A toy is an item that is used in play, especially one designed for such use. Playing with toys can be an enjoyable means of training young children for life in society. Different materials like wood, clay, paper, and plastic are used to make toys. Many items are designed to serve as toys, but goods produced for other purposes can also be used. For instance, a small child may fold an ordinary piece of paper into an airplane shape and "fly it". Newer forms of toys include interactive digital entertainment. Some toys are produced primarily as collectors' items and are intended for display only.
A doll is a model of a human (often a baby), a humanoid (like Bert and Ernie), or an animal. Modern dolls are often made of cloth or plastic. Other materials that are, or have been, used in the manufacture of dolls include cornhusks, bone, stone, wood, porcelain (sometimes called china), bisque, celluloid, wax, and even apples. Often people will make dolls out of whatever materials are available to them.
Blowing bubbles from leftover washing up soap became a popular pastime, as shown in the painting The Soap Bubble (1739) by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Other popular toys included hoops, toy wagons, kites, spinning wheels and puppets. The first board games were produced by John Jefferys in the 1750s, including A Journey Through Europe. The game was very similar to modern board games; players moved along a track with the throw of a dice (a teetotum was actually used) and landing on different spaces would either help or hinder the player.
In many cultures gifts are traditionally packaged in some way. For example, in Western cultures, gifts are often wrapped in wrapping paper and accompanied by a gift note which may note the occasion, the recipient's name and the giver's name. In Chinese culture, red wrapping connotes luck. Although inexpensive gifts are common among colleagues, associates and acquaintances, expensive or amorous gifts are considered more appropriate among close friends, romantic interests or relatives.
When toys have been outgrown or are no longer wanted, reuse is sometimes considered. They can be donated via many charities such as Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army, sold at garage sales, auctioned, sometimes even donated to museums. However, when toys are broken, worn out or otherwise unfit for use, care should be taken when disposing of them. Donated or resold toys should be gently used, clean and have all parts. Before disposal of any battery-operated toy, batteries should be removed and recycled; some communities demand this be done. Some manufacturers, such as Little Tikes, will take back and recycle their products.
Traditions within various cultures promote the passing down of certain toys to their children based on the child's gender. In South American Indian communities, boys receive a toy bow and arrow from their father while young girls receive a toy basket from their mother. In North African and Saharan cultural communities, gender plays a role in the creation of self-made dolls. While female dolls are used to represent brides, mothers, and wives, male dolls are used to represent horsemen and warriors. This contrast stems from the various roles of men and women within the Saharan and North African communities. There are differences in the toys that are intended for girls and boys within various cultures, which is reflective of the differing roles of men and women within a specific cultural community.
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Most children have been said to play with whatever they can find, such as sticks and rocks. Toys and games have been unearthed from the sites of ancient civilizations. They have been written about in some of the oldest literature. Toys excavated from the Indus valley civilization (3010–1500 BCE) include small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and toy monkeys which could slide down a string.
Certain toys, such as Barbie dolls and toy soldiers, are often perceived as being more acceptable for one gender than the other. The turning point for the addition of gender to toys came about in the 1960s and 1970s. Before 1975, only about two percent of toys were labeled by gender, whereas today on the Disney store's website, considered a dominating global force for toys by researcher Claire Miller, all toys are labeled by gender. The journal Sex Roles began publishing research on this topic in 1975, focusing on the effects of gender in youth. Too, many psychological textbooks began to address this new issue. Along with these publications, researchers also started to challenge the ideas of male and female as being opposites, even going as far as to claim toys which have characteristics of both gender are preferable.
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The golden age of toy development was at the turn of the 20th century. Real wages were rising steadily in the Western world, allowing even working-class families to afford toys for their children, and industrial techniques of precision engineering and mass production was able to provide the supply to meet this rising demand. Intellectual emphasis was also increasingly being placed on the importance of a wholesome and happy childhood for the future development of children. William Harbutt, an English painter, invented plasticine in 1897, and in 1900 commercial production of the material as a children's toy began. Frank Hornby was a visionary in toy development and manufacture and was responsible for the invention and production of three of the most popular lines of toys based on engineering principles in the twentieth century: Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys.
Some toys, such as Beanie Babies, attract large numbers of enthusiasts, eventually becoming collectibles. Other toys, such as Boyds Bears are marketed to adults as collectibles. Some people spend large sums of money in an effort to acquire larger and more complete collections. The record for a single Pez dispenser at auction, for example, is US$1100.
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