“Whip top! Whip top!”: play throughout the seasons… and times

How would you find out about games and toys in former times? Are there instructions for families on how to make a spinning top or a rag doll? Are there essays on the origin of obscure nursery rhymes? And were outdoor pastimes of young and old captured in images centuries ago?

Drawing of three spinning tops.On cataloguing older books at the Newsam Library (UCL Institute of Education), I was struck by a work following games and folklore through the cycle of the year.

The author displays great learning when he refers back to Romans and Celtic literature and mythology; and he grasps the reader’s attention on every page with delightful historical pictures or quaint little songs, including dialect or Gaelic versions. “Whip top! Whip top! Turn about and never stop!”

Children’s games throughout the year (1949/1976) by Leslie Daiken will tell you as much about everyday life and festive tides of the European past as about children’s games and songs. Where was it that ‘Flour of England, fruit of Spain met … tied round with a string’? In a Christmas pudding!

The same author’s work Children’s toys throughout the ages (1953) abounds with background information and illustrations.

Colour photograph of Victorian toys, including a board game and ‘carpet bowls’.An up-to-date theory and history of play just came onto the shelves: The Routledge international handbook of early childhood play (2017) covers many areas of the world.

To share the history of play with children, just walk to the Curriculum Resources shelves at the Newsam Library and have a look in the ‘790’ range. There and nearby, at ‘745’, you will also find ideas for toy-making!

The Seasonal projects series follows Daiken’s approach in linking the seasons and their traditions to appropriate activities. Projects for autumn, for example, deals with autumn leaves, harvest and hibernation as well as Martinmas, Thanksgiving Day and Diwali.

For online teaching resources, head to our LibGuide on Open Education Resources (OER). You can find, for instance,  inspiration and even templates about the yearly cycle at Teaching Ideas. For poems about the seasons, their features and their fests – in print and audio formats – listen in at Children’s Poetry Archive.

 Half a page with suggestions for play in the month of March and a nature scene.

Leslie Daiken (1953) devotes a chapter to “Toys that teach” but explains that toys, however simple, always teach – and on the other hand exist above all for the “Spirit of Fun”! In the same vein, Bruce D. Perry (2001) reminds teachers in his brief online article The importance of pleasure in play: “Play, more than any other activity, fuels healthy development of children. […] If it isn’t fun, it isn’t play.”

Illustrations from ‘Children’s games throughout the year’ and ‘Children’s toys throughout the ages’ by Leslie Daiken.

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