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The proper basis of selection for toys is their efficiency as toys, that is:

They must be suggestive of play and made for play.

They should be selected in relation to each other.

They should be consistent with the environment of the child who is
to use them.

They should be constructed simply so that they may serve as models
for other toys to be constructed by the children.

They should suggest something besides domestic play so that the
child’s interest may be led to activities outside the home life.

They should be durable because they are the realities of a child’s
world and deserve the dignity of good workmanship.


“There comes back to me the memory of an enormous room with its ceiling going up to heaven.... It is the floor I think of chiefly, over the oilcloth of which, assumed to be land, spread towns and villages and forts of wooden bricks...the cracks and spaces of the floor and the bare brown “surround” were the water channels and open sea of that continent of mine....

“Justice has never been done to bricks and soldiers by those who write about toys my bricks and my soldiers were my perpetual drama. I recall an incessant variety of interests. There was the mystery and charm of the complicated buildings one could make, with long passages and steps and windows through which one could peep into their intricacies, and by means of slips of card one could make slanting ways in them, and send marbles rolling from top to base and thence out into the hold of a waiting ship.... And there was commerce; the shops and markets and storerooms full of nasturtium seed, thrift seed, lupin beans and such-like provender from the garden; such stuff one stored in match boxes and pill boxes or packed in sacks of old glove fingers tied up with thread and sent off by wagons along the great military road to the beleaguered fortress on the Indian frontier beyond the worn places that were dismal swamps....

“I find this empire of the floor much more vivid in my memory now than many of the owners of the skirts and legs and boots that went gingerly across its territories.”

Nowhere else, perhaps, not even in his “Floor Games” and “Little Wars” has Mr. Wells, or any other author succeeded in drawing so convincing a picture of the possibilities of constructive play as is to be found in those pages, all too brief, in “The New Machiavelli” where the play laboratory at Bromstead is described. One can imagine the eager boy who played there looking back across the years strong in the conviction that it could not have been improved, and yet the picture of a child at solitary play is not, after all, the ideal picture. Our laboratory, while it must accommodate the unsocial novice and make provision for individual enterprise at all ages and stages, must be above all the place where the give and take of group play will develop along with block villages and other community life in miniature.


In his reminiscences of his boyhood play Mr. Wells lays emphasis on his great good fortune in possessing a special set of “bricks” made to order and therefore sufficient in number for the ambitious floor games he describes. Comparatively few adults can look back to the possession of similar play material, and so a majority cannot realize how it outweighs in value every other type of toy that can be provided.

Where the budget for equipment is limited, floor blocks can be cut by the local carpenter or, in a school, by the manual training department. The blocks in use at The Play School are of white wood, the unit block being 1-3/8 X 2-3/4 X 5-1/2. They range in size from half units and diagonals to blocks four times the unit in length.

At present there is but one set of blocks on the market that corresponds to the one Mr. Wells describes. These are the “Hill Floor Blocks,” manufactured and sold by A. Schoenhut & Co., of Philadelphia. They are of hard maple and come in seven sizes, from 3” squares to oblongs of 24”, the unit block being 6” in length. There are 680 pieces in a set. Half and quarter sets are also obtainable. They are the invention of Professor Patty Smith Hill of Teachers College, Columbia University, and are used in The Teachers College Kindergarten and in many other schools.

The School of Childhood at the University of Pittsburgh makes use of several varieties of blocks, some of commercial manufacture, others cut to order. The list given is as follows:

A. Nest of blocks.

B. Large blocks made to order of hard maple in five sizes:
Cubes, 5” X 5”.
Oblongs, 2-1/2” X 5” X 10”.
Triangular prisms made by cutting cube diagonally into two and
four parts.
Pillars made by cutting oblongs into two parts.
Plinths made by cutting oblongs into two parts.
Light weight 12” boards, 3’-0” to 7’-0” long.

C. Froebel’s enlarged fifth and sixth gifts.

D. Stone Anchor blocks.

E. Architectural blocks for flat forms.

F. Peg-Lock blocks.

As children become more dexterous and more ambitious in their block construction, the Peg-Lock Blocks will be found increasingly valuable. These are a type of block unknown to Mr. Wells, but how he would have revelled in the possession of a set! They are manufactured by the Peg-Lock Block Co. of New York. Cut on a smaller scale than the other blocks described, they are equipped with holes and pegs, by which they may be securely joined. This admits of a type of construction entirely outside the possibilities of other blocks. They come in sets of varying sizes and in a great variety of shapes. The School of Childhood uses them extensively, as does The Play School.


