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Child's Play: Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood


Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood really has three focuses for three distinct audiences, with something for all. It's about the history and changing meaning of childhood, it's a nostalgia trap for those of us fascinated with the toys of our childhood, and it has spaces for children to play.


Like children, the museum has grown. It started in 1957 in a Royal Mile storefront, tagged as the world's first museum dedicated to the history of childhood. By 1986, its growing collections spilled over into the building next door. When we visited in early summer, renovations were underway to better house its 60,000+ objects.


Many of the exhibits near the entrance prepare the visit by asking provocative questions, and highlighting ways in which childhood has changed. In particular, changes from the 19th century into the 20th, as childhood came to be seen more as a time for forming relationships and curiosity, and less as a time to quickly prepare growing children to enter the industrial workforce.


Signs describe some of the change and how it affected different people, and people of different social classes. Interactive displays allow visitors to explore memories from different periods and places.


Changing times also meant changes in ways of dress. It also meant more children in school, both from an earlier age in nurseries, and longer at an older age as compulsory schooling was extended well into the teen years.


But school is one thing and play is another... maybe! The museum is careful to ask that question, too: What role does play play in learning? When educators today talk about 'gamification' as a strategy for teaching and learning, the question is clearly still up front!


Much of today's 'play material' for children seems to be electronic and screen-based, so they may be surprised not only at how 'old-fashioned' some of the toys of our memory look, but also at how physical, how tactile they are!


As an American, I was fascinated by toys that were familiar in concept to ones of my childhood and my children's but different in appearance. But, not all! The Fisher-Price beagle and telephone just above clearly made it on both sides of the Atlantic.


Also amazing: how old-fashioned the technology of only a few years ago looks now! On the other hand, dress-up, role-play and pretend live on...

20230626_11464920230626_121637ProfessorAbe and George G recognized the image above as our One-Clue Mystery for this week: Congratulations!


Call me old-fashioned, but my heart still goes out to the original Winnie the Pooh drawings by E. H. Shepard, below. Sorry, Disney: not a fan of yours!



Several cases of games, classic and obscure, show time-centered trends, including a number of road-race games that developed in the early days of automobile touring, and others based on popular characters and actors such as Charlie Chaplin. Tucked among the displays, tables for play activities.


A shout-out for the Boy Scout and Girl Guides movement, above, and then a wide display of kits for crafts and building, some of which are still in production. while others have given way to newer versions such as Lego.


It seems clear that at least some British kids had much bigger sets of Meccano than I ever dreamed of. History trivia: Meccano was introduced in England in 1898, invented by Frank Hornby; in 1913 in the U.S., Alfred Gilbert invented nearly the same thing. The two companies merged in 2000. Now that's a construction set!


Among the last exhibits we saw were room-size displays set up as a family parlor, and outdoor sidewalk and a school.


The Museum of Childhood is one of the museums that make up the Museum of Edinburgh, along with the Peoples' Story Museum, the Edinburgh Museum, the Writers Museum and more, as well as dozens of monuments around the area. The Museum of Childhood is open every day, and admission is free.


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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