Where Are All the Soapbox Cars?

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My most memorable childhood playthings weren’t factory-made. When I think back, I had the most fun swordfighting with poplar saplings, sliding down snowy slopes on cardboard boxes and playing battleships with homemade graph paper.

I‘ll never forget our day-long sod fights up in the woods—protecting  forts hammered together from old crates and using ammunition made from clumps of grass with dried soil still attached—or the satisfying puff of dirt that signified a direct hit on an opponent’s clean shirt.

But when was the last time you saw a child playing with a soapbox racer made from scrap lumber or a crystal radio set that they had assembled themselves?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve noticed any kid in my neighborhood using homemade playthings—such relics have all been replaced by space-age technology from the toy factory.

Nope—a poplar sapling doesn’t stand a chance against a battery-operated Jeddi sword with sound effects and luminous plastic blade. Why rely on gravity to move your soapbox car when a mere $500 will buy you a fully operational miniaturized electrical sports vehicle.  Graph-paper Battleship games are now computerized, and air-powered splatter guns with washable die pellets have replaced our hand-tossed dirt sods. Crystal radio sets have been supplanted by 400 pound boom-boxes with enough power to stuff the Toronto Skydome with thumping, stereophonic sound.

Let’s face it, this is not the decade of do-it-yourself kids.  And while I must confess that I had my share of high-tech gizmos as a kid, including a T-V ping-pong game and a slot car racing track, none of them occupied much of my play-time.

Today, many kids have the attitude that if it isn’t store-bought and doesn’t have a peer-accepted designer label, it isn’t worth using.  And that’s a shame.  Our children are missing the great satisfaction of playing with one’s own creations. And with this, they’re losing the ability to improvise, to innovate, and to create something usable, if not perfect, out of nothing.

Perhaps as physical educators, we should provide more encouragement for creative improvisation. Check the “Equipment” section of the PE Update website and you’ll find dozens of ideas for home-made sports and PE equipment: everything from tin can walkers and 2”x4” balance boards, to garden-hose quoits and  pizza box hurdles. Here are some other ideas—some tongue in cheek and some not— that might improve our childrens’ dearth of plaything creativity:

  • Make MacGyver re-runs required television viewing for all school-age children.  Although our students may never need to know how to make an atomic bomb out of a comb and a lipstick tube, the program’s emphasis on creativity and improvisation is valuable.
  • Allow each student one hour a week in the school dumpster to find materials to build their own game or sports implement.  This “dumpster time” will also reduce the school’s waste output.
  • Provide an extra classification for school waste materials included in blue-box programs.  One box for glass and metals, one for paper products, one for organic material…and one for kids.
  • Use P.E. class as a “market” for your students’ creative efforts.  Sometimes all it takes to get a child’s creative juices flowing is an expressed need for it.  Scoops made from bleach containers, tin-can walkers, home-made hoola hoops, broomhandle aerobics implements—these are all examples of phys-ed equipment your students can make and use in class.

Perhaps our growing awareness of the environment and the trend towards recycling will make home-made playthings more acceptable to young people.  And as teachers, we can use this new attitude to develop our students’ ability to improvise and innovate.

P.S. In case I’ve given you the impression that I was a combination Huck Finn/Thomas Edison as a child, I have a confession to make…I never was able to  get my crystal radio set to work, and I’d personally like a light-saber.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]physical education,children's play,games,sports equipment[/tags]

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