Toys and games have been a part of our lives, and the lives of children all over the world, for hundreds of years. Some, like dolls and toy cars are as popular today as they were years ago, but the materials they are made from and the way they are made has shifted and changed with the times. Others, like the Etch A Sketch have been taken over by exciting new technologies and trends.

Whether exploring iconic toys like the Rubik’s cube, or old favourites like the teddy bear, toys are a great way to help children find out about the past and develop their historical skills and understanding.

Using the resource

This resource features old toys and games from museums across the Tees Valley. These are great for stimulating group or whole-class discussions, and for children to:

  • Explore and develop ideas
  • Consolidate knowledge and progression
  • Develop second order concepts and vocabulary
  • Secure the ability to talk about what they know.

The resource is also packed with practical ideas to support history learning across the curriculum:

  • Stimulate children’s early awareness of the past with our creative, play-based approaches
  • Project images of our old toys onto your whiteboard and discover what they can reveal about the past through our discussion questions and ‘looking closer’ games
  • Bring history learning to life with our tried-and-tested cross-curricular activities
  • Explore our photo gallery of children playing with toys in the past – including members of our very own museum team!
  • Print out our ‘Toys and games from our past’ grid and use it to sort, compare or order the toys, or make your own games such as ‘Snap’ or ‘Bingo’.

Why not also try…?

Learning objectives

The below supports the following objectives.

Use museums, museum objects and play to:

  • Increase children’s knowledge and sense of the world around them
  • Begin to develop a sense of the past
  • Know some similarities and differences between things in the past and now
  • Foster their understanding of a diverse world
  • Enrich and widen vocabulary
  • Develop skills in questioning, conversing and explaining
  • Make independent choices.

Key Stage 1
Historical enquiry

  • Recognise some of the ways in which the past is represented, including through museum objects and photographs.
  • Understand that old ‘things’ can help us find out about life in the past.
  • Ask simple questions about the past and begin to find possible answers to them through play, exploration and research.

Change and continuity over time

  • Identify similarities and differences between our lives in the past and today.
  • Understand similarities and differences between the lives of different children in the past, eg rich and poor; boys and girls.


  • Begin to understand events have happened in the past, other events are happening in the present and that more events will happen in the future.
  • Explore ideas of old and new, older and newer.

Language and vocabulary

  • Use simple historical language to talk about the past such as:
  • Before I was born
  • In the past
  • Then and now
  • When I was younger.
  • Develop skills in questioning, conversing and explaining.

The resource can also be used to support learning about:

  • Materials and their properties
  • Simple mechanisms
  • Design


Acrobat toy (about 1900)

Care Bear (1980s)

Clockwork Car (1930s)

Betta Bilda construction set (1960s)

Doll (late 1800s)

Etch-A-Sketch (1960s)

Rubik’s cube (1980s)

Skipping rope (early-mid 1900s)

Small-world play: Train set (1960s) and farm (1950s)

Snakes and ladders game (1930s)

Teddy Bear: ‘Guisborough Ted’ (about 1900)

Binatone video game console (About 1980)

Take a look at our gallery of children playing in the past. Many of these photos are of people who work in our Tees Valley Museums, playing with their favourite toys when they were children.

Why not make a gallery like this of old photographs of people from your school community when they were children?

With my dad on a carousel (1992)

My first rattle (1988)

Tricycle (1997/8)

Playing dolls with my dad (1980)

Christmas with my sister (1980)

First birthday (1959)

Playing with my scooter (1970)

Playing with my big sister on her scooter, age 2½ and 6 years (Dec 1965/Jan 66)

On the beach with my brother (1970s)

My new Barbie House, aged 7 years (Christmas 1989)

With my doll, aged 1 year (about 1983)

Mum and auntie blowing up balloons, aged 2 and 3 years (1959)

Learning to walk, aged 10 months (1983)

Playing with my ‘Big Yellow Teapot’ house, age 5 years (Christmas 1987)

Playing with my new dolls pram, with nanny, on my 2nd birthday (June 1965)

Playing football with my big brothers (1998)

Astronaut outfit (Christmas 1980)

Playing with my Action Man doll (1980)

Fishing nets with my sister (1985)

Playing with my pram (1970s)

Playing with toy boats at the seaside (1925)

Playing with toy boats at the seaside (1925)

Playing with balls at the Artillery Barracks on the headland in Hartlepool (about 1930-60)