The “Do-with Toys” shown in the accompanying cuts were designed by Miss Caroline Pratt some years ago to meet the need generally felt by devotees of the play laboratory of a consistent series of toys to be used with floor blocks. For if the market of the present day can offer something more adequate in the way of blocks than was generally available in Mr. Wells’ boyhood, the same is not true when it comes to facilities for peopling and stocking the resulting farms and communities that develop.

Mr. Wells tells us that for his floor games he used tin soldiers and such animals as he could get we know the kind, the lion smaller than the lamb, and barnyard fowl doubtless overtopping the commanding officer. Such combinations have been known to children of all generations and play of the kind Mr. Wells describes goes on in spite of the inconsistency of the materials supplied.

But when we consider fostering such play, and developing its possibilities for educational ends, the question arises whether this is the best provision that can be made, or if the traditional material could be improved, just as the traditions concerning blocks are being improved.

A few pioneers have been experimenting in this field for some years past. No one of them is ready with final conclusions but among them opinion is unanimous that constructive play is stimulated by an initial supply of consistent play material calculated to suggest supplementary play material of a kind children can manufacture for themselves.

Blocks are of course the most important type of initial material to be provided; beyond this the generally accepted hypothesis is embodied in the “Do-with” series which provides, first a doll family of proportions suited to block houses, then a set of farm animals and carts, then a set of wild animals, all designed on the same size scale, of construction simple enough to be copied at the bench, and suggesting, each set after its kind, a host of supplementary toys, limited in variety and in numbers only by the experience of the child concerned and by his ability to construct them.

This working hypothesis for the selection of toys is as yet but little understood either by those who buy or those who sell play materials. The commercial dealer declares with truth that there is too little demand to justify placing such a series on the market. Not only does he refuse to make “Do-withs” but he provides no adequate substitutes. His wooden toys are merely wooden ornaments without relation to any series and without playability, immobile, reasonless, for the philosophy of the play laboratory is quite unknown to the makers of play materials, while those who buy are guided almost entirely by convention and have no better standard by which to estimate what constitutes their money’s worth.

On the other hand enthusiasts raise the question, why supply any toys? Is it not better for children to make all their toys? And as Miss Pratt says, “getting ready for play is mistaken for play itself.”

Too much “getting ready” kills real play, and if our purpose is to foster and enrich the actual activity, we must understand the subtle value of initial play materials, of having at hand ready for the promptings of play impulse the necessary foundation stones on which a superstructure of improvisation can be reared.

When by hook or crook the devotees of floor games have secured a population and live stock for their block communities, then, as Mr. Wells reminds us, comes commerce and in her wake transportation problems to tax the inventive genius of the laboratory.

Simple transportation toys are the next need, and suitable ones can generally, though not always, be obtained in the shops. A few well-chosen pieces for initial material will soon be supplemented by “Peg-lock” or bench-made contrivances.

For railroad tracks the block supply offers possibilities better adapted to the ages we are considering than any of the elaborate rail systems that are sold with the high-priced mechanical toys so fascinating to adult minds. Additional curved blocks corresponding to the unit block in width and thickness are a great boon to engineers, for what is a railroad without curves!

Transportation toys can be perfectly satisfactory when not made strictly to scale. Indeed, the exigencies of the situation generally demand that realists be satisfied with rather wide departures from the general rule. Train service, however, should accommodate at least one passenger to a car.


The floor scheme pictured here is a good illustration of our principles of selection applied to toys of larger scale. The dolls, the tea set, the chairs are from the toy shop. The little table in the foreground, and the bed are bench made. The bedding is of home manufacture, the jardiniere too, is of modelling clay, gaily painted with water colors. The tea table and stove are improvised from blocks as is the bath room, through the door of which a block tub may be seen. The screen used as a partition at the back is one of the Play School properties with large sheets of paper as panels.

There are some important differences, however, between the content of a play scheme like this and one of the kind we have been considering. These result from the size and character of the initial play material, for dolls like these invite an entirely different type of treatment. One cannot build villages, or provide extensive railroad facilities for them, nor does one regard them in the impersonal way that the “Do-with” family, or Mr. Wells’ soldiers, are regarded, as incidentals in a general scheme of things.

These beings hold the centre of their little stage. They call for affection and solicitude, and the kind of play into which they fit is more limited in scope, less stirring to the imagination, but more usual in the experience of children, because play material of this type is more plentifully provided than is any other and, centering attention as it does on the furnishings and utensils of the home, requires less contact with or information about, the world outside and its activities to provide the mental content for interesting play.

