Mar 042017

March is such a good, forceful, energetic verb (and the name of the month), so what better month to focus on volunteerism.

March 13th is Good Samaritan Day, although we tend to celebrate things by the week, by the month, and by the year, so we would like to believe that this particular celebration lasts all year.

It is one thing to be kind to those we know; it is something entirely different when we are kind to strangers who then become friends.

We believe that we benefit and our communities benefit when we all volunteer.

In an effort to make it a bit easier, we have listed some of the volunteer opportunities available in Christiansburg, Blacksburg, and Montgomery County.

  • RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program)–lots of volunteer activities for folks 55 and older!
  • Volunteer Match.Org–a clearing house full of all sorts of opportunities, from working with International Students to being a child advocate through CASA to helping to promote sustainability.
  • Volunteer NRV — a listing sponsored by the United Way of the New River Valley, from helping out with Meals on Wheels to being a bus monitor to working as a docent at one of the museums to being a dog walker for the Montgomery County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Montgomery County.


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Feb 032017

If you haven’t noticed, American’s love kitsch. Pink Flamingos. Genuine souvenir plates from places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Black velvet paintings of Jesus and Elvis on top of a semi with flames shooting out of the tail pipes. We love roadside attractions like Wall Drug and South of the Border and all of the odd motels along Route 66, like the place with Teepees and the one with the restaurant in a giant cowboy hat.  We love novelty gadgets and songs and birthday cards with a moving mouse singing “Shake Your Bootie.”

So it should come as no surprise that we also like kitschy holidays, celebrations, and remembrances.  February is loaded with them. Pull Your Sofa off the Wall Month. Jell-O Week and Love a Mensch Week. Bubble Gum Day (February 3rd) and Read in the Bathtub Day (February 9th)

We have listed some of our favorites for February below:

February, 2017


Cordova Ice Worm Festival (February 1sth – 5th)


World Play Your Ukelele Day


Bubble Gum Day


Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (always the 1st Saturday)

Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week (February 5-11)


Popcorn Day

(Always times out with the Super Bowl


Canadian Maple Syrup Day


National Periodic Table Day


Opera Day

(Spend some time with Hansel & Gretel)


National Pizza Day


“All Tne News That’s Fit to Print” Day (NY Times birthday)


Get Out Your Guitar Day


Paul Bunyan Day (b. in 1834 in Bangor ME)


World Radio Day


Ferris Wheel Day

Make a paper model of a ferris wheel.


Random Acts of Kindness Day

Actually, this goes on for a full week


National Almond Day


World Human Spirit Day


Pluto Day

(Learn more about Pluto here.


Chocolate Mint Day (any excuse to eat ice cream in February)


Love Your Pet Day

This should be every day!


Plan a Kitsch Vacation Day

Okay, this isn’t a real day, but it should be.


World Thinking Day (GS)


Curling is Cool Day

Learn more about curling here.


Girl Scout Cookie Weekend


Girl Scout Cookie Weekend


For Pete’s Sake Day

Celebrate obscure and obsolete idioms


Inter-national Polar Bear Day


Mardi Gras

Okay… perhaps not quite so obscure.

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Jan 242017

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Newton!

If you have stopped in Whistle Stop Books or the Cambria Toy Station in the last few years, there is a good chance you stopped for a minute and  played with the Newton’s Cradle, a desk toy named after Sir Isaac Newton and based on one of the key principles of Newtonian physics. The “toy” illustrates the laws of inertia (Newton’s 1st Law of Motion), conservation / F=ma (force=mass * acceleration-Newton’s Second Law of Motion),  and Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

Want to know more about Newton’s Cradles?  (None of which are appropriate for the average elementary student–above their pay grade, but interesting reading if you want to know more before you talk to the said same six or eight year old)…

Try This @ Home

Pick a couple of projects from the Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations Collection. A great collection of science projects and experiments for home and science fairs…some very cool stuff.  Start with Newtonian Mechanics.

