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Medieval Toys

Updated on February 20, 2015
CuAllaidh profile image

Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

The painting "Children's Game" depicts various children playing a wide variety of games, and playing with toys of a wide variety of types.
The painting "Children's Game" depicts various children playing a wide variety of games, and playing with toys of a wide variety of types. | Source

Keeping Kids Busy Is the Key to Successful Parenting

Keeping your kids busy has always been the goal of parents from all ages. A busy kid means the parent can get work done. While it is generally agreed that modern children are spoiled with the number of toys and the variety of toys, it has always been true that adults made toys for the sole purpose of keeping kids out of their hair. For SCAdian parents bringing toys to an event is a good idea, but why not keep the spirit of the event, and let the kids join in on the magic of time travelling to the medieval era, by bringing medieval toys for them to play with. Use it as a teaching moment to increase your children's knowledge of history, and give them a point of pride at having documentable toys. From personal experience my daughter loved to show off her knowledge of history, both at events and in the classroom back in mundania. The variety of toys that work for the SCA is endless, and here are a few simple ones you can think about, along with instructions on how to make them.

Roman Rag doll dated 1st-5th century CE.
Roman Rag doll dated 1st-5th century CE. | Source

Rag Dolls

Rag dolls are common throughout history and throughout almost all regions. They are simple dolls stuffed with rags, grass, sawdust, and/or pretty much anything laying around, the fun comes in the different clothing made for the doll. Often in history making simple rag clothes for the dolls was the first sewing a girl would do before moving on to more complex projects. These dolls were often very simple designs, while facial designs were probably embroidered on many most extant examples do not have any facial features.

A detail from Children's games shows a variety of children playing with Tops.
A detail from Children's games shows a variety of children playing with Tops. | Source

Tops

Spinning toys are always fascinating, to child and adults alike. Tops were common throughout the middle ages and came in a variety of types. One of the more common was a whip top, which had a small whip you used to keep the top spinning. Tops were generally made of wood, although sometimes of clay, until the Victorian era in which tin tops with a built in spinning mechanism became a fad. These simple toys are easy to make, can keep children amused for hours, and are perfectly period.

An event in Ramshaven we once made tops as site tokens and everyone who came got a hand decorated top. The tops themselves were easy, we simply cut out a bunch of disks out of a sheet of plywood using a specialized drill bit which also drilled a hole through the middle, used a short piece of dowel which we put a bit of a point on using a pencil sharpener and stuck the dowel into the center hole with a bit of wood glue on it. Then each one was custom painted. This is also a great idea for a kids craft at events, have unpainted versions with some acrylic paint and have the kids decorate their very own top.

Tops were also sometimes used in games as random number generators just as dice are. These tops were called teetotums and are used for games such as put and take and the jewish game of dreidle.

Leather stuffed with hair
Leather stuffed with hair | Source
Pattern for a ball
Pattern for a ball | Source

Balls

Balls are another great toy to bring to events. Kids love balls because they are so versatile, depending on the size of ball you can play catch, football, soccer, or a host of other games. Medieval balls came in a variety of styles, footballs were often inflated animal bladders, obviously that is out, but one of the easiest styles of balls is simply leather or cloth filled with rags. Felted balls were also common and are quite easy to make.

One of the simplest designs is to cut out two circles approximately the size of the ball you want to make and one strip that is about half the width of the ball and as long as the diameter of the balls. The pattern on the right shows what the pieces should look like. Sew the strip to each circle around its diameter which will leave a hole where the short edge of the strip is for stuffing. Stuff the ball until it is the desired toughness and then sew the hole shut.

Action Figures/Figurines

GI Joe may have been insanely popular during the 80's, but toy soldiers are not a new phenomenon. As long as little boys have looked up to their dads going off to war there have been toy soldiers. Sometimes simple wood carvings, sometimes ornate soldiers with kung-fu grips. Figurines could come in all sorts of designs, horses and other animals, soldiers, and pretty much anything else you'd expect. A common one found is a design in which the soldier can sit on a wooden horse with wheels to joust with others.

So many more

While I have listed a few toys that fit within the SCA period this barely begins to scratch the surface of the subject, board games, tops, dice, knucklebones, and so many more toys were common throughout the SCA period. Regardless of the childs age an appropriate toy can be found without jumping to an obviously out of place toy.

Now I am certainly not suggesting you leave your toddlers favourite toy, the one they simply can't live without, simply to keep the flavour of the SCA going, but I am suggesting you let your kids in on the magic of the SCA as well.

This article was written for the Avacal Games Guild

Badge of the Avacal Games Guild
Badge of the Avacal Games Guild | Source

© 2015 Jeff Johnston

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    • CuAllaidh profile image
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      Jeff Johnston 2 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Well to be fair the outer covering on the dolls rotted off.... they were probably much cuter when it was new

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Thise dolls look like voodoo dolls