The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that the future architect should play at building houses as a child.[47] A construction set is a collection of separate pieces that can be joined together to create models. Popular models to make include cars, spaceships, and houses. The things that are built are sometimes used as toys once completed, but generally speaking, the object is to build things of one's own design, and old models often are broken up and the pieces reused in new models.

A milestone for research on gender is the use of meta-analysis, which provides a way to assess patterns in a systematic way, which is especially relevant for a topic such as gender, which can be difficult to quantify.[27] Nature and nurture have historically been analyzed when looking at gender in play, as well as reinforcement by peers and parents of typical gender roles and consequently, gender play.[27] Toy companies have often promoted the segregation by gender in toys because it enables them to customize the same toy for each gender, which ultimately doubles their revenue. For example, Legos added more colors to certain sets of toys in the 1990s, including colors commonly attributed to girls such as lavender.[28]
Girls gravitate towards "music, clothes, make-up, television talent shows and celebrities". As young children are more exposed to and drawn to music intended for older children and teens, companies are having to rethink how they develop and market their products.[24] Girls also demonstrate a longer loyalty to characters in toys and games marketed towards them.[25] A variety of global toy companies have marketed themselves to this aspect of girls' development, for example, the Hello Kitty brand, and the Disney Princess franchise. Boys have shown an interest in computer games at an ever-younger age in recent years.
"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.[23] 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.[23]
There have also been issues of toy safety regarding lead paint. Some toy factories, when projects become too large for them to handle, outsource production to other less known factories, often in other countries. Recently, there were some in China that America had to send back. The subcontractors may not be watched as closely and sometimes use improper manufacturing methods. The U.S. government, along with mass market stores, is now moving towards requiring companies to submit their products to testing before they end up on shelves.[51]
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However, in other cultures, toys are used to expand the development of a child's cognition in an idealistic fashion. In these communities, adults place the value of play with toys to be on the aspirations they set forth for their child. In the Western culture, the Barbie and Action-Man represent lifelike figures but in an imaginative state out of reach from the society of these children and adults. These toys give way to a unique world in which children's play is isolated and independent of the social constraints placed on society leaving the children free to delve into the imaginary and idealized version of what their development in life could be.[18]
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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.

Digital toys are toys that incorporate some form of interactive digital technology.[49] Examples of digital toys include virtual pets and handheld electronic games. Among the earliest digital toys are Mattel Auto Race and the Little Professor, both released in 1976. The concept of using technology in a way that bridges the digital with the physical world, providing unique interactive experiences for the user has also been referred to as "Phygital."[50]

After the Second World War as society became ever more affluent and new technology and materials (plastics) for toy manufacture became available, toys became cheap and ubiquitous in households across the Western World. Among the more well known products of the 1950s there was the Danish company Lego's line of colourful interlocking plastic brick construction sets, Rubik's Cube, Mr. Potato Head, the Barbie doll and Action Man.[15] Today there are computerized dolls that can recognize and identify objects, the voice of their owner, and choose among hundreds of pre-programmed phrases with which to respond.[16] The materials that toys are made from have changed, what toys can do has changed, but the fact that children play with toys has not.
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.[3]

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