Build your own Newton’s Cradle from Scratch (Compliments of the folks at Cornell). If you want to do Newton’s Cradle experiments, but you don’t want to go to the trouble of making one, swing by the Cambria Toy Station and pick up a Newton’s Cradle of your own.


Geek Birthdays and Adventures

  • Alan J. Heeger (b. 1936). Physicist and Mathematician.
  • In 1992, Dr. Roberta Bondar became the first Neurologist (& Canadian Woman in Space.

  •  In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became Doctor Blackwell, when she was awarded her M.D. from Geneva Medical College. She was the first female doctor in the United States.
  • In 1997, Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the first female U.S. Secretary of State. Learn what is involved in being Secretary of State…play “Crisis of Nations” on iCivics (requires Flashplayer).  Note, be sure to go through the tutorial before you start. You may also want to explore the other games in iCivics. Suitable for both adults and kids and is a great way to learn how government works!
  • Michio Kaku, American physicist and academic was born in 1947.

  • Ilya Prigogine, a Russian-American chemist and physicist, was born in 1917 and won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1077 for his dissipative structures and how they fit into thermodynamic systems and beyond equilibrium. Back to Newton…Prigogine, in his book The End of Certainty argued that “Newtonian physics has now been extended three times, first with the use of the wave function in quantum mechanics, then with the introduction of spacetime in general relativity, and finally with the recognition of indeterminism in teh study of unstable systems. (Wiki)  You can thank Prigogine for chaos.
  • In 2004, the Opportunity Rover (MER-B) landed on the surface of Mars. Opportunity is still scuttling around the Red Desert on Mars.

  •  Polykarp Kusch, German-American Physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in
  • In 1949, the Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope, the largest aperture optical telescope (until 1976 when the BTA-6 was constructed) becomes operational.

  •  And, finally, in 1958, the Lego company patented their bricks, however the original wooden bricks were developed in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Take a quick tour of Lego’s new design headquarters and factory in Billund, Denmark. Better yet, visit.

Physics and Math @ the Depot

Check out some of physics and math toys, kits, and books at the Cambria Toy Station…

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Jan 082017

Before robots…

Before computers…

There were clockmakers…

The next time you are driving north through eastern Pennsylvania, add a trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and take a look at the Automaton by machinist and clockmaker Henri Maillardet, c. 1800. Featured on CBS Good Morning in 2012, Maillardet’s brass automaton has the largest machine memory ever constructed; can produce four images and three poems, two in French and one in English; and provided the part of the  inspiration for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

Automatons (automatas), machines designed to duplicate pre-determined (programmed) real life movement using a complex combination of cogs, cams, pistons, gears, belts, pulleys, and other assorted mechanical elements, are not new. References to moving mechanical devices can be found both in Ancient Greece and Ancient China, but the real heyday of automata coincided with the development of increasingly complex clockwork mechanisms during the Renaissance and the early Modern era (1450 to 1900).

Projects & Activities:

Start with a paper model. There are a number of interesting projects available online.

Most automata models are from European, British, and Japanese sources. As with a lot of companies in the modeling industry, ourselves included, a significant portion of the available paper models and instructions can now be purchased online and downloaded. Be sure to read the instructions before you print the model. Different models use different weights of paper, although typically they use a medium weight cover or card stock. Regular 20 or 24 lb. paper is generally too light for paper modeling.

