Toys within the pedagogical environment

According to Sutton-Smith, the benefits and position of toys within education are deeply ambivalent:

“Within education and development, toys are beneficial aids to progress. In the teaching situation, however, toys are in the way, they disrupt and repudiate.”  

There are, however, many parents, teachers and pedagogues who believe that toys play an important role as aids in the learning process by contributing to the child’s development.




Toys as:

learning                                     perform

thought                                      carry out/act out

stimulation                                 progress

work                                            success

exploitation/advantage           perseverance

mastery                                     endurance

performance                             concentration



Toys create development and are an aid to progress


Play ideologies used:

- useful/ not useful

- idealisation

- adopt a role or position


We can express the paradox thus:

“We are investing in you and give you this (expensive) toy so that you can have fun with it - learn something useful through it - and become a clever boy/girl.”

As mentioned in Chapter 5, The Toy as an Object, especially thoughtful and well-educated parents and specialists, like psychologists and pedagogues who work with small children, acquire stimulating toys for the children in their care. These people have adopted the positive side of the theory. By contrast, many schoolteachers have an ambivalent attitude to toys. Some believe that toys only disrupt the teaching process, that they are not suitable for use in schools, etc. Such attitudes unfortunately obstruct the introduction of new and alternative teaching methods.

The theory about the formidable opportunities inherent in toys outlined above is also promoted and presented by toy manufacturers and applied to their products. They use and explain the theory in detail in folders and user instructions which they supply with the toys.

The psychological and pedagogical arguments for developmental and educational aspects used by toy manufacturers vary greatly:

- “the toy allows the child to carry out sensory motor and symbolic actions through manipulation and play, through which the child consolidates his knowledge and powers of recognition.” - in accordance with Piaget (1951).

- “ the toy stimulates the user’s/child’s inquisitive sense and introduces the user/child to something new and exciting. Curiosity sharpens the child’s interest in new things, thus promoting and stimulating development of the child’s personal characteristics and abilities”. - in accordance with Berlyne (1960).

- “the child’s concentration on the toy will have great significance later on for his understanding of the everyday rituals of adult life in connection e.g with  church, family, rules and laws, theatre, school, politics or marriage.” - in accordance with Erikson (1977).

- “the toy functions as the child’s first abstraction and permits him to detach himself from the meaning and context of habitual actions. For example, when the child discovers that “the doll” is “a baby” which is treated differently than how the child himself is treated as a baby by other people. Interpreted in this way, the child’s play with the toy is a projection of the child’s simulated knowledge and capacities.” - in accordance with Vygotskji (1978).

The examples show that concepts concerned with the stimulating or educational functions of toys vary and include:

  • the attempt to predict a response expressed by the toy’s ability to stimulate and
  • observation of the toy’s capacity for producing “sudden discoveries”.



    Table of Contents