One of the most interesting – and fun – parts of being a grandparent has been learning what toys and games are now popular, and to know what old, reliable ones have stood the test of time.
A few months ago, my four-year-old grandson Hank, in Atlanta, was introduced to the game of chess.
Scoff if you will, but this little guy, who can’t yet read, now regularly plays the classic game – both online and on a traditional chess board.
He learned to play through “No Stress Chess,” which comes with a board and all the pieces, as well as a set of cards, each of which has a picture of the chess piece with diagrams of how those pieces can move.
To play this version, players draw the cards before moving. This helped him learn the basics.
His dad (my older son) told me, when Hank first started playing, he learned the pieces and moves, but still did not know strategy, which would take a while. I thought that would be in my favor as I relearned the game so I could play with him.
That lasted, oh, maybe a few weeks. Now he knows strategy, including how to “castle.” I don’t stand a chance.
Rest assured Hank is not staying inside hovering over a chess board for hours on end. He spends an equal if not greater amount of time outside with a baseball glove or bat in his hand, beseeching a parent or grandparent to pitch to him or join in a game with him and his ghost runners.
Both Hank and his cousin—my other four-year-old grandson Cap—in Huntsville, are playing tee ball this spring. Watching them play is a lesson in how “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” as some teammates are more enamored with butterflies in the outfield than with a ball that might come their way. It was the same way when all of ours played as children.
But Hank and Cap take it seriously and watching them is pure joy. Will their love of the game last? I could not answer that, but for this moment in time it provides exactly what it should – a way to have fun and learn about teamwork.
As for the toys and games these guys enjoy, much is the same as it has been, going back to when my children were young, and when I was.
Remember the Etch a Sketch? It’s still around, and there are even miniature versions of it now. I remember when I got my first one and how magical I thought it was. And today I might or might not have to compete with one of the grands to get my hands on it.
Tinker Toys are now plastic (although I think there is a classic version available made from wood), but Lincoln Logs seem to still be wood, unchanged from my childhood.
Cap is very much into miniature animals and dinosaurs, although during a recent outing to the Nashville Zoo with his grandmother and me, where there is currently an exhibit of life-size dinosaur replicas, we learned he prefers the plastic ones he can hold in his hand.
Both boys enjoy miniature cars and trucks, and we have a nice supply of them in our playroom closet. Finding them under a sofa or chair after one or both have been here for a visit always brings a smile.
Cap has a two-year old sister, Mary Brooks, and Hank has a sister, Ruthie, who is about 20 months old. Mary Brooks holds her own with the boys, playing with the cars, trucks and dinosaurs. But she has also entered the doll stage.
Seeing her play with her baby dolls and talk to them (they occasionally must go to time out, as Mary Brooks is a strict disciplinarian) takes me back to the days her mother, my daughter, was a toddler and had an entire family of dolls with names.
Ruthie also enjoys dolls and, having started walking over the past six months, loves to push a doll stroller, strengthening those leg muscles.
For her second birthday this past October, Mary Brooks got a play kitchen, and she and Cap have both enjoyed being chefs, dishing up all kinds of plastic foods for us to enjoy.
They all enjoy playing with blocks, whether it’s the old wooden kind exactly like I had many moons ago, or the modern magnetized ones. I find those rather intriguing myself.
The games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders are still around but with updated pieces and smaller, sleeker boxes, with boards that fold into a square rather than a rectangle. In addition to saving costs for the manufacturer, they also take up less room, so this is a win. Best I can tell, the rules have stayed the same.
Three-month-old Walt, Cap’s and Mary Brooks’s little brother, watches from the sidelines, but will eventually join his siblings and cousins playing. I have no doubt, at his first Christmas later this year, he will be much more fascinated with wrapping paper and boxes than anything else.
They all will eventually graduate to the more sophisticated.Electronics are likely to become prevalent. I’ll savor these days of the blocks, cars and trucks, and board games.
Let me know what your children or grandchildren are playing these days. If you do, I just might give you some information on my latest strategic chess moves.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].