Swing in and check out the Wooden Kits, available at Cambria Toy Station:


Automaton, Paper Engineering, and Mechanics Resources

  • My Brush with Hugo and the Automaton” Andrew Baron, 2008. Baron restored Maillardet’s Automaton for the Franklin Institute.
  • Paper Engineering from  If you are interested in learning about Paper Engineering and Automata, is probably the best place to start. A one year subscription ($30.00 US Funds per Year) provides you access to all of their downloadable projects, as well as a wealth of information of paper mechanics. It is well worth the cost of a subscription.
  • Devices of Wonder. Getty Museum. A great collection of mechanical and optical devices, including how they work.  Take a look and interact with all of the devices and then explore the other materials included in the site.
  • Wonders of the Clockwork World. A short film (45 minutes) on the development of the Automata and world in which they were created.
  • Animations of every mechanical device you can think of from Noah Posner and Thang010146 (Youtube channel). A great collection of short videos that illustrate how mechanics work. From basic cogs and cams to turning a right hand thread–this is an excellent reference resource.
  • Another excellent site that covers the types of mechanisms used in creating automatons, including an excellent overview of tools and construction techniques.

Cool Videos

Our favorite automaton:

and how it works:

To learn more about Wintergaten and their Marble Machine, check out their Youtube channel.

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Dec 302016

Diego Gutierrez, The Americas, c. 1562 (Click on the map to see the full-sized image at the British Library)

In 1562, Diego Gutierrez and Hieronymus Cock created a map of the Spanish Empire for King Phillip II. Gutierrez was a cartographer and cosmographer for the Casa de Contración (a government agency tasked with trying to control Spanish exploration and settlement); Cock was a master etcher and painter in Antwerp, which was then part of the Spanish Netherlands. Cock is also credited with shifting etching and printmaking from a strictly individual endeavor to an industrial approach that relied on a division of labor.

Sea monster in the Atlantic. Image from Library of Congress, 1562 Map of America.

The map, titled Americae Sive Quartae Orbis Partis Nova Et Exactissima Descriptio,” in notable in a number of ways: it was the first to name California and Appalachia (Apalchen); it depicted, rather accurately, a wide range of geographic features, including the Amazon watershed; and functions not only as a map but also as a work of art, most notably because of the embellishments, including monkeys, sea monsters, cannibals, giants, and Phillip II portrayed as Neptune.

The map was meant to describe and delineate the reach of the Spanish Empire, claiming much of the territory in both North and South America as part of the Spanish Empire…ignoring, of course, the claims of prior inhabitants. While the were useful in terms of navigation and understanding of geography, they were (and still remain) a propaganda tool designed to underscore the power of the Iberian peninsula (i.e. Spain, Portugal, and, by marriage, France). As the Library of Congress notes “it is apparent that one of the intentions of preparing the map was to define clearly Spain’s America for the other European powers who might have designs on the region.” Only two copies of this map are known to exist: one resides in the British Library and the other is in the map collection of U.S. Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Did You Know?…

The Library of Congress has the largest map collection in the world. According to their website, their collection includes “5.5 million maps, 80,000 atlases, 600 reference works, 500+ globes, 3,000 raised relief models, and a large number of cartographic materials, including over 19,000 cds/dvds.” To see all of them, you have to go to Washington D.C., but a fairly good collection (albeit a drop in the bucket) exists online.

Projects & Activities:

1. Create a Memory Map

A memory map is used to capture and record memories relative to local geography. It is a hand-drawn map of a place you are fond of or for which you have strong memories. It might be your grandparent’s farm or your parent’s neighborhood or your school. Unlike regular maps that provide geographic information (roads, place names, geographic features like streams or mountains, etc.), memory maps also include information (stories and comments) and embellishments (illustrations) not typically found on your average map. We’ve provided an example of a memory map below:

Start by drawing a rough map in pencil and then start filling in the detail. Write notes on your map to indicate those areas that trigger strong memories. In the example above, I included the croquet pitch–my grandmother was a demon croquet player who rarely lost and, while generally a very nice person, took inordinate pleasure in sending other folks balls in the opposite direction of where they needed to go. There was a red and white bridge spanning the irrigation ditch that ran along the north side of the house (actually, I think it was, in reality, the west side…but I was somewhat directionally challenged as a child). My grandfather built the bridge since I tried to follow him everywhere, including across the plank they had used to cross the ditch for years.

