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.
Children have played with miniature versions of vehicles since ancient times, with toy two-wheeled carts being depicted on ancient Greek vases. Wind-up toys have also played a part in the advancement of toy vehicles. Modern equivalents include toy cars such as those produced by Matchbox or Hot Wheels, miniature aircraft, toy boats, military vehicles, and trains. Examples of the latter range from wooden sets for younger children such as BRIO to more complicated realistic train models like those produced by Lionel, Doepke and Hornby. Larger die-cast vehicles, 1:18 scale, have become popular toys; these vehicles are produced with a great attention to detail.
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.
Research on the repercussions of gender in toys suggests that play should be encouraged to be more gender neutral in order to work towards a desegregation of the genders. Too, researcher Carol Auster and Claire Mansbach promote that allowing children to play with toys which more closely fit their talents would help them to better develop their skills. In terms of parental influence, a study found that parents who demonstrated some androgynous behavior have higher scores in support, warmth, and self-worth in regards to the treatment of their children. Even as this debate is evolving and children are becoming more inclined to cross barriers in terms of gender with their toys, girls are typically more encouraged to do so than boys because of the societal value of masculinity.
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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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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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.
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"Age compression" is a toy industry term that describes the modern trend of children moving through play stages faster than they did in the past. Children have a desire to progress to more complex toys at a faster pace, girls in particular. Barbie dolls, for example, were once marketed to girls around 8 years old but have been found to be more popular in recent years with girls around 3 years old. The packaging for the dolls labels them appropriate for ages 3 and up. Boys, in contrast, apparently enjoy toys and games over a longer timespan, gravitating towards toys that meet their interest in assembling and disassembling mechanical toys, and toys that "move fast and things that fight". An industry executive points out that girls have entered the "tween" phase by the time they are 8 years old and want non-traditional toys, whereas boys have been maintaining an interest in traditional toys until they are 12 years old, meaning the traditional toy industry holds onto their boy customers for 50% longer than their girl customers.
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