In the epochs of play development interest in these larger scale toys precedes that in more complicated schemes with smaller ones. Mr. Wells’ stress on the desirability of a toy soldier population really reflects an adult view. For play on the toy soldier and paper doll scale develops latest of all, and because of the opportunities it affords for schemes of correspondingly greater mental content makes special appeal to the adult imagination.

Play material smaller than the “Do-with” models and better adapted to this latest period than are either soldiers or paper dolls remains one of the unexplored possibilities for the toy trade of the future.


Materials for housekeeping play are of two general kinds, according to size those intended for the convenience of dolls, and those of larger scale for children’s use. The larger kind should be strong enough and well enough made to permit of actual processes.

Plentiful as such materials are in the shops, it is difficult to assemble anything approaching a complete outfit on the same size scale. One may spend days in the attempt to get together one as satisfactory as that pictured here. The reason seems to be that for considerations of trade such toys are made and sold in sets of a few pieces each. If dealers would go a step further and plan their sets in series, made to scale and supplementing each other, they would better serve the requirements of play, and, it would seem, their own interests as well.


From housekeeping play to storekeeping play is a logical step and one abounding in possibilities for leading interest beyond the horizon line of home environment.

Better than any toy equipment and within reach of every household budget is a “store” like the one pictured here where real cartons, boxes, tins and jars are used.

Schools can often obtain new unfilled cartons from manufacturers. The Fels-Naphtha and National Biscuit companies are especially cordial to requests of this kind, and cartons from the latter firm are good for beginners, as prices are plainly marked and involve only dime and nickel computation. The magazine “Educational Foundations” maintains a department which collects such equipment and furnishes it to public schools on their subscribers’ list.

Sample packages add to interest and a small supply of actual staples in bulk, or of sand, sawdust, chaff, etc., for weighing and measuring should be provided as well as paper, string, and paper bags of assorted sizes.

Small scales, and inexpensive sets of standard measures, dry and liquid, can be obtained of Milton Bradley and other school supply houses. A toy telephone and toy money will add “content,” and for older children a “price and sign marker” (Milton Bradley) is a valuable addition.

The School of Childhood (Pittsburgh) list includes the following miscellaneous articles for house and store play:

spoons various sized boxes stones pebbles buttons shells spools bells enlarged sticks of the kindergarten ribbon bolts filled with sand rice shot bottles, etc.


Materials of this kind are a valuable part of any play equipment. Of the large assortment carried by kindergarten and school supply houses the following are best adapted to the needs of the play laboratory:

Modelling Materials - Modelling clay and plasticine, far from being the same, are supplementary materials, each adapted to uses for which the other is unsuited.

Weaving Materials - Raphia, basketry reed, colored worsteds, cotton roving, jute and macrame cord can be used for many purposes.

Material for Paper Work - Heavy oak tag, manila, and bogus papers for cutting and construction come in sheets of different sizes. Colored papers, both coated (colored on one side) and engine colored (colored on both sides) are better adapted to “laboratory purposes” when obtainable in large sheets instead of the regulation kindergarten squares. Colored tissue papers, scissors and library paste are always in demand.

Color Materials - Crayons, water color paints, chalks (for blackboard use) are best adapted to the needs of play when supplied in a variety of colors and shades. For drawing and painting coarse paper should be furnished in quantity and in sheets of differing sizes.

If children are let alone with paper and crayons they will quickly learn to use these toys quite as effectively as they do blocks and dolls.


Among the many desirable toys for active play the following deserve “honorable mention”:

Express wagon
Horse reins
“Coaster” or “Scooter”
Velocipede (and other adaptations of the bicycle for beginners)
Football (small size Association ball)
Indoor baseball
Rubber balls (various sizes)
Bean bags
Steamer quoits

As in the case of the carpenter’s bench it is poor economy to supply any but good tools for the yard and garden. Even the best garden sets for children are so far inferior to those made for adults as to render them unsatisfactory and expensive by comparison. It is therefore better to get light weight pieces in the smaller standard sizes and cut down long wooden handles for greater convenience. The one exception to be noted is the boy’s shovel supplied by the Peter Henderson company. This is in every respect as strong and well made as the regulation sizes and a complete series to the same scale and of the same standard would meet a decided need in children’s equipment where light weight is imperative and hard wear unavoidable.

In addition to the garden set of shovel, rake, hoe, trowel and wheel-barrow, a small crow-bar is useful about the yard and, in winter, a light snow shovel is an advantage.