2. Make a map using a GIS (Geographic Information System) program.

There are a number of online mapping programs, from Google to Grass. One of our favorites, however, is Scribble Maps. It is a free mapping program (basic service) that allows students and teachers play with geography.  The site includes some excellent examples. While there are some tutorials, this is really the type of site where you just play.

Map Resources:

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda, and Art. Exhibition at the British Library, 2010.

Maps. The British Library. One of the best map collections and collections of map resources (articles, videos, et alia).

The 1562 Map of America by Diego Gutiérrez, Library of Congress. Excellent discussion of the Gutiérrez & Cock map.

Map Collections. Library of Congress. An excellent resource for all sorts of historical maps…railroad maps, national park maps, Civil War maps, WWII Military Situation Maps, the Sanborn Insurance maps,  and many others.

Map Videos:

Maps are especially useful in bringing history to life…whether it is looking at changes in Europe over time or looking at the routing of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

After you watch the above video, take a look at the Driving Through Time site developed by the University of North Carolina.

In both cases, the maps are communicating an idea rather than just providing travel information.

Geography @ the Cambria Toy Station

Check out some of the great geography products we have at the Cambria Toy Station:



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Oct 302016

flamigoIf you have stopped in the Cambria Toy Station, you already know that we are a very small store (although we do manage to pack a lot in to the available space). When we started the shop, we wanted to focus on encouraging kids to “do stuff.” The thing is, no toy store (no matter how large or how small) can carry every single thing and some of the best things can’t be carried at all. So we decided that we were going to expand beyond the norm of toy stores and offer something of value even if you never walked in the shop (although, of course, we think you should if for no other reason than we are located in the world’s coolest places–a 149 year old train station).

The Creative Play Pages (see the right hand column of our front page) were created to provide parents and kids access to some very cool stuff–from games (some of which were created out of cardboard boxes) to science projects to history, civics, and geography.

We believe that kids learn best through play, exploration, imagination, and curiosity. While we carry toys, kits, games, and puzzles that encourage these activities, there is a whole lot more out there in the world for them to try that no toy is going to teach them or to encourage their interests.

The Creative Pages are our way of helping youngsters to pursue their passions, learn cool new stuff, hone skills, and have fun. We continue to add new stuff to the pages periodically (mostly when we have some time to spare or are avoiding less pleasant tasks).  We also includes access to materials for parents (choosing toys, thinking about safety, encouraging creativity, etc.). We encourage you to explore the pages and if you have a suggestion, just fill in the form below.

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May 242016

Feeling stressed?  There is a simple solution that will cost you a whole lot less than stress-related medical bills or years of therapy. Try coloring. Go to you local toy store or book store and pick up a coloring book; swing by an art supply store (in our area…Mish Mish or Michael’s) and buy some colored pencils and a small pencil sharpener (if you don’t have one stuck in the back of a kitchen junk drawer); and sit down at the kitchen table with a mug of tea and color.

You can thank Joshua Reynolds, a British artist, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Frobel (Swiss educators), Kate Greenway, and the McLoughlin Brothers for the coloring book.

In 1769, Josh Reynolds, gave a series of lectures in which he argued, essentially, that art and art instruction should be made accessible to the masses (the democratization of art) rather than merely to the upper echelons of society. Artists became art educators who based their production of art education materials (drawing and painting manuals, templates, etc.) on the premise that “art could be learned by anyone because it consisted of teachable knowledge (‘general truths’ or principles established by the great masters) and skills”  (Masien, 2014). In short, anyone can become an artist and can learn to appreciate art.

