So many toys today light up, make sounds and operate with batteries. When you choose to make your own toys, you and your children can think back to an earlier time when people had to make almost everything they owned, from toys and clothes to furniture and homes. Make pioneer-era toys, such as paper dolls, stick and hoops, whirligigs, thaumatropes and whimdiddles.
Use pioneer ingenuity and modern tools to make paper dolls with your children. Print out paper doll templates (see Resources) and mount them on thick card stock. Then, use different scraps of colored paper, glitter glue, pieces of ribbon and lace and other decorations to create a fancy wardrobe for the doll. Put the doll's clothes on the old-fashioned way with paper tabs or use a modern method of using tiny balls of poster gum to adhere the clothes to the doll. Another variation of this is felt dolls. Out of felt, create a nude doll with hair. Allow your children to trace and cut out a wardrobe from different felt scraps. Don't forget to decorate them. The felt clothes will stick to the felt of the doll for hours of play.
Stick and Hoop
Pioneer children could play this game while they walked across the plains or on their way to school. Find a smooth stick, about 8 inches long. Tie a piece of yarn around one end of the stick. At the other end, tie a solid round hoop. This could be the ring of a jam jar, a key chain ring or a thin plastic toy ring. The smaller the hoop, the more difficult the game. When the stick and hoop are assembled, try to flip the hoop into the air and catch it on the stick. It's much harder than it looks. If the child masters a larger hoop, substitute it for a smaller one.
This toy can be made in minutes and can entertain children for hours. You'll need a large button or wooden disk with two holes drilled in the center. You'll also need some thin string. Thread the string in through one of the holes and back out through the other. Tie the ends of the string together to create a loop with the button in the middle. Loop your index fingers through the ends of the string and swing the button in circles to wind the string up. When the string and button are wound up, pull your fingers gently apart. The string will unwind quickly and cause the button to whirl and buzz. By gently moving your hands back and forth, the whirligig will spin as long or hard as you wish.
Pioneer children had no television or video games. To see moving pictures, they would make a thaumatrope. This toy is a disc with two pictures on each side; when the disk is spun, the two pictures form an optical illusion and create one picture. Gather a piece of stiff cardboard, a paper hole punch, two 3-inch pieces of string, markers and scissors. First, cut a circle from the cardboard, about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Use the hole punch to make a hole in each side of the circle. Think of a picture with two parts, such as a bird and a nest, a flower and a bee, or a wave and a dolphin. Draw one picture on one side, then flip the disc from the bottom to color on the other side. Tie the string to each side of the disc. Holding the strings, wind up the disc until it's tight. Let go and watch the pictures combine to make one.
Pioneer boys usually had a pocket knife and could whittle sticks and pieces of wood into toys. One easy toy to whittle is the whimdiddle. Essentially, it is a notched stick that, when rubbed, turns a propeller at the end. Locate a 7-inch branch, a 3-inch branch and a 1-inch branch, all the same diameter. You'll also need to gather a nail, hammer and a pocket knife. Carve 8 evenly spaced notches (1/8 inches deep) into the body of the 7-inch stick. Pound a nail through the center of the 1-inch stick; be sure the propeller turns smoothly on the nail. Nail the propeller to the end of the notched stick. Now, rub the 4-inch stick along the notches, back and forth. The vibrations of the stick will cause the propeller to spin--slower rubbing means slower spinning.