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Traditional wooden Channapatna toys from India
A boy with a hoop. Hoops have long been a popular toy across a variety of cultures.

A toy is any item that can be used for play. Toys are generally played with by children and pets. Playing with toys is an enjoyable means of training the young for life in society. Different materials are used to make toys enjoyable to both young and old. Many items are designed to serve as toys, but goods produced for other purposes can also be used. For instance, a small child may pick up a household item and "fly" it through the air as to pretend that it is an airplane. Another consideration is interactive digital entertainment. Some toys are produced primarily as collector's items and are intended for display only.

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, and play in general, are important when it comes to growing up and learning about the world around us. The young use toys and play to discover their identity, help their bodies grow strong, learn cause and effect, explore relationships, and practice skills they will need as adults. Adults use toys and play to form and strengthen social bonds, teach, remember and reinforce lessons from their youth, discover their identity, exercise their minds and bodies, explore relationships, practice skills, and decorate their living spaces.


A display of Roman toys, including several that would be familiar to children today: a doll, dice, rattles, and toy dishes for playing house
Little horse on wheels, Ancient Greek child's toy. From a tomb dating 950-900 BCE, Kerameikos Archaeological Museum, Athens

Most young humans have been said to play with whatever they can find, such as pine cones and rocks. Toys and games have been unearthed from the sites of ancient civilizations. They have been written about in some of our oldest literature. Toys excavated from the Indus valley civilization (3000-1500 BCE) include small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and toy monkeys which could slide down a string.

The earliest toys were made from materials found in nature, such as rocks, sticks, and clay. Thousands of years ago, Egyptian children played with dolls that had wigs and movable limbs which were made from stone, pottery, and wood. In Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, children played with dolls made of wax or terracotta, sticks, bows and arrows, and yo-yos. When Greek children, especially girls, came of age it was customary for them to sacrifice the toys of their childhood to the gods. On the eve of their wedding, young girls around fourteen would offer their dolls in a temple as a rite of passage into adulthood.

As technology changed and civilization progressed, toys also changed. Where as ancient toys were made from materials found in nature like stone, wood, and grass, modern toys are often made from plastic, cloth, and synthetic materials, oftentimes powered by batteries. Ancient toys were often made by the parents and family of the children who used them, or by the children themselves. Modern toys, in contrast, are often mass-produced and sold in stores.

This change in the nature of toys is exemplified by the changes that have taken place in one of the oldest and most universal of human toys; dolls. The earliest and most primitive dolls were simple wooden carvings and bundles of grass. Egyptian dolls were sometimes jointed so that their limbs could move realistically. By the early 20th century there were dolls that could say "mama". 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. 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 changed.

Child development

A rubber duck is a popular bathtime toy for small children.

Toys, like play itself, serve multiple purposes in both humans and animals. They provide entertainment while fulfilling an educational role. Toys enhance cognitive behaviour and stimulate creativity. They aid in the development of physical and mental skills which are necessary in later life.

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 as well as those mentioned by Mr. Witkin.

Two children playing with paddle balls, a painting by the Chinese artist Su Hanchen (苏汉臣, active 1130s-1160s AD), Song Dynasty

One example of the dramatic ways that toys can influence child development involves clay sculpting toys such as Play-Doh and Silly Putty and their home-made counterparts. Mary Ucci, Educational Director of the Child Study Centre of Wellesley College, demonstrates how such toys positively impact the physical development, cognitive development, emotional development, and social development of children.

Toys for infants often make use of distinctive sounds, bright colors, and unique textures. Through play with toys infants begin to recognize shapes and colors. Repetition reinforces memory. Play-Doh, Silly Putty and other hands-on materials allow the child to make toys of their own.

Educational toys for school age children of often contain a puzzle, problem-solving technique, or mathematical proposition. Often toys designed for older audiences, such as teenagers or adults demonstrate advanced concepts. Newton's cradle, a desk toy designed by Simon Prebble, demonstrates the conservation of momentum and energy.

Not all toys are appropriate for all ages of children. Some toys which are marketed for a specific age range can even harm the development of children in that range.


A toy tank with a remote control. Such toys are generally thought of as boys' toys.

