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Simple toys from yesteryear

By Staff | Feb 7, 2011

Janet Grescek from Montour County gave a presentation to a full audience on simple toys made from yesteryear at their educational center Saturday afternoon. She is shown demonstrating a spinning fan.

WASHINGTONVILLE – Both young and old alike had an enjoyable experience on Saturday reliving days of yesteryear while learning how youth spent their past time before the days of technology and television crept over us.

Naturalist, Janet Grecsek demonstrated how our ancestors made some fun simple to make gadgets to amuse themselves and occupy their time. “And all with no batteries,” said Grecsek to about 75 people in attendance. “This is a perfect program for a snowy winter day. We are all kids at heart,” she told the group at the Montour Preserve that included a wide range of demographics from toddlers to seniors.

Some simple technical terms were first introduced and explained by Grecsek that make everything work. Applying the laws of gravity and motion, she explained how levers and fulcrums work, gears and wheels, screws and pulley systems.

After a brief science lesson in potential and kinetic energy, Grecsek demonstrated the use of some mechanical items such as a music box, marionettes, wooden spools, and Jacob’s Ladder.

Most of the materials are made from wood or paper, metal, string and magnets. She said she learned how to make many of the toys from her father by using simple parts that were easy to find around the house.

Holding up a small noisemaker called “musical bones” Grecsek showed everyone how it was made from popsicle sticks and pennies. Another home made percussion instrument was called a castanet. This instrument consisted of a pair of concave shells or buttons joined on one edge by string. They are held in the hand and used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents consisting of a rapid series of clicks.

Children were entertained when they watched metal shavings jump around on paper as she held a magnet underneath. Swinging pendulums and pinwheels, spirographs (designs made with gears) and kaleidoscopes were also part of many households before computer technology. Other favored toys of many included the slinky (the metal one) moving down the stairs, falling dominoes, spinning jacks, making a wooden spool. setting up incline planes and racing marbles down the troughs.

Naturalist Jon Beam showed his “whimmy diddle” that he made with a wooden dowel rod and a propellor from nails. It is a gadget that even has a yearly contest in Tennessee and U-Tube shows a 7 minute video on how to make one. “When you rub the notches with the rubbing stick, the propeller turns around and around, ” said Beam.

Everyone had an opportunity to make one or two of their own gadgets to take home for their own enjoyment.