Changing Materials

Children in the past played with toys just like they do today. Some toys have been popular for hundreds of years, but the materials that toys are made of have changed through time.

Early toys were made of natural materials that could be found locally. For example, archeologists have found several dice made from bone on digs in Aberdeen. Other toys were also made from bone. Medieval children collected the small bones from a pig's foot when the pig was being butchered for meat. A hole was bored in each bone and a string thread through it. Pulling each end of the string made the bone spin and make a buzzing noise. These bones were still collected by children in Shetland 100 years ago and were called 'snorie banes' (snoring bones). Other materials that could have been used to make toys during Medieval times include wood and cloth.

In the 18th and 19th century children had jigsaws made of wood. Today jigsaws are usually made of cardboard, but you can still get some that are made of wood. Wood has always been popular for making children's toys because it is easily available and can be carved into different shapes.

From the late 19th century some toys were made from tin plate, with designs printed on them. Shapes were stamped out of flat sheets of the metal and then fixed together to make three dimensional toys. From the beginning of the 20th century, die-casting became a popular method for making toys such as model cars. In die casting, metal is heated until it melts. It is then poured into a mould to make the shape of the toy. Diecast toys are cheaper and easier to make than tinplate toys. Diecast toys are still made today.

Today many toys are still made from materials that have been available for centuries, but lots of toys are also made from plastic. Plastic toys became very popular in the second half of the 20th century. Plastic toys can be made cheaply in lots of bright colours. Plastic is a man made material made from oil.

Since the 1980s computer games have been popular. Lots of different materials including metal and plastic are used to make computers and the games that are played on them.

Diecast Elastolin


Medieval children used to collect bones from animals being butchered for meat to make a toy. Collect some clean, empty food packaging. Try to make a toy from it.

Look at the picture of the toy soldiers. They are made from a material called elastolin. Elastolin was a mixture of sawdust, glue, casein (from cow's milk) and other things. What do you think toy soldiers today are made from?

Look at the Toys and Game timeline. Are any of the toys similar to toys you have. If so are the ones you have made of the same materials or different materials?