Certain toys, such as Barbie dolls and toy soldiers, are often perceived as being more acceptable for one gender than the other. It has been noted by researchers that, "Children as young as 18 months display sex-stereotyped toy choices".

However, when eye movement is tracked in young infants, infant girls even show a visual preference for a doll over a toy truck. Interestingly, the opposite is true for infant boys. This shows that even before any self-awareness of gender identity has emerged, children already prefer sex-typical toys. These clear differences in toy choice are well established within the child by the age of three.

Parents, siblings, peers, and even teachers have been shown to react more positively to children engaging in sex-typical behaviour and playing with sex-typical toys. 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.


Toys "R" Us operates over 1,500 stores in 30 countries and has an annual revenue of US$13.6 billion

With toys comprising such a large and important part of human existence, it makes sense that the toy industry would have a substantial economic impact. Sales of toys often increase around holidays where gift-giving is a tradition. Some of these holidays include Christmas, Easter, Saint Nicholas Day and Three Kings Day.

In 2005, toy sales in the United States totaled about $22.9 billion. Money spent on children between the ages of 8 and twelve alone totals approximately $221 million annually in the U.S.It was estimated that in 2011, 88% of toy sales was in the age group 0-11 years.

Toy makers change and adapt their toys to meet the changing demands of children thereby gaining a larger share of the substantial market. In recent years many toys have become more complicated with flashing lights and sounds in an effort to appeal to children raised around television and the internet. According to Mattel's president, Neil Friedman, "Innovation is key in the toy industry and to succeed one must create a 'wow' moment for kids by designing toys that have fun, innovative features and include new technologies and engaging content."

In an effort to reduce costs, many mass-producers of toys locate their factories in areas where wages are lower. 75% of all toys sold in the U.S., for example, are manufactured in China. Issues and events such as power outages, supply of raw materials, supply of labor, and raising wages that impact areas where factories are located often have an enormous impact on the toy industry in importing countries.

Many traditional toy makers have been losing sales to video game makers for years. Because of this, some traditional toy makers have entered the field of electronic games and are enhancing the brands that they have by introducing interactive extensions or internet connectivity to their current toys.


Construction sets

Lincoln Logs have been a popular construction type toy in the U.S. since 1920s.

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that the future architect should play at building houses as a child. 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.

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.

Some other examples include Bayko, Konstruk-Tubes, K'NEX, Erector Sets, Tinkertoys, and Meccano, and generic construction toys such as Neodymium magnet toys.

Dolls, animals, and miniatures

A girl and her doll in the 1900s.

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.

Sometimes intended as decorations, keepsakes, or collectibles for older children and adults, most dolls are intended as toys for children, usually girls, to play with. Dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs which date to as early as 2000 BC.

Dolls are usually miniatures, but baby dolls may be of true size and weight. A doll or stuffed animal of soft material is sometimes called a plush toy or plushie. A popular toy of this type is the Teddy Bear.

A distinction is often made between dolls and action figures, which are generally of plastic or semi-metallic construction and poseable to some extent, and often are merchandising from television shows or films which feature the characters. Modern action figures, such as Action Man, are often marketed towards boys, whereas dolls are often marketed towards girls.

Toy soldiers, perhaps a precursor to modern action figures, have been a popular toy for centuries. They allow children to act out battles, often with toy military equipment and a castle or fort. Miniature animal figures are also widespread, with children perhaps acting out farm activities with animals and equipment centered around a toy farm.


A toy boat.

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.


A popular puzzle toy is the Rubik's Cube. Popularized in the 1980s, solving the cube requires planning and problem-solving skills and involves algorithms.

A puzzle is a problem or enigma that challenges ingenuity. Solutions to puzzle may require recognizing patterns and creating a particular order. People with a high inductive reasoning aptitude may be better at solving these puzzles than others. Puzzles based on the process of inquiry and discovery to complete may be solved faster by those with good deduction skills.

The history of puzzles goes back many thousands of years.

There are many different types of puzzles, for example a maze is a type of tour puzzle. Other categories include; construction puzzles, stick puzzles, tiling puzzles, transport puzzles, disentanglement puzzles, sliding puzzles, logic puzzles, picture puzzles, lock puzzles and mechanical puzzles.

