Spin Tops: 6000 years old and still popular
What if we told you that you, your child, and King Tut all played with one same toy?
That’s right, the spin top!
Most of us have precious memories with this toy — spinning it and watching closely to make sure it keeps turning, admiring its colours merge as it rotates, maybe even some friendly sibling spin-offs! While many toys and games we played may no longer be in the market or relevant for children today, the spin top is one of the rare exceptions. It has remained a classic through history, across generations, and for good reason.
Tops have a long and interesting origin story, can be played with at any age, and offer benefits for both younger and older kids. Let’s look at how this toy came about and how today’s tops can be enjoyed!
How did spin tops come about?
Spin tops are one of the oldest toys that we know of. Archaeologists believe that they originated independently across different cultures. Found amongst indigenous tribes, some of the first tops were made by carving and shaping fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Clay tops from the 35th century BC were discovered in Iraq and wooden tops carved in 1300 BC were discovered in the tomb of the Egyptian King Tut. In ancient Rome, a four-sided top called teetotum was used to play a variety of games, the way we now use dice. In the 1500s, Jews in Germany popularised a version of the teetotum called the dreidel, which is well-known even today!
Tops made of gourds, shells, bamboo, and stone were also common in Japan and China. There are Indian versions of the top too, such as the lattu, bamrabam, and bongaralu atta.
Over the centuries, the top has evolved. Today's tops are designed to have minimal friction to keep them spinning for long. While they are now made with all sorts of materials, wooden tops are still preferred for the smoothness of their fine craftsmanship.
Benefits of spin tops for children
While a top may be pretty basic, there’s a lot it can offer children across different ages. Two of the most important benefits are honing a toddler’s fine motor skills and getting older children curious to understand how it works.
Enhancing fine motor skills - A child has to rotate the top between the thumb and the pointer finger to make it spin. This movement of the fingers helps toddlers and preschoolers get comfortable manipulating the tiny muscles in their hands. A steady grip and ease of movement will also help them hold and write with a pencil, use a spoon, and play sports and other games.
Encourages curiosity and learning - A spinning top is something of a marvel, even to adults! Watching it move into a vertical position and spin into gorgeous colours will certainly get a child curious to learn more about how it works. If your child is old enough, this is the perfect chance to sneak in a little physics lesson. You can explain how when you spin a top into motion, you're applying a force that converts the top's energy into kinetic energy, or energy of motion. You can also explain how friction and gravity play a role in the movement of the top.
Games you can play with tops
1. Keep them standing - Spin several tops together and try to keep them spinning as long as you can. You will have to focus, concentrate, and be quick to turn the tops that are slowing down. Keep time and try again until you beat your own high score!
2. Within boundaries - Draw a square or circle on a large sheet of paper and try to keep your top spinning within the lines. If you are feeling confident in your skills, you could even draw more complicated shapes with trickier boundaries!
3. Top bowling - How about a game of bowling with tops as your ball? You could set up small objects as your pins such as stationary, sticks, or folded paper. Try spinning the top to hit the center pin and knock the rest down. Do you think you can get a strike?
4. Classic spin-off - It can be just as much fun to spin tops with others. Challenge siblings or friends to a spin-off where you each have 2 or 3 tops. Players have to spin all their tops together. The player with the last top spinning wins!
5. Land your top - Do you think you’ve understood your tops well enough? Set a point at some distance and try to spin your top to reach there. Alternatively, you could also spin your top and try to guess where exactly it will land!
Whether you are a toddler, an older child, or an adult, there are endless ways to play with and enjoy tops. You can support Indian artisans and keep the spirit of play and learning alive with these lovely, timeless toys!