What toys did Einstein play with?

  • Aug 21, 2015
  • Albert Einstein when young

    As parents, we want the best for our children. So when a product promises that it can create anything from Baby Einsteins to child prodigies, it is hard to resist. And there are plenty of companies targeting this weakness of ours!
    But what toys did the original baby Einstein play with? You'll be surprised.

    In his biography Albert Einstein—The Early Years, his sister Maria says that he used to love playing with "puzzles, jigsaws and a construction kit". He had an Anker-Steinbaukasten, which means 'anchor stone construction kit' that he was particularly fond of. This is a construction kit that's not as typical as today's lego/similar blocks in that they need a lot more of the child's active imagination to be applied. 

    Researchers today believe that playing with these irregularly shaped, multi-coloured building blocks helped him visualize three dimensional molecular structures later in life.

    He also liked building houses of cards, which he was able to build up to 14 stories high as a ten-year-old.

    It is from these humble, simple toys that his intellect blossomed. Yet, today parents often end up buying sophisticated gizmos and gadgets in the belief that their child will be left behind in the great brain race if they do not.  Little wonder that educational toys for 3 year olds or preschoolers have become so popular. 

    These typical educational toys are often menu driven and unidirectional, hampering a child’s creativity, imagination and curiosity. They do not allow for creativity or experimentation. By showing the child how to think, they prevent the child's imagination and problem solving skills to kick in.

    Research shows that children are happiest with toys that are simple, have child friendly contours and provide a natural feel and texture that they enjoy. A simple wooden car or train set or other educational toys can fire your 3 year old’s or little one’s imagination for hours.

    In 2011, the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University released the results of its TIMPANI (Toy to Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) study. In the words of the study’s principal researcher, “Basic, open-ended toys tend to be more beneficial to children’s play and learning than some of the more elaborate and commercial toys that are on the market.”

    Toys with batteries, buttons and scripts lead you to the same pre-determined results over and over again. Low-tech toys made from natural materials like wood and cloth provide engaging sensory experiences. They are also safer than flashy plastic toys that maybe painted with unsafe colours or gizmos where batteries could leak.

    The 90-10 rule to choose toys

    If you have watched a child play with blocks and convert them into everything from castles, homes, furniture, cars, to rockets, you will agree with Einstein who said “Logic will take you from A-Z but imagination will take you everywhere”.

    The best kind of play happens when the toy contributes 10% and the child contributes 90%. Think back to the good old swing: how much fun was it to pump your legs in the air and go higher and higher? You could pretend you were flying or skiing, or maybe that you were a bird or an astronaut or the wind itself!  Or that favourite rocking horse which could be your loyal pet or turned you to into a prince, a princess, or a knight, a steed on which you won many battles.

    If you want your child to think out of the box, the trick is to not buy toys come with too many instructions. Choose toys that can be played with in many different ways, which hone multiple developmental skills — all without forcing education or learning on your child.

    Einstein's theory of relativity was born out of his daydream about riding or running beside a sunbeam to the edge of the universe.  Let your child explore their universe with toys that empower them do it on their own terms. Give them the gift of imagination!

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