Children around the world all share a common interest with young warm blooded animal cubs: an innate urge to play. The use of play is a natural method for learning how to coordinate movements and for practicing actions and routines. Later, in the adult phase, these skills will be essential for the development of the animal… and the child.
Traces of toys have been found dating back to the beginning of time and from all cultures in every part of the planet. In our modern world, with all its super high tech devices, it seems that the world of play is linked to high definition, hyper-real screen images.
It is always surprising to see little children however, perhaps your own child, opening a Christmas present only to promptly remove and brush aside the shiny new toy robot inside and go about playing with the empty box, transforming it into a helmet, a boat, a house, a fort… Imagination needs little to flourish.
Mexico has an old and valuable tradition of creating carefully crafted wooden toys decorated with vibrant colors. It is no coincidence that Mexico is the world’s third largest producer of toys after China and Spain. Over 220 traditional toy manufacturing companies employ some 28,000 workers. Traditional Mexican toys, some of which have been inherited from pre-Colombian cultures, continue to prevail and bravely stand up to videogames, with whom they coexist in relative harmony.The importance of traditional toys is made evident by the existence of various museums which display these tools of traditional child’s play.
The most relevant one is likely the Museo del Juguete Popular Mexican (the museum of popular Mexican toys, popularly known as “la Esquina” given its corner location). The museum is in San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, and it houses over one thousand of these play items. Other noteworthy museums include the Museo de Culturas Populares del Estado de México in Toluca and the Museo del Juguete Antiguo México (known as the MUJAM) in Mexico City. A game in which each player purchases pieces of cardboard decorated with certain pictures and symbols that match those found in a deck of cards. The first player to complete their cardboard gets to take all the other players’ money. This is a popular game to play in Mexico at family get-togethers.
These are puppets, made of wood or cardboard and fabric, which can be manipulated by the hand with or without strings. The puppets may represent a wide variety of characters from popular children’s stories. A toy that fosters manual dexterity. It is made up of a long wooden stick that is joined to a ball made of the same material and which has a hole in it that is just barely larger than the diameter of the stick. The object of the game is to insert the stick into the hole in the ball by balancing the ball with only one hand.This is a noise maker designed for users to make the loudest noise possible.
They can be seen at stadiums and at popular festivals. Other traditional “musical” objects include ceramic whistles, which when filled with water imitates the chirping of birds.This is a hexagon shaped top with a different number painted on each side. Players take turns spinning the top. The player who scores the most points after several spins wins.
This is perhaps the most internationally recognized traditional Mexican toy. It is a ceramic or cardboard container filled with candy. Blindfolded players must try to hit and break the piñata.This is a wooden top that players fling onto the ground and spin by pulling a string wound around the toy. It is common for players to fling their tops together to watch them “fight”.These are tubes made of braided palm leaves. When fingers are inserted into the ends of the tube, it is impossible to get them out again if the person tries to do so quickly and with force.
Traditional Mexican toy makers will continue using their creativity and inspiring skill to create all these toys and many more, such as rag dolls, slingshots, wooden cars and airplanes, doll houses, and all types of objects designed to make children happy in exchange for a small amount of money and a big amount of creativity.