Toys now have a dual purpose. Apart from their original purpose which is having fun with them, many of today’s toys are used for educational purposes as well, and it might have been like that since the beginning of times. Take for an example the educational purpose of wooden weapons. Yes, it might not seem as an education in the traditional sense, but it is an education nevertheless. Wooden weapon replicas were used to practice the all-important fighting skills, and to have some fun in the process. Even before that, the most primitive toys that came from nature were educational in their basic form. They helped their users to learn something about their surroundings and we can only speculate upon what ideas were first thought of by men while they were playing with them.
Some of the first educational toys are still being used today. Abacus, for instance, has first appeared between 2700 and 2300 BC, in ancient Mesopotamia, at least, that’s what currently available proofs suggest. Of course, abacus then wasn’t actually a toy but was used mainly by merchants for calculation purposes.
Now, almost five millenniums later, the abacus is still widespread and being used for purposes of teaching small children basic arithmetical operations. There are many variations of abacus as well, and many toys that share its concept, but they could all be defined by their predecessor.
More info about Abacus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abacus
Possibly the first contemporary educational toys were actually the first puzzles. Oldest jigsaw puzzle dates back to 18th century when John Spilsbury’s moment of inspiration forever changed the world of puzzles. Even though this was world’s first known jigsaw puzzle, many kinds of puzzles existed for centuries before that.
The oldest known mechanical puzzle actually dates back from ancient Greece and it first appeared in third century BC. However, Spilsbury’s geography-oriented jigsaw puzzle had much bigger impact and was directly aimed at learning some actual facts. However, British cartographer didn’t stop here. He created even more puzzles to expand the areas in which his customers could enjoy and learn. There were eight more themes including: World, Europe, Asia, Africa, America, England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
Next great invention in educational toys came from Frank Hornby, another British inventor. His first game, Meccano was world’s first commercial construction system which consisted of re-usable metal parts (strips, plates, wheels, gears, bolts etc) which were used for the construction of all kinds of devices and mechanical constructions. That was in 1901, and even today Meccano enthusiasts can be found around the world, though the set itself isn’t being produced any more. Lego bricks set can be considered as Meccano’s successor.
Danish company started producing renowned Lego sets 50 years after Hornby invented Meccano, and the company is one of the most important child-oriented businesses of today. There are plenty more construction systems of all kinds, shapes and sizes ant they are being made from different kinds of materials as well. It is hard to keep track of all of them, let alone of counting them, but they all have one thing in common. They are all addictive, some more, some less.
First board games also had and still have large impact on children education. First board games are more than five millenniums old and originate from ancient civilizations.
First modern board games, however, are subscribed to the name of John Jefferys who started producing them in 1750. At the beginning of 20th century, board games had become more like they are today. Parcheesi found its place in the markets then, and other variations of this game soon followed.
Instruments were also very important thanks to their educational purpose. They were known since prehistoric times, but weren’t considered as toys until much , much later. However, even then, some instruments like all kinds of whistles were extensively used by kids and because of that can be considered as toys.
First actual toy instruments, at least as we know them today, came in early 20th century when Alice Violet Bennett patented world’s first toy piano. Children today can play almost any instrument shrink to their size. From acoustic and electric guitars, over all kinds of keyboards and percussion instruments, to rather original replicas of drums.
One of the most important publishers in the world, German publisher Kosmos is in this line of work since 1822. Today, they mostly publish children’s educational books, board games and very important science kits which are used in schools, especially with smaller children. They represent the easiest and most interesting way for kids to learn about their surroundings (at least in schools). Kosmos is somewhat of a global figure as their educational kits are being translated and adapted for UK and US markets through Thames & Kosmos subsidiary of the German manufacturer.
Train sets and toy cars can be considered educational as well. In fact, almost every toy gives children the opportunity to interact with their surroundings and learn something new. That’s why some would agree that every toy is educational and they might have the point. Still, modern era has some toys that really stick out thanks to their educational nature.
Video games, for instance are widely scrutinized, but they are not only great source of fun, but also important educational tool. They are the simplest and definitely most fun of ways for kids to learn something about history if they play historically-based games. Children from non-English-speaking countries probably won’t get better opportunity than video games to learn the actual language. Robotic pets and interactive animals for instance are also an important medium used for educational purposes. They can be used only for fun, but some of them are specifically made with aforementioned purpose. All kinds of puzzles and quizzes can be, and are combined with interactive toys and video games in order to further enhance their abilities to teach kids something new.
Considering all this, the statement that all toys are educational really makes sense. But this isn’t the case since recent past. That was the case since toys were invented. Education was always their main purpose, together with their ability to encourage children to have fun and interact with the world around them.
Look at Wikipedia for more info about educational toys.