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When play was simple

Out-To-Play. Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh. February 17-June 2

With so many other colourful displays fighting for your attention at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, a new temporary exhibition there - "Out-To-Play" - doesn't, at first glance, look particularly exciting.

In fact, this is a thought-provoking show which, particularly when used in conjunction with the two well-researched but simple information leaflets produced to complement it, should provide the stimulus for a variety of classroom projects.

Mounted in the small gallery on the first floor, "Out-To-Play" looks at children's play out-of-doors from the late 1800s to the present day, and examines how and why it has changed over the years.

Most of the information, photographs and artefacts are displayed in cases under four major headings concentrating on the country, the street, the garden and park with objects ranging from humble clay marbles (including one thought to be 300 years old) to the very superior 20th-century pedal cars.

The exhibition seems to reinforce what many adults have been telling kids for years: that the average youngster in days gone by had to make-do with very little in the way of toys and clothing.

Photographs show scruffy children chalking on walls and playing on home-made sledges (the boys in short trousers, despite the snow) and see-saws.

These are displayed alongside exhibits such as a pile of conkers, a skipping rope with bobbin handles and a set of metal jacks in a hand-knitted bag. But there are also pictures of beter-off youngsters dressed in immaculate play outfits, proudly setting off on new bikes.

Toy crazes are charted, from yoyos and roller skates to frisbees, skateboards and last year's urban scooters.

As this exhibition demonstrates, it was once relatively safe for children to play in the street. But increasing traffic and other physical and social changes have seen a gradual retreat into public parks, the family garden and, nowadays, the bedroom.

Illustrations taken from the latest interior decoration magazines show a push to create children's bedrooms which are so fabulous their owners will never want to play anywhere else.

Spaceship, jungle and other fantasy transformations can be made with special ranges of paint, small-scale furniture and bed linen as well as an apparently unlimited range of tempting but expensive accessories.

At the heart of the exhibition is the "Have A Go" area where equipment and instructions (where necessary) are provided for visitors to play a game of marbles, hopscotch (also known as peevers) or jacks and try out a yoyo, make a cat's cradle or paper fortune teller. In fact, you can take a fortune teller instruction sheet away with you and try it at home or school.

Visitors are also invited to write down games they used to play or still play out-of-doors.

The two free leaflets produced for the exhibition include most of the concise written information in the show which has been researched and curated by Susan Gardner, plus useful historical facts about the toys on display.

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