Every City Should Have a Toy Library


On July 30, 1942, then–New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia was uptown in Harlem, playing with toys.

“Harlem Gets First Toyery,” announced a Paramount newsreel heralding the opening of the neighborhood’s first toy-lending library, a storefront on West 135th Street stocked with 1,000 playthings and sponsored by a branch of the Domestic Relations Court.

Ida Cash, a city probation officer, had conceived of the “toyery” in the late 1920s upon “contrasting the barren homes she found with the happy lot of her own children.” Philanthropic New York women decided to support the project, likewise concerned that children were being arrested for stealing toys.

By the 1930s, the Heckscher Foundation for Children ran two toyeries where children could play with toys, check them out, and make crafts. Others followed suit. A consensus had formed that, as with playgrounds and book libraries, funds should be set aside for playing with toys. Monkey bars worked their bodies, reading worked their minds, but there was something else, something both physical and mental, that happened when they worked their fingers. Imagination. Socialization. Freedom.

An American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report, published in August 2018, makes the same argument Cash did from the depths of the Great Depression: “The most powerful way children learn isn’t only in classrooms or libraries but on playgrounds and in playrooms.” Play is essential for the development of social, emotional, language and cognitive skills—and play is threatened by academic expectations, mobility limitations, and screens.

The solutions to these problems are many: bringing back recess (cut by many schools in favor of more class time), reducing homework, and creating safer pedestrian and bike routes to schools and playgrounds. But spaces in which to play, and a constantly renewable source of things to play with, are essential to improving early childhood outcomes. The toy librarians of the 1930s had it right: Toys should be free. And the library is the perfect platform, because citizens already understand it as a public good and distribution hub.

The oldest continuously operating toy library is the Los Angeles County Toy Loan Program, administered by the Department of Public Social Services, and founded in 1935. A dime-store operator noticed that kids were stealing toys and decided, rather than report the youth to the police, he would fill his garage with surplus toys and lend them out. The program now serves 35,000 children a year, distributing playthings at …read more

Source:: The Atlantic – Technology

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