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.
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Having carefully considered the subject of the above discourses, and wondering within myself whether the present times were propitious to a new prince, and whether there were elements that would give an opportunity to a wise and virtuous one to introduce a new order of things which would do honour to him and good to the people of this country, it appears to me that so many things concur to favour a new prince that I never knew a time more fit than the present.
One of the simplest toys, a set of simple wooden blocks is also one of the best toys for developing minds. Andrew Witkin, director of marketing for Mega Brands told Investor's Business Daily that, "They help develop hand-eye coordination, math and science skills and also let kids be creative." Other toys like marbles, jackstones, and balls serve similar functions in child development, allowing children to use their minds and bodies to learn about spatial relationships, cause and effect, and a wide range of other skills.
Puzzles became greatly fashionable as well. In 1893, the English lawyer Angelo John Lewis, writing under the pseudonym of Professor Hoffman, wrote a book called Puzzles Old and New. It contained, amongst other things, more than 40 descriptions of puzzles with secret opening mechanisms. This book grew into a reference work for puzzle games and was very popular at the time. The Tangram puzzle, originally from China, spread to Europe and America in the 19th century.
The oldest and, perhaps most common construction toy is a set of simple wooden blocks, which are often painted in bright colors and given to babies and toddlers. Construction sets such as Lego bricks and Lincoln Logs are designed for slightly older children and have been quite popular in the last century. Construction sets appeal to children (and adults) who like to work with their hands, puzzle solvers, and imaginative sorts.
The origin of toys is prehistoric; dolls representing infants, animals, and soldiers, as well as representations of tools used by adults are readily found at archaeological sites. The origin of the word "toy" is unknown, but it is believed that it was first used in the 14th century. Toys are mainly made for children. The oldest known doll toy is thought to be 4,000 years old.
While some parents promote gender neutral play, many parents encourage their sons and daughters to participate in sex-typed activities, including doll playing and engaging in housekeeping activities for girls and playing with trucks and engaging in sports activities for boys. Researcher Susan Witt said that parents are the primary influencer on the gender roles of their children. Parents, siblings, peers, and even teachers have been shown to react more positively to children engaging in sex-typical behavior and playing with sex-typical toys. This is often done through encouragement or discouragement, as well as suggestions and imitation. Additionally, sons are more likely to be reinforced for sex-typical play and discouraged from atypical play. However, it is generally not as looked down upon for females to play with toys designed "for boys", an activity which has also become more common in recent years. Fathers are also more likely to reinforce typical play and discourage atypical play than mothers are. A study done by researcher Susan Witt suggests that stereotypes are oftentimes only strengthened by the environment, which perpetuates them to linger in older life.
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