By Michele Herenstein

I was pretty surprised last week when I started discussing Little House on the Prairie and the girl I was talking to had never seen the show. Little House on the Prairie was and will always be, for me, the best TV show ever created. If you want to know about manners and values and chores and spunkiness, this is the show for you. And it’s fun, too.

Recently I saw online that one can make Little House-themed birthday parties, wearing clothing from that period, eating the type of food they ate then, and playing games they played. I thought arranging such parties could be such fun, but then came to the realization that not many little kids today would have watched the show, sadly enough.

Life is so different now than it was in the days when we watched Little House. Laura, my favorite character, might get a new bonnet for a birthday present if her pa had made enough money that year. Yesterday, I heard that someone spent over $500 on Easter gifts for her niece. Does anyone need that much money spent on them for gifts? And if it’s an electronic device of some sort, there’s a good possibility they won’t even look at the other gifts.

When I was growing up, my parents had rules that may sound strict but honestly made my brothers and me into well-mannered kids with good values. There was no TV during the week, and dinner meant that the whole family ate together at 6 p.m. every night! My dad woke up super-early to get to work so he could get home early enough to spend time with us. Are there many families these days that eat together–and eat the same food? Whatever my mom served, we ate. There weren’t cries of “we won’t eat this,” or “I don’t like that.” We loved my mom’s food and ate whatever was put in front of us.

Sounds like prison? Nope! I look back and don’t remember feeling worse off for any of it. In fact, quite the opposite.

The same way the Ingalls family from Little House had exceptional manners, addressing people as “sir” and “ma’am” or “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” my siblings and I grew up saying “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” etc. It’s become habit, and sometimes I say “I’m sorry” without even thinking. For example: “I’m sorry, but could you please grab that box of cereal for me?” Like that!

I still call most of my parents’ friends “Mr.” and “Mrs.” even though I know I could have switched over to first names by now.

Kids today are often glued to their phones. Texting is their way of communicating even more than actually seeing friends in person. Or, ironically, one family member will text another who is just down the table. It has most definitely gotten out of hand.

I’ve heard of a house where the patriarch collects all phones in a basket by the front door so there can be a meal or gathering uninterrupted by chirps and twinkles and all the other sounds and lights we’ve all gotten used to in our daily lives. The adults are probably chafing at the bit.

When I was younger, there were no iPhones or iPads. I wasn’t the worse off for it because I read voraciously. I loved reading. Going to the library with my mom was such a treat. I loved leaving the library with a batch of new books and then deciding in what order to read them.

I plan on buying a hula hoop. I look out on a large courtyard, and now that the weather is nice, I feel like going back to some of the old-fashioned fun I used to have. I love the hula hoop. And hula-hooping is something kids can have fun with–without their phones. So is Hit the Penny. My mom and I would play this after I finished my homework and it was great. And no phone needed!

There’s something about physical activity and mental activity that nothing can beat. Most of you know my affection for jigsaw puzzles. I always imagine brain cells growing as I search for the right piece to put in the right place! And there are jigsaws for kids.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles might spend a lot of money on gifts, thinking the more money spent, the better a gift is. Not true. I used to own a dollhouse, and the best gift ever was a piece of furniture for the dollhouse. Not cheap, but not a camera or iPad either. I loved that dollhouse with a passion.

Collections are always good for gift-giving purposes, whether stamps, baseball cards, shells, books, or other things. I used to collect paperback books in a series. Getting just one new book in the series was an exciting day for me. Not kidding–it was such a treat.

When your belongings are basic, small things are still able to excite you. Now that I’m an adult and have an iPad, iPhone, and various other items, nothing I get really excites me anymore–except the same things that excited me when I was little. A great new book, starting an exciting, fearsome jigsaw puzzle, writing, and playing some of the old-fashioned games.

Before your children get too big and you can’t change their ways, think about what’s beneficial to their development. If you had certain “loves” as a child, try to incorporate them in your interactions with your children. Share the basic games and fun you had as a child. Old-fashioned is a good thing! Regarding iPhones and iPads, decide the amount of time you’d like them to spend on these electronics versus the fresh air and mentally stimulating activities your children can engage in.

I would suggest buying or renting the entire Little House on the Prairie series. It will open your children’s eyes to a different way of life. It is pure fun, while instilling values.

I still feel like a kid sometimes, enjoying the way things used to be, and trying to bring them to 2017. Let’s share ideas (remember playing “jacks”?) and good values–and have fun! If you see me hula-hooping, join in. Life is fun when others join in your fun. So, neighbors, share your games. Let your kids play together. Bring back the old and combine it with the new. You and your kids will be better off for it.

Michele Herenstein is a freelance journalist and can be reached at



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