It's hard to imagine how modern children could amuse themselves without video games, computers and TV, yet in the early 1900s kids had hours of fun with simple toys and games that were passed down from previous generations. Many of the tried-and-true toys and games, such as marbles and hide and seek, are still played.
Popular games played in the 1900s often revolved around songs, such as "Oranges And Lemons," where two children become a "chopper" by forming an arch with their arms. The other children run through the arch, singing the rhyme as they go (see References). The song ends with the words "chop, chop, chop, chop the last man's head" and at that point the "chopper" is brought down and the child caught in it is out and must choose to be an orange or a lemon. When everyone is out, the oranges have a tug-o-war match with the lemons. Another game, called "Nuts In May" involves a line with a row of children standing on either side of it. The children sing the song "Nuts in May" (see References). At the end of the song, with the words "We're sending [a child's name] to fetch her away" the named child steps onto the line and tries to pull the child standing opposite over it. If he succeeds, the other child is out. The game continues until there is only one child left. That child becomes the winner.
While the children of rich parents would have owned beautiful dolls, clockwork toys and regiments of tin soldiers, those from poorer families played with stones and bits of rubbish, or used a piece of rope to skip with. Cheap toys included wooden tops, marbles, yo-yos and wooden hoops which were rolled with a stick called a dowel.
1900s children often made their own toys. Girls would raid their mother's sewing box to make dolls, either by dressing wooden pegs with hand stitched clothes or by making rag dolls, with buttons for eyes and embroidered mouths. Boys would fashion swords from sticks or make slings using forked sticks and a piece of elastic. These would be used to fire small stones. Tin can stilts were made by looping pieces of string through a tin can. The child would stand on the cans and hold onto the string as he walked. Many children made their own scrapbooks using old greetings cards, newspaper clippings or pieces cut from religious magazines.
Board And Card Games
Cards and board games were popular in the 1900s. Children played checkers and chess -- those who couldn't afford to buy a game could make their own checkers with stones and marks on the ground. Card games, which gained popularity in the 18th century, were also commonplace in the 1900s. Children played "Happy Families," where the deck of cards consists of family groups. The object was to complete whole family sets by requesting specific cards from other players. They also enjoyed "Snap," where players place cards face up in a pile in turns, shouting "Snap!" when two of the same cards are laid consecutively. The player who shouts first wins the cards in the pile. A player who has no cards left is out.
Children in the early 1900s got plenty of exercise as many of their games involved playing outdoors. Children who lived in the countryside would fish and swim, while groups of kids would gather to play tag, leapfrog, hopscotch and games like "Come With Me." To play, the children formed a circle. The person who was "it" ran around the circle. He touched someone on the back and said: "Come with me!" The two then ran in opposite directions around the circle. When they met, they clasped hands, swung their arms in the air once and raced for the vacant space. The child who got there first stayed put while the other became "it."
Sally Brockway has been a journalist since 1987. She has worked for a variety of national U.K. publications, ranging from "The Sun" newspaper to "TV Times" magazine. Brockway was editor of the Pop Idol 2003 website and has written for Screenwriting Goldmine and Careerscope websites, as well. She has a degree in English and media studies.