PaintBook1The McLoughlin Brothers published the first “paint book,” The Little Folks Painting Book, in 1879. The book feature illustrations from Kate Greenway, an English illustrator best known for childrens’ illustrations and a contemporary of Randolph Caldecott. The annual awards for best children’s illustrations are called the Caldecotts in the US and the Greenways in the United Kingdom (just an aside). Other companies soon followed suit: Charles E. Graham Company,

Enter the Crayon and the Depression. If you look closely at the toys created during the Depression (with the exception of Legos–yep, a product of the 1930s), you will notice that the vast majority of products were paper based, from paper dolls to fiberboard dollhouses to games (think Monopoly) to card models included in and on the back of cereal boxes. Paper products took off because they were relatively inexpensive and could be included as part of a wide-range of promotions aimed at the persuasive power of children. Coloring books were on the forefront, especially as crayons entered popular use (again, they were far less expensive to produce than other artists’ mediums). While crayons had long been a medium for artists, with versions dating by to Da Vinci, they became the child’s medium with the development of the wax stick crayon in the early 20th Century (you can thank Binney & Smith, aka Crayola; Prang; Milton Bradley, and Joseph Dixon).  By World War II, coloring was firmly a child’s activity despite its adult roots.

According to the Washington Post, the act of coloring “generates wellness, quietness and … stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity.” (Elena Santos, 2014). Carl Jung colored mandalas as a relaxation technique. Just ask the French. In France, coloring books designed for adults are one of the fastest growing genres in the publishing industry. According to clinical psychologist Sally Austen,

“Because coloring-in requires focus, it is quite meditative and mindful. You are completely in the moment, not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future….There is also–and this is probably quite significant–no element of competition or possible failure, which is quite rare these days…Colouring in is as near to doing nothing as you can get…It is creative and peaceful; a lovely moment of inane happiness.”

So the next time you stop by to pick up a coloring book for your child, buy two–one for the child and one for you and pick up an extra-large canister of crayons (or colored pencils). Set aside 15 or 20 minutes each day and color.  You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

Online Resources:

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May 242016

Disney, best known for magic, had a particular method of magic in Mary Poppins that has always fascinated me…chalk art…sidewalk art…street art.

In the movie, Mary Poppins and company fall through the art and into a land where carousel horses and their riders dash across pastel countryside and subvert a fox hunt by hiding the fox; where tea is served by dancing penguins; and where having a “perfectly splendid” time is perfectly acceptable.

Think chalk and chalk drawings are only for kids? Think again. While chalk art dates back to pre-historic times (think cave dwellings here), the sidewalk activity dates from 19th Century England. Like Dick Van Dyke’s character, well over 900 folks were making a living drawing on sidewalks in Great Britian in 1890.

Colored chalk is one of those mediums we often dismiss, but there are a fair number of rather well-known chalk adherents, including: De Vinci, Raphael, Micelangelo, Durer, Rembrandt, Rupens, Matisse, Picasso, and Degas. One of the appeals of chalk was that it was relatively cheap and plentiful…a great medium for studies and quick sketches.


Storytelling on the Walk. Most sidewalks, at least those leading to a front door, are split into sections rather than being poured as a solid slab. Ask your kids to illustrate their favorite book by telling the story in drawings, one drawing per section of sidewalk.

The Most Colorful Driveway. 1 or more neighborhood kids (and adults). Pick a nice day and throw a block drawing party (typically combined with a neighborhood potluck and/or cookout and a rousing game of volleyball in the back yard). Divide your driveway into squares an invite your neighbors to add to the drawing. The object is to fill the space, create neighborhood art, and have a good time. I’ve also seen this done as a neighborhood activity where everyone decorated their driveways and walkways. By the way, if you have an asphalt driveway, make sure you have plenty of white chalk to go along with the various colors.

The Game Course. One of my favorite examples of chalk art came from a neighbor in Missouri, who used to go out and draw a version of chutes and ladders or another kids’ game on his driveway every Saturday morning. He made a large die the kids could “roll” out of a cardboard box he covered in white butcher paper and decorated with construction paper cutouts. By the end of the day, the board was scuffed, the box was dented, and the construction paper decorations had faded to a dull, color-tinged gray. The board varied from week to week, as did the die. The kids were their own game pieces, and one child was designated as “die roller.” I have no idea how many games were played during the course of a Saturday, but the “board” was always in use. By the time the neighborhood came to life on Sunday, the board was gone and the neighborhood had to wait a week to find out what was next.

readChalk Drawings: Types, History of Drawing with Chalks.

