Education & Outreach > The Goldfinch Teacher Guides

"Toys and Games" Teacher Guide


Just Playing Around

Toys expand our imagination. They teach. They help us enjoy the simple pleasures of fun. In this issue of The Goldfinch, we examine the role toys and games have had over the years. Our first article, "Toys and Games Through Time," explores their historical importance. Some of these playthings had European origins; others were already here, played with by Native Americans for generations.

Early on, children played with simple toys like ceramic marbles, wooden tops, ice skates, and dolls. They also created toys from ordinary household materials that their parents often discarded as junk. Toys and games in the 19th century taught children skills, morals, and good social behavior. By the early 20th century, because families depended less on children for labor, kids had more free time. As a result, toymakers began producing toys and games that weren't designed to educate, but were strictly for fun.

Manufacturing a Good Idea

There are two companies located right here in Iowa that produce toys nationwide. The first is The Ertl Company. In the beginning, they began by making replicas of farm equipment, making toys for the John Deere Company. By the 1970s, they expanded into plastic model kits and electronic products like tape recorders and children's phonographs. Today, The Ertl Company manufactures dolls, collectible animals, Star Trek model kits, and Dukes of Hazzard model cars.

The Lansing Company made Slik-Toys which were simple wooden cars and trucks. During World War II, they made 30,000 toys daily from scraps of wood only 10 to 12 inches long. When the war ended and metal became available again, The Lansing Company switched to aluminum because it was sturdier than wood. While Slik-Toys can be found in stores across the country, manufacturing has never left Iowa.

The Games People Play

In different Iowa communities, ethnic games remained quite popular. The Meskwaki children in Tama played games involving moccasins and wooden cones and pins. Swedish immigrants brought with them legends, stories, rhyming and singing games. The Czechs in Cedar Rapids had a number of toys and games that recalled their heritage. In the old days, pioneers made puppets from wood. They also fashioned toys from fabric, corn husks and clay, and made simple instruments.

Mixing Work with Pleasure

In "Turning Work Into Play," we discuss the fact that for many, combining work with pleasure drew people together. Quilting, apple paring, and husking bees brought neighbors closer. The goal of "bees" was to finish the job, but people liked these work socials because they could get together, talk, and play. For men, skills such as hunting and fishing were considered both work and play. Kids engaged in the sport of these activities while acquiring food necessary for the family.

For women, patchwork quilts taught girls essential sewing skills. Fabric scraps and worn clothing became patches in their quilts. The pioneers of yesteryear used handpieced quilts as warm blankets, furniture padding when moving, and as makeshift walls in one-room houses. Quilts were an artistic expression for pioneer women who could make something old new again, something necessary into something beautiful.

How Does History Play into It?

In this issue of The Goldfinch, we also discuss the world events that have impacted play. Did you know that the "teddy bear" was named after Tbeodore Roosevelt? Or that during World War H when metal was scarce, manufacturers experimented with a new material called plastic?

Through the years, we've considered toys and games as a form of education as well as a way to have fun. Many toys and games created today entertain and strengthen children's imagination. Take Disney, for example. They discovered they could make money by licensing their characters so that they could appear, not just on screen, but as toys and other items. And unlike older toys like G.I. Joe, tanks, and machine guns which were directly linked to the war effort, toy tie-ins with movies like Star Wars enable youngsters to unleash their imagination.

Toys and games aren't just kid stuff. They have been influenced by history and have had a major cultural impact on society. Can you imagine what life for kids (and adults) would have been like without them?

Summary and Discussion Questions

Pages 4-7

Toys and Games Through Time: An overview of the development of toys and games in recent history.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you had to develop a toy using discarded "junk," what kind of toy would you make? What kind of materials would you use?
  2. In the early 1900s, toys were made to teach children. What could you learn about the kinds of toys made today?
  3. Do children today play any of the same games they did in the early 1900s?


Pages 8-9

Iowa Made Toys: Profile of two companies who manufacture toys in Iowa.


  1. If you were president of a toy company in Iowa, where would you baseyour company? Why?
  2. If you could produce a line of toys, what would it be?


Pages 10- 11

Iowa's Play Environment: The role that gender and socioeconomic times played in thedevelopment of toys and games.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are there toys madespecifically for girls? For boys?
  2. If you grew up in the Depression and had littlemoney, what kind of toys would you play with? What sort of toys would you want to playwith?


Pages 12-13

Play Yesterday's Games Today: Explains a variety of games played in the past: Hoops &Sticks, Fox & Geese, Ante Over.

Discussion Questions

  1. Of the games listed, whichdo you think was the most popular?
  2. Think of a new game you could play using at least two items from the list of games discussed.


Page 14-15

Ethnic Games: Discusses the sort of games played by Meskwakis, Swedes, and Czechs.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are you aware of any games from your ethnic heritage?
  2. Which of the ethnic games written about seem most interesting to you? (3) Would youprefer ethnic games over more "traditional" games?


Page 16-17

Make a Toy: Instructions on how to make a top.


Page 18

Be a Diary: Entries detailing the kinds of toys and games a young girl played in the 1800s.

Discussion Questions

  1. Compare the toys and games from Sarah's day with the sort we have today.
  2. How do you think Sarah's dolls differs from today's Barbie doll?


Page 19

Be a Diary Detective: Questions asked about Sarah's diary.


Page 20-21

Turning Work Into Play: Explains how old homesteaders combined work with play.

Discussion Questions

  1. What kinds of activities would you suggest to bring a community together?
  2. Was the way in which those in the Amana colonies combined work with pleasure essential to keep their community together?


Page 22-23

History Makers: Feature on Friday Fest Volunteers who helped plan an event involvingmany games.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you volunteer for Friday Fest?
  2. If youvolunteered to help with a certain game, what would it be?
  3. What could you learn fromvolunteering?


Page 24-25

World Events Impact Play: Discusses the way in which toys and games have influenced us historically and culturally.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are "war" toys like guns, tanks, and soldiers good for our society or not?
  2. How do you think Star Wars and other movie toys sparks a child's imagination?


Pages 26-29

Red Rover: Story of a girl who makes friends in a new school by playing a game.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you wanted to make friends with someone in your school,what game would you suggest playing?
  2. Name five different games you enjoy and yourreasons for playing them.


Pages 30-31

History Mystery: A game of matching up marble terms with their meanings.

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