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Play With Your Quiet Toys

July 9, 2010

G.I. Joe in all its Colorform glory.

As a child, when my mom would take me to church, she had a special stash of toys for me that were “quiet” so I would be entertained yet not making gun blasting noises or voices for characters during the time we were supposed to be reverent. The toys I enjoyed the most were my Colorforms and my Bible felt set.

My grandfather is (well, was, he’s retired now) a Seventh-Day Adventist minister, and his sermons were basically the only thing besides the Colorforms and the felts that I enjoyed about church. Since the sermon was usually the last thing on the program, I spent pretty much the whole time I was there playing with my Rainbow Brite Colorforms and my felts of Jesus, Mary and various other Bible all stars. I also had these particular felts that were supposed to be a family, but all I had were the clothes and not the actual bodies. So I would place these “ghost felts” into various scenes, patiently waiting for the day that we would be able to buy the bodies to go in the clothes. I’m still waiting.

I had all types of Colorforms, G.I. Joes (as shown above), Gumby, Star Wars. I was addicted to those things and I only got my fix on Saturday when we went to church. I guess it engendered in me a love for going to church mainly because I wanted to play with the quiet toys. Once I got older, however, the quiet toys began to interest me less and less and I, of course, began to question the existence of a god. Because if there was a god, he would surely have made church more entertaining without the need for Colorforms and felts.

Sometimes I long for the days of quiet toys, when I could be entertained by placing vinyl cartoons onto a piece of cardboard and figures onto a felt board with scenes of various Bible stories on them. But alas, besides reading a good book, it now takes more than quiet toys to get me revved up.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 4:13 pm

    Mine was a Spirograph, where you had the little gear like plastic parts and the tracks you would pin to a cork board to hold the paper in place, then select one of the holes in the gear and rotate it through and make amazing patterns with whatever pen you selected!

  2. A Sarah permalink
    July 9, 2010 4:25 pm

    Mine was an etch-a-sketch, I think. My kids’ is the iPod.

    But we’re in the process of starting an Liberal PC Thought Police church (working title) where it’s also not so damn boring. So I think soon the quiet toys will go.

  3. aliciamaud permalink
    July 9, 2010 5:17 pm

    We weren’t allowed to bring toys, even quiet ones; my congregation was mostly made up of my dad’s extended family—he was one of 12, and the choir loft was filled with soprano cousins. There was a sense that how we behaved in church (meaning silently sitting, kneeling, standing, crossing ourselves at the appropriate time) was being closely evaluated by the aunts and uncles and we had BEST not embarrass Dad. Or at least HE believed that. “HE” meaning Dad. Not Jesus or God or whomever else’s pronouns might be appropriately capitalized.

    Anyway, I bet the aunts and uncles (real or imagined) judginess would have been sated had we played with the grim (but quiet) Plague Waterdomes. I read about these a while ago, and I can only find the picture of the locust one. It’s about halfway down this page:

    There used to be a Darkness one available, just filled with inky black water. Want.

  4. July 9, 2010 5:27 pm

    @A Sarah Etch-a-sketch is still pretty nifty, and there are a few true virtuosos on the knobs who have made incredible portraiture with them. I never had the patience for that.

    What’s this “Liberal PC Thought Police church?” Yeah, that doesn’t sound like it’ll be quiet at all!

    @Tasha Fierce I also meant to ask how you got away with playing with toys in church! I couldn’t even bring mine, let alone actually get them out and play, right in front of the rest of the congregation!

  5. July 9, 2010 5:28 pm

    I loved Colorforms. I liked making bizarre, Frankenstein-esque creatures by combining all the Thunder Cats into one massive beast. But of course, my favorite quiet toy was and still is a sketchpad and something to draw with. It never get’s old! It’s the best toy ever!

  6. July 9, 2010 6:28 pm

    Oh my god, I heart this post. Colorforms were a fave, though the only things we played with in church were those mortuary fans.

  7. July 9, 2010 8:17 pm

    I’m feeling really really old right now… because when I was a kid, Colorforms were, well, a collection of shapes in different colors.

    I grew up Catholic, in an era where going to church was apparently something you taught kids to suffer through — at least, that’s the way I always understood the expression “suffer the little ones to come unto me.” And then came the scandals and I learned an even more sinister interpretation.

