The world has never been as invested in childhood as it is today. Sure, that's a bold statement, but after visiting the Museum of Modern Art's new Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000 exhibit, it certainly is an accurate one. The turn of the century brought a new interest in the childhood phase of life, and as Modernist design began to filter into the mainstream, it was quickly incorporated into kids' worlds via toys, posters, games, playgrounds, and schoolhouses.
The 500 items included in the exhibit — which is on display at the NYC museum until Nov. 4 — show how the focus has changed over the past hundred years starting with kindergarten movement founder Friedrich Fröbel's colorful cutting papers and simple wooden blocks, moving on to Maria Montessori's colorful and useful objects, then on to the Bauhaus movement, during which abstract design worked its way into toy development, and then finally into the post-World War II era as cardboard and plastic became the preferred materials for toy design.
The exhibit houses nostalgic favorites like the Spirograph and Playsam as well as an original Lego set, the first Colorforms, and pieces from the set of Pee-wee's Playhouse. But by far my favorite piece was a British catalog produced in 1939 entitled 25 Best Toys For Each Age — it showed me that 73 years ago, moms were already trying to ensure that their tots were playing with the best toys possible.
Keep reading to see a few other highlights from the exhibit, and if a trip to NYC is in your plans this Fall, be sure to add a visit to the MoMA to your to-do list!