Checkers, dominoes, paper dolls…. Such were children’s toys and games in days gone by
BY LILY KONGSLIEN
Special to the Star Journal
Let’s take a walk back into the pre-World War II years of the 20s and 30s and look through the eyes of a child. Toys and games were not plentiful and many were created by the children themselves through their own imagination. Today toys, games and recreation for boys and girls can be costly (video games, for instance). Just ask any parent of young children or teenagers-birthday and Christmas gifts become expensive expenditures. I really can’t fairly compare “then” and “now” since we are now living in a fast-paced industrial age compared to the easy going, down-to-earth existence years ago. However, I will attempt to describe some of the toys and games and recreational activities we enjoyed in the early part of the century.
At school, with the tightly structured day of the rural school, except for recess, we did not have to search for time fillers. Outside was the usual playground equipment found at most rural schools-the swings and several teeter-totters. Kids played tag, king on the mountain and hide and seek. In the winter they made forts of larger chunks of snow and had “war” using snowballs. In the fall and spring, the girls played jacks and hopscotch. Pom-pom pull away was a rough game, as also was crack the whip, but looking back it is surprising how few injuries there were in these rough games. Handy-I-I-over, throwing a ball over the woodshed or even the steep schoolhouse roof, provided exercise for all ages. Younger students always enjoyed playing hide and seek and tried to be “it” time and time again. Many times during recess or noon hour, the girls played house using the small first and second graders as the children and sometimes asked an older boy to be the “father;” they were playing out the family as they knew it. Inside the school, games were supervised by the teacher-mainly learning games that increased manual dexterity and mental powers of the students.
At home, homemade activities kept youngsters of all ages busy and happy. Remember that farm youngsters had chores required of them and play time was only after all work was done. In winter, the kids had sleds and skis and snowshoes and many hours were filled with making artificial hills for skiing, and plowing paths for our sledding activities and we used the cleared river and slough paths for a race track. This activity was reserved for weekends when we were allowed out after dark as we traveled to our plowed paths by the light of the moon. Evenings inside in the winter months were filled with homework, reading library books from the school library and playing our own word games. My brother was a good artist and did a lot of drawing and I liked to paint with water colors. I also liked to write plays or stories and then act out all the parts myself. Maybe other families had more store-bought games but my paper dolls were cut from the catalog. Actual purchased games were few. I remember having tiddle-de-winks, tinker toys, checkers, dominoes and, later, Chinese checkers. Most girls had a doll or two. I spent many hours dressing my dolls and playing school-the dolls were the students and I was the teacher.
Summer vacation and spring and fall months provided the most fun since most of our activities were outside then. Father made us each a pair of stilts and we practiced for hours trying to walk on them. An old discarded car tire was quite a challenge-we’d see how far we could keep it going as we guided it with a stick. I loved to play “store” using discarded boxes and containers from the kitchen to stock my store shelves.
Quite often on Sunday afternoons, we would play baseball with the neighbor kids either in our fields or in their fields after the haying was over. We had an area for horse shoe practice and many times we’d get a group together for some keen competition.
Unlike today, you can see, we had some games and toys and our own imagination helped us to invent games and activities that were the most fun.