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.
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Another study done by Jeffrey Trawick-Smith took 60 different children ages three to four and observed them playing with nine different toys deemed best for development. They were allowed to play with the toys in a typical environment, a preschool classroom, which allowed for the results to be more authentic compared to research done in a lab. The researchers then quantified play quality of the children with each toy based on factors such as learning, problem solving, curiosity, creativity, imagination, and peer interaction. The results revealed that boys generally received higher scores for overall play quality than girls, and the toys with the best play quality were those identified as the most gender neutral, such as building blocks and bricks along with pieces modeling people. Trawick-Smith then concluded that the study encourages a focus on toys which are beneficial to both genders in order to create a better balance.
In addition, children from differing communities may treat their toys in different ways based on their cultural practices. Children in more affluent communities may tend to be possessive of their toys, while children from poorer communities may be more willing to share and interact more with other children. The importance the child places on possession is dictated by the values in place within the community that the children observe on a daily basis.
Toys became more widespread with the changing attitudes towards children engendered by the Enlightenment. Children began to be seen as people in and of themselves, as opposed to extensions of their household and that they had a right to flourish and enjoy their childhood. The variety and number of toys that were manufactured during the 18th century steadily rose; John Spilsbury invented the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767 to help children learn geography. He created puzzles on eight themes – the World, Europe, Asia, Africa, America, England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland. The rocking horse (on bow rockers) was developed at the same time in England, especially with the wealthy as it was thought to develop children's balance for riding real horses.
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