ART ENCYCLOPEDIA 2016. Bar none–one of the best sites on the internet. If you are interested in art education, this is one of the best places to start. 

Chalk Pastel Tutorials: Lessons & Resources for the Artistically Inclined..Intended for beginning and intermediate artists.

Street Painting and Street Art. Wikipedia.

3 Amazing 3D Graffiti Artists: Street Paining and Sidewalk Chart Art. The Web Urbanist.

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May 242016

My parents didn’t buy me a set of alphabet blocks when I was a kid. They didn’t have to. I played with my mother’s set of blocks, blocks dating from the early 1930s. They were wonderful blocks. In addition to the ABC’s and the numbers, they had a red and yellow patterns on one side, train and circus puzzles on another, embossed pictures related to the blocks letter, and puzzles of important people in the community (the fireman, the policeman, the train conductor, the soldier, the sailor). The soldier was dressed in a World War I uniform, so I didn’t connect him to the images on the television in the early 1960s. I took it on faith that the sailor was important, even though there were very few sailors in south-central Montana. The paint was somewhat faded and the edges were worn, but I loved those blocks. Indeed, 50 years later, I still have them.

While the new blocks available on the market are not quite as visually interesting and do not have the same range of play possibilities of those produced in the years just after the turn of the century (1900-1925), they are still an important part of childhood and provide a world of play and learning possibilities, not only for children, but for adults as well.

History of Alphabet Blocks

Alphabet blocks were invented by John Locke (yeah…the English Enlightenment philosopher better known for political theory and philosophy) in 1683. In short, these puppies have been around a long time. Not quite as long as the United States, but pretty darn close.

In the early 17th Century, Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (the great, great, great something of the American kindergarten movement), refined Locke’s idea, by imprinting the letters on carved wooden blocks.

The blocks available from a variety of outlets (ours come from Melissa and Doug and Maple Landmarks) are the descendents of the blocks created by a fellow named S.L. Hill, of Brooklyn, New York, who came up with a method of printing multiple colors and embossing wood. He is primarily responsible for making alphabet blocks commercially feasible.

In 2003, somewhat overdue, alphabet blocks were inducted into the Strong Museum’s National Toy Hall of Fame.

readFrederick Froebel’s Gift: Connecting the Spiritual and Aesthetic to the Real World of Play & Learning (Provenzo, American Journal of Play, Summer 2009)

The Strong Museum in Rochester New York (one of the 5 coolest museums in the United States)

Alphabet Block Games: Uses of ABC blocks beyond their presumed play life…

Perhaps it comes from being located in a 143 year old train station, but we believe in adaptive reuse. This extends to alphabet blocks. Under normal conditions, most folks set aside the alphabet blocks or sell them off at the first yard sale of the summer without thinking about their other uses. In an effort to give you the most bang for your buck and suggest some ways to incorporate those small wooden alphabet blocks in your family time, we would like to make some alternate suggestions.

First, if your blocks did not come with a small canvas bag, pick up a small tote bag. Beyond paper, pencils or pens, and an egg timer, it is the only other item you will need for most of the following games.

16 Blocks. (1 or more players)

Required materials: paper, pencils, egg timer, and blocks (plus tote)

Object of the game: find as many words as possible in a set period of time (2 minutes, 5 minutes, etc.). Players need to agree on the timeframe before you start.

Start by setting aside 5 vowel blocks. They will need to be placed face down and shuffled before each round.

Go around the circle and have each player draw a block from the bag and set it face up on the table. The group will continue to draw until there are 14 blocks. The last two players will choose two of the vowel blocks and set them in the middle of the table with the other blocks. The blocks should form a 4 x 4 square.

