Children with toys
ChildreN wiTh ToyS
Maggie Koong and Jessie M. S. Wong, OMEP Hong Kong - China
Toys are an important part of every child’s life. Toys are dened as any objects that children
used in their play(Trawick-Smith, Wolff, Koschel, & Vallarelli, 2015). They may be items
designed for such use or materials that are usually intended for other purposes. Research in
early childhood settings has revealed that 90% of young children’s play involves toys(Tizzard,
Phelps, & Plewis, 1976).
Importance of Toys in Early Childhood Development
A substantial body of research(e.g., Else, 2009; Pellegrini & Jones, 1994; Singer, 1994;
Trawick-Smith et al., 2015) has shown the importance of play in young children’s physical,
social and intellectual development. An integral part of children’s play, incorporating the right
toys at an early age helps promote development and decreases the chances of developmental
delays(Dauch, Imwalle, Ocasio, & Metz, 2018). Toys may serve as context and inuence the
nature and content of play(Pellegrini & Jones, 1994). For instance, a child is more likely to play
chef than to play doctor if s/he is given a pretend-play cooking set. More realistic toys that
represent common objects in the home are often needed by very young children in order to
facilitate imaginative thought and engage in make-believe play, even though such dependence
decreases as their language and thinking develop(Singer, 1994).
Children’s different styles of play also inuence how toys, as resources, are used. Children
seem to exhibit most sophisticated forms of play when they interact with toys they prefer
and with children and adults they will encounter regularly. In this sense, toys do not just
have a unidirectional effect on young children; rather, toys and the social environment a
child experiences form a “contextual matrix” that inuences her/his behavior, development,
and learning(Pellegrini & Jones, 1994). Trawick-Smith et al.(2015) assert that toys should
be carefully chosen in early childhood classrooms to match the play needs and interests of
children so as to promote high quality and meaningful play.
A Brief History of Toys
The origin of toys is prehistoric. The oldest children’s toys found to date are thought to be 4,500
years old(“Magical new 4,500 year old nd,” 2017). Dolls representing infants, animals, and
soldiers, as well as representations of tools used by adults are readily found at archaeological
sites. The earliest-known written historical mention of a toy comes from about 500 BC in
a Greek reference to yo-yos made from wood, metal, or painted terra-cotta. It is believed,
however, that the earliest form of yo-yo originated in China as early as 1000 BC(Winner,
Until the end of the Middle Ages, most toys were made at home with materials found in
nature, such as rocks, sticks, and clay(Chrisp, 1996). Although some of the homemade toys
were sold at fairs, it was during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution that toys
became more widespread and commercially available. The development of machinery and
new materials gave rise to different varieties of toys that were not previously seen. More
complex mechanical and optics-based toys, such as magic lanterns and kaleidoscopes, were
invented. Educational toys like puzzles and religious toys depicting biblical stories were
also available(Chrisp, 1996; Turner, 2010). In fact, some of the toys that are still popular
today, such as Plasticine and toy trains, started out in the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-
century(Chrisp, 1996; BBC & The British Museum, 2014; Turner, 2010).
Transformation of Toys: 1948 vs. 2018
The end of the World War II saw the rapid development of the toy industry in the West.
Commercial toys started being mass produced in plastic and metal, allowing toys become
much cheaper and common(Chrisp, 1996). As shown in the pictures on the following pages,
construction sets such as Lego bricks and Lincoln Logs were quite popular in early childhood
settings in the 1940s.
In spite of Western commodication, in many countries, a variety of folk or homemade
toys could still be found and reected the child’s cultural environment. For example, hemp
bags were repurposed as toys by children in Brazil, while traditional cooking ingredients and
utensils were played by children in Korea.
Following the increase in popularity of lms and TV shows, the rapid globalization, and
Children with toys
the advent of new technologies, the nature of the concept of toy around the globe has
changed considerably over the last decades(Chrisp, 1996; Turner, 2010; Yelland, 1999).
Today, commercial toys are most often played by young children in both developed and the
developing countries. In 2016, toy sales in the U.S. rose 5% from the previous year, totaling
26.5 billion U.S. dollars(The Toy Association, 2016). Meanwhile, the global toys and games
market had a sales value of 83 billion U.S. dollars(Statistica, 2018).
