When I began making friends in London, a big revelation for me was the difference in toys and games everyone played with as children. In one conversation I mentioned playing “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” as a child. My British friends informed me that in the UK, the game is called “Hungry Hippos”. Perhaps in America the hippos are hungrier?
A visit to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green reveals not only how different cultures today experience childhood, but explains how people throughout history experienced play through toys and games. A walk around the galleries explains key themes surrounding these toys and asks questions you might not necessarily think of with playtime – what did it mean to be a child in Tudor England? How do toys differ across a number of cultures?
The displays are not all serious though. There are many interactive exhibits that bring history to life. The newest temporary exhibition explores toys inspired by war, with toys ranging from Captain American to He-Man to Risk.
The exhibits I found most engaging were the dollhouses – a grand collection of intricate houses from Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods reflecting tastes in fashion and interior decoration. What fascinated me most was the level of detail in each of these dollhouses – even their kitchens were well equipped with tiny copper pots and pans. All of the houses are enclosed in glass displays, so no playing with these houses is allowed.