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Educational games | Parker collection | Birmingham City Council

Educational games

This clip profiles the educational aspects of games and books in the Parker Collection. Including “The Picture Alphabet” produced by the Kendall and Son company of Birmingham in approximately 1845, “Peacocks Improved Double Dissection, Geography and History” – an early example of a historical jig-saw puzzle, the “New Parlour Spelling Game – or Reading Made Easy” and the “Educated Monkey” a mathematical tin toy produced in America in 1918.


You can see from this array of games that the necessity of learning how to read and write has always been a primary driver for children. This is something that educationalists and parents identified very early as the way to succeed in life if you were literate. Then we’ve got something probably aimed at much younger children and they’re little pots and the first little pot is the picture alphabet and it was made by Kendal & Son, Birmingham. Its got a very pretty little picture on the lid as well and it dates from about 1845-1850 and on some of them you can actually see infant tooth marks. And you’ve got a little picture and the letter. This set, which we don't know who made them because the box is too battered. And these are wood and they're covered with paper with pictures on and then covered with some kind of varnish and again you can see areas where they've been used as teething rings. You've got some really quite challenging options; F for fiddle, X is for Xerxes who presumably was acceptable because he appeared in the bible, Y for youths. These are examples of horn books and what you had basically was usually a piece of wood which might be this size or a bit wider or a bit smaller and you'd have piece of printing on it with the alphabet possibly some joined together vowels or consonants, and then you'd have a small piece of, well it'd probably be the Lord's Prayer, usually the Lord's Prayer, and children would have this as their first reading aid, and it was very handy really because when the teacher wasn't looking you could use them to hit things over the desks.

This is Peacocks Improved Double Dissection. Now dissection is a dissected map and a dissected map is basically a geographical jigsaw. And this is Geography and History of Europe so it's very... looking outside of the boundaries of the UK. I suspect because of the trade-out this was probably quite a theme in Victorian education. That you would bring your children up to be as well educated as possible. And then when you turn it over, you've got a different style of map altogether, this is a common format for historical maps, what children would do, is they would learn, basically, when different rulers came to the throne and when they left the throne and why. This is showing you some interesting people in historical order and what they did so that you'd be able to talk a little bit about this, but not too much, just to show you were educated. And not all of the things are strictly speaking historically accurate, they're more a series of historical myths some of them. Well, I know there's a question of whether the princes in the tower were murdered or not, so its full of the sort of things you'd expect, battles, deaths of very important people, the fire of London, Charles II hiding in the oak. So they're stories, they're little stories designed to help children remember what they've been taught.

We have the New Parlour Spelling Game - Reading Made Easy. So, you've got a six lines of text that you can put whatever you like in and it enables you to learn how to spell without necessarily being able to write it down terribly well. So children whose writing abilities were not terribly developed could still improve their spelling by picking out the works and putting them on the frame.

Here we've got the Educated Monkey, he's a tin toy from the educational toy manufacturing company in Springfield, Massachusetts. He is an early calculator so you put his little feet at say seven times eleven, so you line up one on the seven, one on the eleven and the result is shown in the little box between his hands, which is seventy-seven. He dates from 1918 so he's at the end of the First World War. It ties into the philosophy of teaching children, but make it enjoyable so that they'll take in the information more readily.