The universal language of child’s play

One of my greatest joys is watching my little girl playing, whether it be re-imagining her immediate environment with great creativity or interacting with her peers in new ways that as her parents, we haven’t experienced.

Like most kids in affluent societies, she has an excessive amount of toys, ranging from the recycled, or handcrafted, fair trade, sustainably-sourced, non-toxic, minimal packaging etc etc ones I prefer, to the occasional mass-marketed, plastic atrocity which has managed to find its way into our home.  But ironically, it is often the less usual suspects that become the most coveted ‘toys’; silicon muffin cases, old egg cartons, random buttons, a set of pencils with Christmas-themed erasers on their ends, a 1970s plastic sauce dispenser that was headed for the trash…

When I saw Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories project, capturing children from all different countries with their toys, I loved that it showed children’s delight in building collections of their favourite things.  From dinosaurs to trains, from sunglasses to musical instruments, these collections tell the story of the child’s world around them.  They often reflect a child’s (or their parent’s) career ambitions, or in the case of the less privileged child who only has one or two beloved toys, also show the increased reliance on outdoor play with friends and animals in the absence of material objects.

While Galimberti found many similarities with the role played by toys and their significance from country to country, the photographer found that how children played with their toys varied. “The richest children were more possessive. At the beginning, they wouldn’t want me to touch their toys, and I would need more time before they would let me play with them… In poor countries, it was much easier. Even if they only had two or three toys, they didn’t really care.”

Here’s some of my favourite photographs and stories from the project, but do check out the rest. Must say, it looks like collecting sunglasses is a bit more fun than collecting guns…

Maudy, Zambia (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Maudy was born in a hut in a small village close to Kalulushi, in Zambia. She grew up playing in the street with the other children in the village, who all attend the same school, where students ages 3 to 10 years old are in the same class. The village has no shops, restaurants or hotels, and just a few children are lucky enough to have toys. Maudy and her friends found a box full of sunglasses on the street, which quickly became their favorite toys.


Enea, USA (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Enea was born in Tuscany to an Italian father and an American mother, but now lives in Colorado. His uncle is a musician and Enea loves to imitate him. He often plays with his small musical instruments, trying to play the theme songs from “Batman” and “SpiderMan.” Sometimes he plays with his older sister Anita, and they pretend to have a band.


Naya Managua, Nicaragua (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Naya has few small cook tools but she never gets bored to play with them. She uses mud and grass from the garden to pretend to cook some cakes for her older sister. She says that in the future she will manage a restaurant and she’s sure that tourists will love it!


Jaqueline, The Philippines (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Jaqueline has a lot of different toys but her favourite is for sure Tinkerbell, the little green fairy that her best friend gave her. Her father is a fashion photographer and almost every day takes photos of her too. Jaqueline says that she will be a model in the future.


Pavel, Ukraine (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Pavel doesn’t have any doubts: he wants to be a police man. He loves guns and plays with them all the time. His younger brother is always under “Pavel’s arrest.” Pavel handcuffs him, questions him and accuses him of stealing cars. Sometimes he lets his brother be the police man, but only when other friends come over and become the “bad people” Pavel wants to arrest!


Chiwa, Malawi (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Chiwa live in a small hut with her mother, father and sister. They don’t have electricity and running water. Chiwa used to help her mother to carry water at home from the river. In the village there are other 50 children (more or less) and they always plays all together outside. Chiwa has just 3 toys that some volonteers of an NGO gave to her when she was born. Her favourite is the dinosaurus because she says that he can protect her from the dangerous animals.


Radhika, India (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Radhika was born in Mumbai 6 years ago but she lived the first 3 years in New York together with her family. Now she lives in Mumbai but her first language is still english. She knows just few words in hindi and just because her babysitter speaks just hindi. Radhika love table games and her favourite is “monopoly” because she can buy houses and hotels. From her room’s windows, at the 18th floor of a new building, she can see almost the whole city.


Taha, Lebanon (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Taha was born in Palestine but now he lives in Beriut where he’s a refugee together with his family. They lives in a sort of shantytown together with a few thousand of other people. Everybody there is from Palestine. To get water and electricity they need to illegaly connect their house to the public service. Taha has just one toy, the car, and he didn’t have any doubt when i asked him to show me his favourite toy.


Stella, Italy (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Stella was born in Italy to an Italian father and Australian mother. They live in the countryside of a small city in Tuscany. She loves to play with dolls and dress them up like princesses, and she also loves to dress up like a princess. Her favorite toy is the small pink pig behind her.


Norden, Morocco (photo: Gabriele Galimberti) Norden lives in Massa, a small village 40km south of Agadir. In the room where he plays and sleeps there is nothing, except for a carpet. Every day he wakes up early together with his family and he goes with the down to the valley where they have some pieces of land to farm. He spends most of his time playing with a small dog outside, even because the ones in the photo are all the toys he owns.



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