Toys today in southern Italy are completely different from the past. They are more technological and require kids to program or connect to a device such as a play station, PC games, mobile and other tech gadgets. Kids in southern Italy are different to the ones I was associated with in my younger days. I remember when kids would play outdoors and socialise. They would play with balls, boules, the typical mini spinning top, puppets, and best of all, they were hand-made.
I am sure there are many of you who are nostalgic about the past when it comes to toys. Those little things gave us such joy as we really appreciated them. Nowadays, most kids rarely go outdoors. I always see them either playing with their phones or the play station. When I go into my husband’s niece and nephew’s room, it seems more like a space station than a bedroom.
Besides, the computers, play station, tablets and mobile phones, there is an array of robotic toys that need to be programmed. It is great that kids have these toys but they are rather expensive. What happened to these hand-made toys that you could buy from skilled craftsmen for little money? The skill that went into them and not only that, they would also last for years.
Skilfully crafted toys
My mother-in-law has kept some of my Sicilian husband’s toys. She could not throw them away and rightly so. These toys were crafted in such a way that today I am afraid it would be impossible to create unless this skill was passed on. Sadly, many of these toy shops have closed making way for giant toy stores that only produce mass electronic ones. I would like to tell you a little about some of these toys from the past.
The most popular one in southern Italy was the trottola. (spinning top) This carefully crafted wooden toy is in the form of a spinning top. Kids would wrap a cord around it and then launch it in the street to see how far it would go and watch it spin. It gave them such joy as they were colourful to look at when spinning. This wooden toy is carved, shaped like a cone, and then hand-painted.
Perhaps, some people today still have them and keep them as a memory like my mother-in law did. It would be a crime to throw away something like that. As we know, we should never throw anything away but perhaps pass it on to other kids who may also have this pleasure of playing with the trottola.
The other toy is boules (bocce). The metal-coloured balls are rather heavy to carry and thus you should lower your back when rolling them. There are usually 2 or 3 in a team and each person has to roll theirs. The one who rolls the furthest is the winner. This is a great outdoor game and quite honestly, this game is similar to our bowling game played in a green. A wonderful opportunity to be outside and socialise with others.
Nowadays, kids seem to play alone as some of these games today only allow them to play virtually. The other toys were puppets. This was a great opportunity for kids to watch puppet shows such as Orlando Furioso. They could learn the history through these puppets. Luckily, you can still see these puppet shows and many small museums in Sicily preserve them such as the famous pupi. (The Sicilian puppets). You can read more here about them.
The costumes are bright and colourful and have been carefully designed for these puppets. As we know puppets have strings attached to the back of them, so the puppeteer can control them and entertain the kids. I remember attending a few of these shows even as a young adult. Many puppeteers are trying to hold onto this tradition. The most popular puppet in the past was Pinocchio. A true favourite for many Italian kids.
Ball games have always been a favourite and luckily, there are still some kids who play with them today. However, this is also becoming rare. Kids in the past in southern Italy played in the streets even with their ball. Today, there is not enough space as well as many passing cars. Perhaps, this is also the reason why they play at home.
However, it is great that many mayors in the small towns of southern Italy are creating more green areas and parks. Space has always been a problem in this part of Italy. You can just picture the scene in the past, parents sitting outside in the street on wooden chairs while the kids play happily around them kicking a ball.
Playing with toys outside
So, I really believe that these toys my husband kept are a thing of the past. Probably soon all the toys will be robotic in some way. I hope that kids will also remember to play and socialise outside as we are living in this world of technology that requires them in some way to be connected to a device. Who knows perhaps those devices will also be portable so they can play with them outside?
The climate in southern Italy allows them to play for hours well into the late evening, especially during the summer. Most kids have three months holiday and need toys to keep them entertained. There are those who are lucky to go to a wonderful beach resort for one month where they can swim and play tennis or beach volley. Then there are others who have to stay near their home, perhaps, playing with a ball. You can read about things to do in Calabria for kids here.