Saturday, July 4, 2020

Children and Renaissance Play in the 21st Century

Toddler playing with wooden blocks

We can't deny that click, touch, tap, scroll, Zoom, batteries required and WiFi Ready are common terms associated with children's toys and games in the 21st Century, but there has been another favorite type of toy purchased by many parents over the past years.

This favorite type of toy is called a Back-to-Basics toy and there's a philosophy of Back-to-Basics that surrounds its preference.  This desire for simplicity, toys that "come to life" through the creativity of the child's imagination, has grown amongst many parents. 

When you consider back-to-basics toys, you might think of stacking blocks, pull toys, and other items such as play kitchen sets, etc.; but did you know that many of these toys were popular during the Renaissance period and beyond. 

Although there is debate among historians regarding the role and importance of children during the Renaissance period and some mention that children have been depicted in period artwork with the appearance of being mini adults, that they can be seen dressed like the adults, that they may not have enjoyed a childhood in the manner that children do today.  That life was harsh.

Except, children can also be seen in other works of art, such as the painting below where you can see children playing with spinning tops and enjoying hanging upside down on what we would today probably call a jungle gym.  Also, according to Marzieh Gail, "Renaissance children paddled in brooks and dammed up the water and floated improvised toy boats. They made mud pies and collected shells. Sometimes they caught butterflies. They had dolls and marbles and tops, blew soap bubbles from a pipe, and rode a stick, calling it a horse." (Gail 59-64)

Picture Credit: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Photo Meyer Erwin) (Gail p54)

Although there is "less...known about the first seven years of life than about other phases of the human lifecycle, ... advice manuals, pictorial evidence of swaddling and playing, and artifacts such as cradles, balls, and dolls indicate that it was a period when children, under their mothers’ supervision, were trained for survival but also given the leisure time to play with toys and to participate in games that shaped their fundamental socialization" (Ferraro Childhood in Medieval and Early Modern Times). Melissa Snell writes that, "play was ... a prominent part of medieval childhood." (Snell Childbirth, Childhood and Adolescence in the Middle Ages). 

The toys of the Renaissance period were definitely basic and fit right in with todays Back-to-Basics philosophy for children's toys. Since they consisted of boats, dolls, marbles, tops, pipes to blow bubbles through and the use of sticks as play horses. All of these toys "come to life" through the activity of the child, through the creativity of their imaginations. 

If you ever visit a Renaissance Festival, you will more than certainly find toys that are Back-to-Basic and truly inspired by toys from the Renaissance period. 

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, many festivals have cancelled for the 2020 year and visiting these vendors in-person will have to wait. 

Except, there are vendors who have or have recently created online stores where you can shop their skillfully handcrafted toys, toys made right here in America. You can visit their links below and follow them on Facebook as well, where you can get up to the minute updates on new items and works in progress.

Man standing in front of toy shop
Artisan: Patrick Donovan
Follow on Facebook U S wood toys


Artisan: Dick Sheridan
Browse the Toys at what.html
Order Information Here how.html


Owner/Vendor Brady Huffer

Wooden Swords & Shields

"I sell wooden swords and shields for kids that are made in the U.S. and stand up to a beating. These are single piece construction from high quality birch finish plywood with rounded edges and corners."
Follow on Facebook Age Of Chivalry


Additional Selection of Renaissance Festival Vendors 
offering a variety of children's items

Wassons Whimziez normally found at Sandpoint Renaissance Faire
Where "kids can fill a small wooden chest with all kinds of small things. Finger puppets, animal shaped erasers, dragon tears, colored acrylic gems, small figures, foam stickers, mini stuffed animals, and other things. I charge $3-$5 depending on size of box"
Follow on Facebook wassons.whimziez

Lady Feyline's Fantastickal Faces  normally found at Massachusetts Renaissance Faire, New Hampshire Renaissance Faire, Midsummer Fantasy Renaissance Faire, etc.
Find "children's costuming, specializing in faerie, princess, pirates and knights"

Mythological Taxidermy normally found at Sterling Renaissance Festival
Find dragon wrap bracelets, mini dragons, dragon hatchlings and more.


Related Articles

Medieval Toy Reconstruction Gallery

Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture: Toys and Playthings

AP News: Pediatricians Recommend Parents Go Back to Basics for Young Children’s Toys

Ignore the Flashing Screens: The Best Toys go Back to the Basics

Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era


Works Cited
“Games and Dances.” Life in the Renaissance, by Marzieh Gail, Random House, 1969, pp. 59–64.

Ferraro, Joanne M. "Childhood in Medieval and Early Modern Times" , in The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western Worlded. Paula S. Fass (Abingdon: Routledge, 30 Nov 2012 ), accessed 03 Jul 2020 , Routledge Handbooks Online.

Snell, Melissa. “Childbirth, Childhood and Adolescence in the Middle Ages.” ThoughtCo,

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