In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Toys

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals

Childhood Studies Toys
Jeffrey H. Goldstein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0133


Toys are found in virtually every culture and are among the oldest known artifacts. Toys have been a source of inspiration for literature, theater, dance, film, and music, created by and for adults and children. There is a long history of toys that speak or come to life, including The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881), Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (1892), Laurel and Hardy’s Babes in Toyland (1934), and the Toy Story films (1995–2010). Some contemporary American and Japanese films are based on modern-day toys, such as Battleship, a 2012 film based on the board game, and the Action Man, Barbie, and Transformers series of films. Such fictional representations of toys are not included in this article, where the focus is on objects used in play, their history, manufacture, and uses. The article is organized into three main sections. Making Toys, which includes homemade toys and mass-manufactured toys, begins with historical references. Reflecting the size of the literature, there are separate sections on dolls and board games. The toy industry is both a subject of scholarly analysis as well as a source of information about toys and play; there is also a section on toy design. Using Toys contains scholarly works on toys in child development, language, and child psychotherapy. The widely observed differences in boys’ and girls’ toy preferences and styles of play are traditionally thought to arise from social and peer influences and marketing, but recent research with nonhuman primates suggests a biological basis for the observed sex differences. War play and toy guns have frequently engendered controversy, which is reflected in a number of studies and essays. Likewise, the role of technology in toys and games, including video games, generates heated discussion. Issues include the age-appropriateness of technology, the stereotypic portrayal of women and minorities, and the effects of violence. The application and adaption of new play technologies in education, health, and science is a burgeoning field. Studying Toys cites research that uses toys as tools, for example as psychological measuring instruments. Toy museums and museums with important toy collections are listed. The article ends with a sample of parental guidebooks for selecting appropriate toys for children. The focus is on publications in English, but a smattering in other languages is included.

General Overviews

Books, chapters, and articles about toys can sometimes be found in publications and online resources devoted to “play,” such as Carlisle 2009, an encyclopedic reference work on play, and Mergen 1982, a reference guide. Many research-based publications about play include sections on toys, including Power 2000, an overview of play research, and Smith 2010, a textbook on children’s play. Girveau and Charles 2011; Goldstein, et al. 2004; and Scott 2010 are among the works with broad coverage of toys. Sources devoted to “child development” and “early childhood education” may occasionally refer to toys. In these works, toys are subsumed under the broader topics of play, education, or child development.

  • Carlisle, Rodney P., ed. Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society. 2 vols. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781412971935

    NNNMore than 450 brief alphabetical entries written by 130 authors. Relevant to toys are articles on individual toys and on toys and child development.

  • Girveau, Bruno, and Dorothée Charles, eds. Des jouets et des hommes. Paris: Editions de la RMN-Grand Palais, 2011.

    NNNThis attractive, illustrated book was part of a 2012 Paris exhibition on the history of toys. The book features essays by leading scholars, such as Gilles Brougère, Stephen Kline, and Michel Manson. An appendix contains a list of the 745 displayed items; indexes of the inventors, designers, and manufacturers who created the toys; and an impressive bibliography.

  • Goldstein, Jeffrey, David Buckingham, and Gilles Brougère, eds. Toys, Games, and Media. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

    NNNThe 14 chapters are divided into three sections: toy culture (toy trends, educational toys, war toys), digital play (the Internet, video games), and technology (“smart toys,” children’s use of new technology). Contributors include Mark Allen, Doris Bergen, Ellen Seiter, Lydia Plowan, and Christine R. Yano. Foreword by Brian Sutton-Smith.

  • Kuznets, Lois Rostow. When Toys Come Alive: Narratives of Animation, Metamorphosis, and Development. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994.

    NNNUsing a variety of critical approaches, including feminist theory, Winnicott play analysis, and structuralism, Kuznets focuses on toy characters in European and American stories written for children and adults and their relation to deep human needs, desires, and fears.

  • Mergen, Bernard. Play and Playthings: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982.

    NNNA scholarly guide to children’s play in America, from colonial times to the 20th century. Includes biographical and autobiographical sources, a bibliography of scholarly research, and a description of major research collections.

  • Power, Thomas G. Play and Exploration in Children and Animals. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000.

    NNNAn excellent summary of human and animal play research.

  • Scott, Sharon M. Toys and American Culture: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2010.

    NNNMore than 150 alphabetical entries trace toy developments across the 20th century. In addition to the history of popular toys, such as Hot Wheels, Beanie Babies, and the Easy-Bake Oven, there are entries on designers, companies, and publications from 1900 to 2000. Most entries include references to books, articles, and websites.

  • Smith, Peter K. Children and Play. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    NNNAn overview of psychological research on play. Suitable as a textbook on play and child development.

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