Digital toys integrating multimedia materials in traditional toys, computers, tablets, and even
smartphones with games installed have also become largely prevalent as toys for young
children. On one hand, these toys help bridge the digital with the physical world, providing
children unique and possibly educational experiences(Cheng, Hu, & Yip, 2013; Yilmaz, 2016).
On the other hand, as pointed out by Sutton-Smith(1994), toys nowadays seem to promote
the “domestication of play” and “solitariness of childhood”, turning play from being social,
collective, and public to being private, personal and solitary. Despite the controversy, research
across cultures(e.g., Chau, Wong, & Li, 2011; Cheng et al., 2013; Edwards, 2013; Yilmaz, 2016)
has shown that these toys can be effectively used in early childhood settings for educational
purposes if opportunities for collaborative and interactive learning with peers and teachers are
Although the above review shows many changes in what toys have been made of, how they
have been produced and what they have been able to do throughout decades, the fact that
children play with toys still holds true today. We hope you nd the pictures of children playing
with toys on the following pages interesting and useful.
Maggie Koong and Jessie M. S. Wong,
OMEP Hong Kong - China
BBC, & The British Museum.(2014). A history of the world - Object: Plasticine. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.
Chau, L. N. L., Wong, J. M. S., & Li, H.(2011). Hong Kong kindergartens in the Web 2.0 era: Practices, problems and
prospects. In R. Kahn & S. Mazur(Eds.), Educational studies and school(pp. 273-286). Los Angeles: Department
of Education, Antioch University.
Cheng, Y. L., Hu, X., & Yip, C. H.(2013). Using tablet computer in the early childhood education: The experience in
Hong Kong [in Chinese]. Hong Kong Journal of Early Childhood, 12(1), 29-36.
Chrisp, P.(1996). History of toys and games. East Sussex, UK: Wayland.
Dauch, C., Imwalle, M., Ocasio, B., & Metz, A. E.(2018). The inuence of the number of toys in the environment
on toddlers’ play. Infant Behavior and Development, 50, 78-87.
Edwards, S.(2013). Digital play in the early years: A contextual response to the problem of integrating technologies
and play-based pedagogies in the early childhood curriculum. European Early Childhood Education Research
Journal, 21(2), 199-212. doi: 10.1080/1350293X.2013.789190
Else, P.(2009). The value of play. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Magical new 4,500 year old nds add to ‘oldest toy collection in the world’.(2017, December 28). The Siberian Times.
Retrieved from: http://www.siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/magical-new-4500-year-old-nds-
Pellegrini, A. D., & Jones, I.(1994). Play, toys, and language. In J. H. Goldstein(Ed.), Toys, play, and child development(pp.
27-45). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Singer, J. L.(1994). Imaginative play and adaptive development. In J. H. Goldstein(Ed.), Toys, play, and child
development(pp. 6-26). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Statistica.(2018). Sales value of the traditional toys and games market worldwide 2015-2017. Retrieved from: https://
Sutton-Smith, B.(1994). Does play prepare the future? In J. H. Goldstein(Ed.), Toys, play, and child development(pp. 130-
146). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The Toy Association.(2016). Annual U.S. sales data. Retrieved from: http://www.toyassociation.org/ta/research/
Tizzard, B., Phelps, J., & Plewis, L.(1976). Play in preschool centres: Play measures and their relation to age, sex, and
IQ. Jour nal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 251-264.
Trawick-Smith, J., Wolff, J., Koschel, M., & Vallarelli, J.(2015). Effects of toys on the play quality of preschool
children: Inuence of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43(4), 249-
256. doi: 10.1007/s10643-014-0644-7.
Turner, K.(2010, February 24). History of toys [Web log post]. Retrieved from: http://greenfrogtoys.com/
Winner, T.(2017, May 8). Out of this world: A brief history of the yo-yo [Web log post]. Retrieved from: http://
Yelland, N.(1999). Technology as play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 26(4), 217-220. doi.: 10.1023/
Yilmaz, R. M.(2016). Educational magic toys developed with augmented reality technology for early childhood
education. Computers in Human Behavior, 54(2016), 240-248. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.040
Children with toys