Comparing past and present - Toys and play

Learning intention

Students explore toys and play in the past through a historical photograph. They use visual thinking tools and discussion to compare the past and the present, and make a connection to their own lives and experiences.

Students will:

  • Identify and compare features of objects from the past and present
  • Develop a narrative about the past
  • Distinguish between the past, present and future
  • Recognise differences and similarities between students' daily lives and life during their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods



Have children discuss then draw pictures of themselves doing something that they enjoy. Model discussion of their drawings using present tense sentence starters, for example; You enjoy..., I play..., I use..., 

Introduce photo of young boy playing with toy train c. 1900. Help them to talk about the photograph and dig down into the details they see and infer (Who's in the photo? What's the boy doing? What are his clothes like? When and where do you think the photo was taken?).

Explain the photo was taken a long time ago, over 100 years ago. Work through a simple analysis of the image making sure you mention features like:

  • toy train
  • pet dish
  • bird aviary
  • the young boy’s clothing
  • fence (security)
  • who may have taken the photo (Can you see a shadow?)
  • where the photo was taken

Model and encourage discussion of the image using appropriate past tense sentence starters, for example; In the past, children liked..., A long time ago they enjoyed..., He played with... 

Ask students to brainstorm what life might have been like for Australian children a long time ago. What things might have been different? What might be the same today? 

Introduce venn diagram. You could use an online venn diagram generator or do this on paper or the board. As a class, fill out the similarities/differences using suggestions from the children’s own drawings and the photograph.

To guide the discussion and work on the venn diagram, use sentence starters like:

  • Children used to...
  • Long ago...
  • Children had/did/were...

More to explore

Kindergarten Historians: Primary Sources in an Early Elementary Classroom

This post from the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog describes a session with early years students as they explore how the mail used to be delivered long ago.