Some of the 20th century’s most iconic and influential Nordic designs for children, from BRIO to LEGO, Marimekko and the Moomins have been brought together for the first time in a new exhibition at the Museum of Childhood.

It’s basically a long line showing the progression of children’s design over the past hundred and a bit years.

From early wooden toys to modern plastics.

The exhibition borrows its title from the ground breaking book, The Century of the Child by Swedish social theorist, Ellen Key, first published in 1900. Key envisioned that during the 20th century, children would become the centre of adult’s attention. Her ideas on encouraging children’s creativity, education and rights have permeated Nordic design.

The Nordic approach to childhood doesn’t just focus on the children, but also includes the family, so there’s a display of Finland’s famous starter kit for parents. A cardboard box, that doubles up as a cot, filled with goodies.

It’s a tradition that dates back to 1938 and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.

The widespread success of Nordic childhood products can be attributed to their innovative and intuitive designs, in which the child’s needs are central. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, Nordic designers, architects and writers contributed to strengthening the intellectual, emotional and physical development of children.

So there’s the world famous LEGO – if one of their less famous products — alphabet bricks. Also here, something that was invented in Sweden – the baby bouncer. Tested on the inventor’s infant nephew, over the mothers objects, the child loved it — and it’s been an international hit ever since. It’s curious to think that something so simple is barely 70 years old.

The slight niggle with the exhibition is that it’s a bit cold — a scarcity of objects laid out in Nordic minimalism with little of the fun left in them.

It’s more an exhibition of design than of childhood.

The exhibition is free to visit at the Museum of Childhood and open until 2nd September.


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