IDAHO FALLS — For Museum of Idaho volunteer Robert “Bob” Drexler, the opening of “Toytopia” was accompanied by a rush of nostalgia.
“Toytopia,” the museum’s latest traveling exhibit, includes a display that features pieces from an Erector Set. Upon seeing the toy, Drexler told a story about how all he wanted for Christmas when he was 10 years old was a particular Erector Set and how receiving one set the course for his future.
“I decided I wanted the 10 ½ (Erector Set) because that had a motor and a variety of moving items that I wanted to build,” Drexler told EastIdahoNews.com. “So I told Dad, ‘No presents other than a 10 ½ Erector Set. And guess what? That’s what I got.”
The Erector Set became Drexler’s favorite toy and impacted his future in a profound way.
“(The Erector Set) caused me to become an engineer,” he said. “It was my interest in learning how to put things together and make them work.”
“Toytopia” spotlights how playing with our favorite plaything can influence us throughout our entire lives. The exhibit also serves as a historical retrospective covering the development of everything from stuffed toys like teddy bears to video games.
On top of that, “Toytopia” tells its story through a wealth of interactive features. Visitors to the museums can play a giant version of games like “Battleship” and “Connect Four,” build with Legos and Lincoln Logs, play inside a life-size dollhouse and take some of the most popular arcade game machines from the 1980s for a spin.
But while “Toytopia” is about the toys, it’s also about the deep emotional bonds we form with our favorite playthings and how those bonds help to forge who we become as adults.
“Part of what’s exciting about this exhibit is that it’s not only educational, it’s also formative,” said museum spokesperson Jeff Carr. “It talks about how every single person who comes through this exhibit can have a personal connection with what we have here, which isn’t the case with Genghis Kahn and things like that. It’s a history that applies to everybody.”
Museum spokesperson Chloe Doucette said that “Toytopia” also highlights the way aspects of STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) are incorporated into toys, making playtime educational as well as fun.
“There really are so many connections to things we try to teach our kids in school or that we try to teach ourselves as adults,” Doucette said. “Those basic concepts are shown in a toy. The Erector Set with engineering is a perfect example, but also there’s this whole section of brain-teasers and on the sign, they call that ‘recreational math.’”
“Beyond all those hard subjects of math, science, physics and all of those, there are also so many social skills we pick up when we’re playing,” Doucette added. “That’s something that, in early childhood, is one of the most important ways to learn and pick up on social and emotional cues in other people: by practicing that with toys that you have.”
“Toytopia” is now at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls through Jan. 29, 2023. You can visit the museum’s website, Facebook and Instagram for more information. With “Toytopia” in town and some really cool events and exhibits coming in the near future, now is a great time to be a Museum of Idaho member. Click here to learn how.