    Anyway, I was one of those kids who could stay happily entertained for hours with a ball of lint and a piece of string. My all time favorite “quiet toy” was a roll of Scotch tape, which I would use to make little sticky people and animals by rolling pieces of tape into tubes.

    Yeah I was a pretty weird kid.

  8. evmaroon permalink
    July 9, 2010 9:33 pm

    I was just thinking the other day that IFMiB should take on Colorforms!!!! ZOMG!
    I was not allowed to bring toys and then one day I was taller than the pew and could see just how boring the priest was. And then my Dad said I could take my Luke Skywalker figurine in with me, if I played quietly.

  9. July 10, 2010 1:59 am

    @A Sarah I had an Etch-a-Sketch too! It was really frustrating to me so I didn’t use it much. I envied those who made pictures on them and such.

    @aliciamaud I can’t see the Plague Dome site! I’ll check again tomorrow.

    @nycpenpusher Well they were quiet and unassuming! It was like a binder full of various felt scenes with felts in an attached zipper pouch, and then the colorform boards were stored in a folder with the colorforms inside a pouch. So they really were quiet and it looked like I might be staring at the hymn book or something unless you were right next to me, and I was usually surrounded by my grandma and my mom.

    @poplife If I could’ve drawn worth a shit, I would have brought a sketchbook too. But I had this thing where I could only draw stick figures with three fingered hands, sometimes I could draw rudimentary clothing on them but it was usually like a triangular dress or a boxy blazer and square pants.

    @Snarky I really miss the Rainbow Brite ones.

    @redlami You were an odd child. But that’s good, odd children grow up to be interesting adults. Or axe murderers. Seeing as how Angie is still alive it seems that you’re the former.

    @Ev I think after a while I was allowed to bring in some of those peg people, but that was short-lived.

  10. July 10, 2010 2:44 am

    Oh man, I loved me some Colorforms! I had all of the super hero ones for sure. I also loved Shrinky Dinks. Did anyone else make those? I don’t think I ever could take toys to Sunday School but I had tons of quiet toys at home too – Etch-a-Sketch, Spirograph, Playdo, etc. But there is photographic proof that one of my favorite “toys” was a bunch of pots filled with water that I’d bang on!

  11. July 10, 2010 3:32 am

    I had a Colorforms set with a haunted castle sort of theme. It was fun, but the ‘forms gradually lost their stickiness. I think that’s from the oil on my fingers building up on them. I probably should have given them a good soak in soapy water, but I didn’t know that at the time.

    And I spent many hours with my Etch-a-Sketch. I was determined to learn how to make smooth diagonal lines, though I never actually mastered it. I did come up with plenty of compositions that were mainly horizontals and verticals.

    How about Silly Putty? It looked and felt like a messy toy, but it wasn’t. It blew my young mind when I saw how it could capture pictures from the newspaper. And I liked the challenge of taking a lump of it in both hands and slowly, carefully stretching it out as far as possible before it broke.

    But my absolute favorite back in those days was my Legos. With a couple of playsets and lots of spare parts, there was always some new cool thing I could work on. Even the people were modular, so I could give them heads coming out of their feet and stuff. One time, just after I’d discovered M.C. Escher, I tried to reproduce some of his buildings in Lego. It didn’t quite work. But I learned a lot by trying!

    (I also learned that if you step on a Lego brick in bare feet, you’ll wish you hadn’t. This becomes increasingly true as you get older and bigger.)

  12. July 10, 2010 7:13 am

    While neither I nor any of other six siblings were allowed to bring toys into my Catholic church (because there is no way in hell that would remain quiet), I was relegated to using what I had around me. My favorite was sitting on the kneeler in front of my wooden pew organ playing along with the little old lady who was lucky enough to get the real gig. Once I learned to read, I loved following along in the missal anticipating what was coming next, learning the magic spell the priest used to prepare the communion…and it also made the mass go by a lot faster. An Etch-a-Sketch would have been a lot cooler though.

  13. aliciamaud permalink
    July 10, 2010 8:37 am

    @Tasha Fierce: just in case you can’t get there, in the globe there’s a little cowering plastic figure, and then when you shake the globe, instead of the more typical snow, tiny plastic locust rain down on him. It’s like if the movie Lucas were a fever dream! Eee!