Set the egg timer to the agreed upon length of time and have at it. Each player writes down all of the words they can find using the 16 letters (14 consonants and 2 vowels). No letters can be used twice. The player with the longest list, wins the round.

Variations on the theme:

  • rather than rewarding the player with the longest list, give points to players who come up with words no one else found.
  • rather than making individual lists, one player acts as a secretary for the round. Players yell (or say, in a well modulated voice) “word” and announce the word they have found. The secretary keeps track of the word list and who made the suggestion. At the end of the round, each player gets two points for every word they found. This variation adds a bit of mayhem to the proceedings and probably isn’t appropriate for more public settings (except, perhaps, schools, where mayhem is a typical part of the day).

The game can also be played as a solitaire game, one very similar to those found in most Dell puzzle books.

Storytellers Anonymous (the more the merrier)

Required materials: blocks plus tote (may want to bring along the egg timer).

Object: to create outlandish stories.

Put the blocks in the tote. Agree on the length of each round (once around the circle, twice around the circle, or a given period of time).

The first player chooses a block from the bag, chooses a side of the block as the “game side” and hands it to the player to his or her right.

The second player must start a story, by creating a sentence using a verb and a noun starting with that letter. If the “game side” of the block is a picture, then the second player must use that word (horse, bee, barn, octopus) and a verb starting with the same letter. At the end of their sentence, the second player draws a block and hands it to the player to his or her right.

The third player must provide the next sentence of the story, using a verb and noun on the block they were handed, and connecting it to the sentence provided by the player before them.

The round continues until each player has had a turn or you have reached the agreed up length of time.

Variations on the theme:

Each player has to repeat all of the previous sentences before adding theirs.

Rather than going in one direction, allow movement in both directions (handing the block right or left).

If you are playing with a small child, let them pick the block and hand it to you. You make up the story. They continue to hand you blocks and you continue to add to the tale. ABC blocks are one of the world’s great storytelling tools.

The Car Trip Game (whoever happens to be inhabiting a seat in a moving vehicle… best used on very long trips)

Required materials: blocks, plus tote

Object: to find interesting stuff out the window. This is a bit of a takeoff on the alphabet sign game.

First, one of the parents or other adults in the car will have to play referee and block chooser.

The referee chooses a block and a side and announces the letter, picture, or number to the other passengers. The first one to spot the letter (a Z), a number (4), or the specific object (a barn) gets a point and the players move on to the next block. The blocks add a random element to more traditional travel games.

Variations on the theme:

Require that the letter or number be part of a license plate or a roadside sign.

Require that the images be found on a vehicle or a roadside sign.

There are hundreds of variations, including drawing two or three blocks and requiring that the letters or numbers or images have to be found in the same location.

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May 242016

My grandparents had a large concrete pad behind their house that was routinely marred by chalk from the last snow to the first snow. Hopscotch and foursquare lines in white chalk, lines that had to be redrawn a couple of times per day because they were smudged and erased as the balls and stones missed the square targets and hit the lines.

There were games all over the yard. The croquet set appeared in the side yard in June; a baseball diamond appeared between the old homestead and the icehouse; the horseshoe pit was reconstructed behind the chicken coop and workshop; and the tire swing, home of championship tire rodeo, was replaced with a new rope and a new tire. The yard was set for play, a large area designed to encourage all of us to disappear outside for the majority of the day. In addition to the organized areas, one of the small cabins behind the main house had a room of toys: blocks, cars, stilts, stick horses–toys meant to keep us out from under foot and keep the kitchen and parlor free of daily childhood debris. I doubt any of us saw the place as anything other than magical, except during those times when our grandmother would gather all of us in one place to hand out the gardening tools: push lawn mowers, grass rakes, garden clippers. The upkeep of the yard was our daily tradeoff for the freedom created by large expanses of grass, fruit trees, willows, bunch grass, and sage. Even now, nearly 50 years later, kickballs always remind me of the all too short Montana summers.

