That Hoop!
Several society volunteers provided instructions and advice to those who asked. One volunteer seemed delighted by the attention her display table attracted. “Isn’t this fun!,” she said.
Down The Chutes They Go
The event was sponsored by J. Alan Electrical Services of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
More programs to come
Other programs ahead in the series at the historical society include:
- On July 24, blacksmith Jake Robinson will demonstrate creating projects from iron. He will also discuss the important role blacksmiths played in the early days of the nation. The event is sponsored by Anchor Court Associates and its manager, Mark Shumaker.
- An Aug. 7 presentation will cover the history of candy-making in Royersford and Spring City. Both boroughs have served as the location for “plenty of candy stores” during their histories, the society said. The event is sponsored by Rob and Connie Lawson of Sweet Ashley’s Chocolates.
Each will be held at 7 p.m. at the historical society’s outdoor pavilion, 526 Main St. Advance registration is requested for students in grades K-6, so take-home activity packets can be made available. Register by sending an e-mail to Willauer at email@example.com; by calling 215-859-1798, or by visiting the society’s webpage.
Photos and video clips by Travels With The Post