  14. aliciamaud permalink
    July 10, 2010 8:42 am

    Halfway down THIS page:

    I was Catholic, too…guess I should stop blaming the family for no toys…seems like it was general policy. (:

  15. evmaroon permalink
    July 10, 2010 11:28 am

    @studentinmyclassroom: I used to make believe there was magic in the Mass, too! And then I joined the children’s chorus and service got a lot more interesting. But it was tough to have an hour-long “no play” time every week.

  16. July 10, 2010 1:04 pm

    @evmaroon: I did dabble in the choir a bit to break up the monotony. I was also really jealous of my five brothers who were all altar boys. Glad to see girls finally get to participate nowadays.

  17. evmaroon permalink
    July 10, 2010 1:38 pm

    @studentinmyclassroom: when I told my pastor that I wanted to be a priest when I grew up, he told me God didn’t plan it out that way. but no way was I interested in being a bride of Jesus. I told him I’d just switch to Episcopalian. he didn’t like that workaround, either.

  18. aliciamaud permalink
    July 10, 2010 1:55 pm

    My friend’s priest got in some hot water because he gave a sermon about a conversation with his niece in which she told him when she grew up she wanted to be either a priest or a Spice Girl, and he encouraged her and told her that maybe she wouldn’t have to choose. I LOVE him.

  19. July 10, 2010 5:34 pm

    Colorforms!!! I had Rainbow Brite colorforms. Also, maybe Rainbow Brite shrinky dinks. I don’t think I was THAT big of a fan of Rainbow Brite to sustain so many product toys, I think it was just of all the ‘girls section’ choices, she was non-pastel and less princessy, so I went with her. Years later, the rainbow jokes just ripen and fall of the branch, I don’t even bother to touch them.

    I was not allowed any sort of outside item in church, at least over the age of 5 when most of my memories start, so at an early age, I learned how to sit quietly and stare at a person talking while going far, far, far away in my imagination. I also used to read other stories in the Bible, which I remember my mother not being especially pleased that I was reading and not listening, but it was hard to get too upset at a quiet, non-fidgeting child who was reading the Bible.

  20. July 10, 2010 6:18 pm

    I told him I’d just switch to Episcopalian. he didn’t like that workaround, either.


  21. July 11, 2010 11:07 am

    I was raised Presbyterian, and I’m still not sure what that really means btw, and there was no way in hell my grandmother would let me take any kind of toy into church. So I amused myself with drawing and writing stories on that week’s missal and offeratory envelopes. those little golf pencils that they provided were great for a child’s hands.

    I wouldn’t have even wanted to take my “good” toys. Just, like, my Magnadoodle or something.

    When I was raising some young kids (my partner’s neice and nephew), their grandmother decided she wanted them to go to church (they’d never been near a church) and quickly learned that Anglican services are not 4-year-old friendly. We made a custom Book of Common Prayer for each of the kids (with appropriate language and pictures for their ages). Somehow we worked Lightning McQueen into the 4-year-olds…it was kinda awesome. They were allowed to color, and since “Nanny”(me) liked reading, they liked sitting in the back pews and playing word games (see if you can find the word “thou” everytime the priest says it). Plus I turned all the standing-sitting-kneeling-genuflecting into a head, shoulders, knees, and toes for Jesus kinda thing.

  22. badhedgehog permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:26 am

    We weren’t a churchgoing family, at all. The quiet toys would be got out at home whenever there were visitors, though, and actually I liked playing with quiet toys just on my own anyway. I was kind of a quiet, good, kid. Actually, thinking about it, most of my toys were quiet, bar the typewriter, which was NOT quiet. I’m not even sure I did voices for my dolls.

    I has something that was like Colorforms but different — you laid the cutout shapes on the background and then smoothed a clear plastic layer over the top of everything to make it stick. Until you described Colorforms I had completely forgotten about them, and I’ve been trying to shake out the memory of what they were called and which set I had. I think it might have been a historic/fairytale theme. I remember I had a Fuzzy Felt farm with all the animals and a fence and a tractor. I also had a cheap off brand version of the Magnadoodle, but I never had an Etch-A-Sketch.

    I had hours of fun with the Spirograph. You had to use a decent ballpoint pen to get good results — many an otherwise perfect pattern was marred by a little splart of biro ink.


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