Street Play Resources (Collections)

  • NEWStreet Games ( An absolutely wonderful site, full of all sorts of stuff. Find the instructions for both the familiar and the unfamiliar games from childhood, including Skully, Stoopball, Cricket, Boxball, Bocce, Hit the Stick, Marbles, and lots more.

The site is another in a long line of Wikis.

Hopscotch. Hopscotch has always been associate with a chalked outline on pavement and a marker (most of the times…a rock). There are a variety of designs you can use, although the version we have here is based on the one most often found on schoolyard playgrounds. No one really knows who invented hopscotch, or precisely when it was invented. The first reference to the game called in “scotch-hoppers” and has been popular since at least the 17th century in the UK. That said, there are variations on the theme all over the world, including India, Russia, and Brazil. The Chinese variation dates back to at least 2000 BC, proving that great games stick around. The Romans get credit for its invention as well, although it seems they was used as military training exercise in ancient Britian.

Hopscotch Resources (including rules, designs, and interesting trivia)

  • Hopscotch (Wikipedia). Includes some of the more popular designs and rules.
  • How to Play Hopscotch (with some cool variations and video instructions). (Wiki-How)

Playground Balls (aka kickballs)

You can thank the Mayans for the idea of a rubber ball, and Charles Goodrich for figuring out how rubber worked. Playground balls do not have a single inventor, no one person you can point to and blame or praise for the ball used in a wide variety of games.

Kickball was invented in 1917 by Nicholas C. Suess, the parks playground supervisor for Cincinnati, Ohio. The game was designed to teach elementary aged kids baseball. Whether it was entirely successful as a precursor to T-ball, it has taken on a life and a history of its own, including adult kickball leagues.

Kickball Resources (including the rules and interesting trivia)

  • H.S. DeGroat (1922). “Kickball.” In Mind and Body. Volume 27. Pgs. 205-207.

Four Square is a fairly recent game in the grand scheme of things. It was invented in 1964 and has the advantage of being fairly inexpensive to set up and play. The only piece of equipment needed, beyond the quartered square painted or chalked on the pavement, is a playground ball. Unlike some of the other games that use playground balls, it is not particularly aggressive (although the adult version belies this notion). Four square does teach kids social skills, manual dexterity, and strategy.

Four Square Resources

  • Four Square (Wikipedia, including basic outline of rules).
  • Four Square Game Rules. Their directions are fairly clear and they have some interesting variations on the theme.
  • Official Rules of Four Square. This is where it gets serious. As with other “children’s games,” Four Square had developed as an adult game as well, including league play and its own organization.

Dodgeball. One of the distinct advantages to being the smallest person in the class, at least in grade school, was that most kids threw the ball well over my head. Dodgeball is one of those games that everyone used to learn during the cold season when activities are limited to the gym or the cafeteria. Like many other children’s games, there isn’t a known inventor. Throwing things and dodging things have long been part of the culture (although not everything folks were dodging are as friendly as our turtle playground ball). In recent years, dodgeball has moved beyond the elementary school and has become increasingly popular with adults. NoteTwo rules of thumb. 1) While dodgeball can be great fun (at least if you are an adult and playing of your own free will), you probably shouldn’t play with children under the age of 9 (the balls are softer than, say, baseballs, but they really aren’t designed to be thrown at small children.). 2) Dodgeball is, and probably always has been, a very aggressive sport, evidenced by the fact that it was perfected as a war game in both ancient Rome and China. Because it is an elimination game (deliberately knocking folks out of the game), it encourages kids to “pick off” the easy targets first–kids who are not aggressive, not paying attention, or who don’t like balls being thrown at them. Indeed, one of the chief criticism of dodgeball is that it is a game that encourages, at least on some level, bullying. On the other hand, it is also a game that teaches a lot of skills, including throwing, catching, dodging, jumping, hand-eye coordination and so on.

Dodgeball Resources

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