History of mechanical puzzles

Puzzle design by W. Altekruse, 1890

The oldest known mechanical puzzle comes from Greece and appeared in the 3rd century BC. The game consists of a square divided into 14 parts, and the aim was to create different shapes from these pieces. In Iran "puzzle-locks" were made as early as the 17th century AD. In 1742 Japan there is a mention of a game called "Sei Shona-gon Chie No-Ita" in a book. Around the year 1800 the Tangram puzzle from China became popular, and 20 years later it had spread through Europe and America. The company Richter from Rudolstadt began producing large amounts of Tangram-like puzzles of different shapes, the so-called "Anker-puzzles".

Puzzles were greatly fashionable towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The first patents for puzzles were recorded at this time. In 1893 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 modern copies exist for those interested.

With the invention of materials easy to shape such as plastic, the range of puzzle possibilities grew. Rubik's Cube, arguably the most famous puzzle worldwide, would not be possible without modern polymers.

Physical activity

A boy from Jakarta with his ball. Ball games tend to be good exercise, involving lots of physical activity and are popular worldwide.

A great many toys are part of active play. These include traditional toys such as hoops, tops, jump ropes and balls, as well as more modern toys like Frisbees, foot bags, astrojax, Myachi, and the yo-yo.

Playing with these sorts of toys allows children to exercise, building strong bones and muscles and aiding in physical fitness. Throwing and catching balls and frisbees can improve hand-eye coordination. Jumping rope, (also known as skipping) and playing with foot bags can improve balance.


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 $1,100 U.S.

Promotional merchandise

Many successful films, television programs, books and sport teams have official merchandise, which often includes related toys. Some notable examples are Star Wars (a science fiction film series) and Arsenal, an English football club.

Promotional toys can fall into any of the other toy categories; for example they can be dolls or action figures based on the characters of movies or professional athletes, or they can be balls, yo-yos, and lunch boxes with logos on them. Sometimes they are given away for free as a form of advertising. Many food manufacturers run promotions where a toy is included with the main product as a prize. Toys are also used as premiums, where consumers redeem proofs of purchase from a product and pay shipping and handling fees to get the toy. Some people go to great lengths to collect these sorts of promotional toys.


Play-Doh originally intended as a wallpaper cleaner

Some new toys and new types of toys are created by accidental innovation. For example, after trying to create a replacement for synthetic rubber, Earl Warrick inadvertently invented "nutty putty" during World War II. Later, Peter Hodgson recognized the potential as a childhood plaything and packaged it as Silly Putty. Similarly, Play-Doh was created as a wallpaper cleaner. In 1943 Richard James was experimenting with springs as part of his military research when he saw one come loose and fall to the floor. He was intrigued by the way it flopped around on the floor. He spent two years fine-tuning the design to find the best gauge of steel and coil; the result was the Slinky, which went on to sell in stores throughout the United States.

Safety regulations

Toys with small pieces, such as these Lego elements are required by law to have warnings about choking hazards in some countries.

Many countries have passed safety standards limiting the types of toys that can be sold. Most of these seek to limit potential hazards, such as choking or fire hazards that could cause injury. Children, especially very small ones, often put toys into their mouths, so the materials used to make a toy are regulated to prevent poisoning. Materials are also regulated to prevent fire hazards. Children have not yet learned to judge what is safe and what is dangerous, and parents do not always think of all possible situations, so such warnings and regulations are important on toys.

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.


Some communities require recycling of the batteries in toys such as qfix robot "crash-bobby".

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 removed and recycled; some communities demand this be done. Some manufacturers, such as Little Tikes, will take back and recycle their products.

In 2007, massive recalls of toys produced in China led many U.S. based charities to cut back on, or even discontinue, their acceptance of used toys. Goodwill stopped accepting donations of any toys except stuffed animals, and other charities checked all toys against government-issued checklists.

The WEEE directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), which aims at increasing re-use and recycling and reducing electronic waste, applies to toys in the United Kingdom as of 2 January 2007.

Toy use in animals

It is not unusual for some animals to play with toys. An example of this is a dolphin being trained to nudge a ball through a hoop. Young chimpanzees use sticks as dolls - the social aspect is seen by the fact, that young females more often use a stick this way than young male chimpanzees. They carry their chosen stick and put it in their nest. Such behaviour is also seen in some adult female chimpanzees, but never after they have become mothers.

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