Toy blocks (also building bricks, building blocks, or simply blocks) are wooden, plastic, or foam pieces of various shapes (square, cylinder, arch, triangle, etc.) and colors that are used as construction toys. Sometimes toy blocks depict letters of the alphabet.
There are mentions of blocks or "dice" with alphabets inscribed on them used as entertaining educational tools in the works of English writer and inventor Hugh Plat (his 1594 book The Jewel House of Art and Nature) and English philosopher John Locke (his 1693 essay Thoughts Concerning Education). Plat described them as "the child using to play much with them, and being always told what letter chanceth, will soon gain his Alphabet" and Locke noted "Thus Children may be cozen'd into a Knowledge of the Letters; be taught to read, without perceiving it to be anything but a Sport".
University of Pennsylvania professor of Urbanism Witold Rybczynski has found that the earliest mention of building bricks for children appears in Maria and R.L. Edgeworth's Practical Education (1798). Called "rational toys", blocks were intended to teach children about gravity and physics, as well as spatial relationships that allow them to see how many different parts become a whole. In 1837 Friedrich Fröbel invented a preschool educational institution Kindergarten. For that, he designed ten Froebel Gifts based on building blocks principles. During the mid-nineteenth century, Henry Cole (under the pseudonym of Felix Summerly) wrote a series of children's books. Cole's A book of stories from The Home Treasury included a box of terracotta toy blocks and, in the accompanying pamphlet "Architectural Pastime", actual blueprints.
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