Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homemade Fun

A few years ago a first grade teacher in the school where my daughter worked at the time, asked her class about playing outdoors when they were home. None--not one--of those children played outdoors at all when they were home. Apparently their only outdoor playtime was school recess--including summers.

A few days ago there was a discussion on television about a recent trend for people (wealthy ones, I must assume) to hire a professional to teach their children how to play. I am dumbfounded by the very thought. My assumption is that the teaching was mostly directed at playing with others. But, still. . . .

So, I am thinking about what we did for play when my sisters and I were growing up.

To begin with, we did not have rooms overflowing with toys. We had some, but not many. There were no TVs; computers, video games, and all the electronic wonders had not yet been invented. Parents could not just go to the local discount store (there weren't any) and buy a nice swing set, plastic sand box, plastic wading pool, etc., for their kids.

Cousin Jackie Mackey, Brownie, Me, Pinkie in the sandbox. In the upper right side, part of the top of the swings can be seen. So few photos were taken in the back yard that this is the only
one with the swing I could find. Circa 1949/50.
So, what did we do? First of all, for playground-type equipment, my dad built things for us. He was not a great carpenter/handy-man type, but he built things for his kids to play on. He built a sand box out of some boards and a load of local sand. He built a swing set out of a couple of telephone-type poles (somewhat shortened), a crossbar, ropes, and notched boards for seats. That was a great swing set. The height and the ropes made for wonderful swinging--we could really get some height going! He also built a teeter-totter out of a very long, thick board bolted to a center support. I don't remember exactly how the center fastening was done, but it was a much better teeter-totter than what is now available from the store. The length and sturdiness of the board meant someone could play "candlestick" by standing across the center of the board while two others sat on the ends. The candlestick balanced, shifting weight from foot to foot as the others pushed up and down at the ends. I loved being the candlestick!

Some other things we did:

  • We played house--in the summertime the front porch was an ideal "house."
  • We played a lot of running, jumping, horsing around type games with the neighborhood kids--cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians (yes, we absolutely did have cap guns and none of us grew up to be murderers), tag, statues, Red Rover, Mother May I, and just generally chasing around.
  • We roller skated--not the kind of skates kids have today, but the kind that you tightened onto the soles of your shoes with a skate key, and which could be adjusted lengthwise as your feet grew. They were, of course, outdoor skates. We could skate on the sidewalks all around our block, and, if Mama gave permission, could cross the street at the north end of our block and skate on the sidewalks around the grade school. That was the absolute best skating, because those walks were very smooth and wide. We played cops and robbers on skates at the school sidewalks.
  • We learned to walk on stilts--which Daddy made for us by cutting 2x4's to the proper length and nailing a block of wood about 12 to 18 inches above the bottom end for foot rests. 
  • We played with toy cars. The fun part about that was creating roadways, tunnels, and bridges in the dirt for the cars to drive on.
  • We dug holes. Our backyard was not planted in lawn. It was dirt. A large portion of it would be garden in the summertime, but the play area between the garden and the alley was good old dirt. A kid can think of a lot of reasons to dig a hole.
  • We played hopscotch on the front sidewalk. We didn't even need chalk to draw our hopscotch game out. Our street was not paved. From time to time the city would put down a new layer of shale. We could always find good marking rocks with which to draw on the sidewalk.
  • We explored the ditch. The big Burlington drainage ditch ran across the end of our block. It usually was dry, and it was deep. In the ditch we could feel like explorers in a strange land, unseen by anyone else. True, Mama didn't let us get out of her eyesight very often, but once in a while we made it to the ditch.
  • We made hollyhock dolls.
  • We lay on the grass and watched the clouds and daydreamed.
  • We chased grasshoppers, picked up ladybugs, dug fishworms, and watched the daddy-long-legs on the side of the house.
  • We ran through the sprinkler on hot summer days.
  • We ran races with each other.
  • We learned to ride bicycles on a collection of secondhand bikes.

We were never bored.
Mother and Daddy holding the twins. They are outside the front fence (which
we used a prop for getting up on stilts), and standing on the sidewalk where we
played hopscotch and roller skated. I really put in this photo just because I like
it and because, if you look close, you can see that Daddy has a mustache. 
Thinking about all this makes me wish I could tell my father "Thank you for the things you built for us to play on." As kids we just took them for granted!

(We also read a lot of books!)


  1. Brings back a lot of good memories. Lots of great times then, lots of friends.

  2. That is wonderful. I often feel overwhelmed by all of the stuff (nearly all of it gifted by loving friends and family). Currently Cordelia's favorite toys are markers....not toys. She has a family of markers. Elise just wants to paint or dance or make music. No stuff required.

  3. Oh, such good memories. We never expected our parents or anyone else to entertain us. As teenagers we played softball with neighbor kids on vacant lots. We didn't have to try out to get on the team and nobody had to pay millions to build playing fields. We were just having fun, not preparing for a sports career.

    1. And I never even mentioned jump rope, jacks (which I was never good at), Kick the Can, Hide and Seek, and more. One year a group of my classmates and I missed hearing the bell to go in from recess because we were so engrossed in our game of being wild horses. And I didn't even get to winter activities!