Children like to play and toys are often used. Throughout history, toys were used in accordance with the cultural and contextual aspects of life. They were, and still are, tools that help children interact with the world and learn to live in society as they grow up. There are a variety of toys that have been designed throughout the eons, some by adults and many by kids themselves. As such some toys are made of a variety of materials as well, form wood and paper to clay or plastic.
Imitating life and parents
It is known that children learn by imitating adults and recent archaeological research into children’s lives in the past suggests that they played with miniature tools that the parents used in everyday life. In some cases, it may be difficult to accurately identify toy tools from ceremonial ones, but on closer inspections, actual prehistoric toys have been found in the forms of smaller weapons, baskets, or tools. Clay or wood figurines were also uncovered that suggests children or adults modeled toys to resemble the world they lived in and the animals they encountered.
Apart from playing with sticks, stones, or mini adult tools, children in ancient times played with some more elaborate toys. In the Indus Valley, string pulled carts and animals have been unearthed, fashioned out of stone, sticks, and clay. Ancient Egyptians created dolls for their children, that had moveable limbs and wings. Egypt is one of those cultures that archaeologists have a difficult time identifying ceremonial artifacts from toys especially when uncovered from tombs since Ancient Egyptian funeral rites focused on the afterlife and ritual objects.
Ancient Greek and Roman children spend time playing with terracotta dolls, toy weapons, and yo-yos. It was customary to offer these child playthings as a sacrifice to the gods upon reaching adult life.
Modern concerns and the advent of consumerism
As the industrial revolution progressed human technological advancement also brought a slew of new innovative toys. The jig-saw puzzle invented in 1767 helped children learn geography as the puzzles themselves featured various geographic locations. Children from upper classes played with rocking horses and it was believed to help them develop a sense of balance for when they will ride actual live horses.
Children often played with hoops which expanded their hand to eye coordination. Educational purposes were a factor in designing certain games and toys for this period. As in previous ages, the growth of young minds seems to be constant. Along with puzzles and card games, other intriguing toys were made like kaleidoscopic magic lanterns depicting flora, fauna, and famous buildings around the world.
The industrial revolution also crystalized consumerism with more products being developed, innovated, and sold for profit. This in turn extended to manufacturing more colorful toys. In the Victorian age, Christmas became increasingly popular and the celebrations included placing toys under the Christmas tree for children. Lead painted toys in combination with small children that have a habit of licking and nibbling objects they play with, ultimately poisoned and damaged their nervous system as they grew.
Recent years saw a boom for the toy industry with even more new designs and innovative ideas and the discovery of plasticine in 1897 by William Harbutt. With this ever-greater production and advertisements crafted to appeal to young children, new problems arise that concern manipulation of young minds. Apart from that, toys have become a staple in popular culture as fans buy toys for collection purposes.
There is much to be said about the influence of toys on children, like the fact that society often swoops in to interject some norm to fit an agenda as some toys may be labeled as girly. The baby doll comes to mind, a doll seemingly geared to project the idea of women as primary childcarers. Or the Barbie doll with impossible body standards that creates a dissociation into young girl’s minds about healthy body image. On the other, male-centered toys come in the shape of toy soldiers, tanks, or trains as if to encourage aggression. Pushing such divides between genders is not healthy and can damage people’s perspective on life, instead of embracing play-time as a strict child activity with fewer societal interferences from adult views.
Children playing with tiny tools and weapons in antiquity could suggest that this helped them better understand and grasp certain adult activities they might have to perform as they grew. Getting them acquainted and comfortable in using toy tools acted as a form of learning and integrated them slowly in the household chores and responsibilities. Progressively throughout the years, toys and playtime turned its attention into a different kind of education, that did not involve crafting tools and weapons, but more about slotting children intro certain societal norms while teaching them morals and expanding their vocabulary.
Arriving at the threshold of modern sensibilities, the educational values of using toys are not to be ignored but at the same time, empathy and inclusivity are also attitudes that must be embraced.