Kids Unplugged: Kendama and Other Old-School Toys

A hole has opened up somewhere in the universe, and I have a hunch that any minute now, fire is going to rain down upon us or a comet will strike the Earth. Why am I feeling especially apocalyptic today? Something strange has happened, and I’m pretty sure it signifies the end of the universe.

In a world of apps and electronics, it’s rare you see kids clamoring for “the newest toy” that isn’t technologically related. But now, due to some strange reversal in the cosmos, the latest gadget all the kiddies want is this thing.

kendama 1

The Kendama is a wooden Japanese toy that dates back to as early as 1777. To play with a Kendama, the ball is jerked or swung and caught in one of the cups or caught on the spike. More advanced tricks involve sequential catches, juggles and balances. The toy has been around in varying forms all over the world and presumably was invented to teach children, particularly children who lived in societies that hunted for food, good hand/eye coordination. (I hear good hand/eye coordination is necessary if you have to be a real life Katniss, too.)

Now the Kendama has taken off like wildfire, and if they haven’t already, your kids will soon ask you for one — but be happy when they do. Even if the Kendama is just the next fad toy — a close cousin of POGs, Skip-It or Troll Dolls — we should take advantage of it while it lasts. The game is fun and takes focus. I tried it. My Kendama skills are somewhere below perfect and hovering only slightly above totally pathetic. Children pointed and laughed. What I like best about the Kendama is that it really does teach concentration, balance and fine motor skills.


Hasbro’s games and puzzles division has suffered with the advent of more technologically advanced toys and apps for kids. The Kendama isn’t supposed to be popular, but it’s hanging in there with other rebel games like Settlers of Catan which is still triumphantly well-liked despite having no electronic components.

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On occasion, toy companies reach into the vault of bygone kid stuff, revamp something and bring it back from the dead. Klutz’s Cat’s Cradle book is still a big deal, and I hear Strawberry Shortcake is into leggings and baby doll dresses now. Other times they take a chance on a simple but new game like Bananagrams — and it works.

Kendama 3

Other toys have staying power due to their simplicity. Lincoln Logs survive because it’s fun to build stuff and little kids can chew on them without the threat of lead poisoning or electrocution — not that toddlers are particularly diligent about assessing these factors before tasting a Lincoln Log, but the point is worth making.

So is the Kendama a passing fad or are other non-electronic toys soon to follow? Here are some others you might want to keep your eye on.

Floating Ball Game

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So the name could use a little marketing help, but we can’t say that they’re not accurate. Bernoulli’s Principle disguised as a toy. Genius. Kids blow into the end of the 6″ pipe to try to get the ball to rise up and hover in the air. I think the Floating Ball Game might take off solely for the fact that it looks cool and lends itself to competitions. Who can get the ball highest or up in the air for the longest time? Though this one also might induce fainting spells.

Tinker Toys

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Tinker Toys is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and in honor of the occasion, they’ve gotten all gussied up. It used to be that the wooden toys were a blast, until you stepped on a wayward wooden dowel and impaled your foot. The new bendable plastic version, put out by K’Nex, won’t break off in anyone’s foot, and all of the pieces snap together holding them more firmly in place. Tinker Toys also come in new colors, and the sets include a little driver to command any vehicle your child dreams up.

Cabbage Patch Kids

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My Cabbage Patch doll’s name was KC, and I loved her until my mom sold her at a garage sale without my approval. I was heartbroken. This is a long-standing grudge. Seriously, I can forgive some things but not that. Apparently other people missed their plastic yarn-headed buddies too, and now the Cabbage Patch Kids are back, albeit with a wardrobe that is far more worthy of Pinterest than it used to be.

We love geeking out with electronic toys at Nerdy With Children. But in the spirit of less screen time, everything in moderation, environmental friendliness, nostalgia or just because these toys are fun, it might be worth paying attention to items on the birthday wish list that look like they fell out of Grandma’s toy chest and into 2013.


  1. Kendama UK

    Hi, the Kendama parts image in this post is copyrighted (the original image exists here:

    Please remove it

    Kendama UK

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