Children like to play. Unsurprisingly, what they play with depends on their family's wealth. All around the world, children in the lowest income groups make do with discarded items inside and outside the home, such as a used tyre or bits of plastic, as well as contending with dangerous play areas.
Children in high income groups, however, have a wide set of toys to play with, from musical instruments to gadgets, which look remarkably consistent all around the world.
Dollar Street is a project that has documented, through pictures, the different lifestyles all over the world, including the toys that children play with. They visited 240 families in 46 countries and collected 30,000 photos, in a project that provides a vivid glimpse of inequalities - and similarities.
Children in low-income groups are unlikely to have safe areas to play in. They are often at risk of being injured by traffic on nearby roads, by other people in dangerous neighbourhoods, or by coming into contact with hazardous waste.
In the poorest homes, including those with incomes of US$100 a month or below, parents cannot afford to buy toys, so children play with discarded items. For example, the Geenkai family lives in Papua New Guinea and live on an income of US$45 a month. The children play with an old pair of goggles.
The Nidikumwami family lives in Burundi, and the children play with a stick and a piece of string. The family earns US$40 a month.
The Chowdhury family lives in West Bengal in India on US$29 a month, and their ‘toys’ are discarded plastic.
Children in the highest income groups tend to have the widest range of toys to play with and safe areas such as playgrounds to play in. They play with electronic toys and gadgets, but also like to play with plastic dolls and soft toys. Wherever they live in the world, their choice of toys is fairly consistent.
The Västibacken family lives in Sweden on an income of US$4,883 a month. The children play with LEGO.
The Bi family in China buy musical instruments for their children. They earn over US$10,000 a month.
In the richest homes, children often have a smartphone, as is the case with this family from Latvia which has an income of US$11,831 a month.
Those in middle-income groups play with things like footballs, wooden or plastic animals and soft toys like teddy bears.
The Martinez Rodrigez family in Mexico earns US$897 a month and the children have a variety of plastic dolls to play with.
The Fernandez family live in the United Kingdom on US$1,040 a month. They play with plastic toys and soft toys.
Variations within a country
Where a child lives doesn’t always predict what they will play with. Levels of income within a country can be very different. For example, the children in these two families in Nepal have very different toys. The Maharjan family earns US$84 a month. Their children play on concrete with a ball, whereas the children of the Basnet family, with US$1,747 a month, have access to lots of toys.
Same toys, different countries
The things children around the world play with look surprisingly similar when their families are on similar incomes, despite being from different cultures and continents.
These toys are all from families with an income of between US$230 and US$260. A soft toy in the Philippines (US$238) and in Jordan ($249).
A ball in Bolivia (US$254) and Vietnam (US$246).
The importance of play
Play comes intuitively to children, but it is also a vital part of their development.
However, children don’t need expensive electronic toys to learn best. Casey Lew-Williams, a researcher at Princeton University, explains that the most sophisticated educational toys are often less effective than simply playing, talking, singing and cuddling.
“It's about showing the baby how fun it is to be with another person, and how communicating with others is rewarding,” explains Lew-Williams. “Parents often don't realize that education starts so early and that they play such an outsized role in getting learning started, even when they have a newborn.”