Children did not have Nintendo, TV, or many books to read, so they often created their own games. They spent so much time in the schoolroom and doing chores that outdoor games were most appealing to them.

One popular outdoor game was rolling the hoop. Taking a big wooden hoop, the children would race each other from one point to another on the lawn. The object of the game was to see who could get to the finishing point fastest. It sounds like an easy game, but the hoop was difficult to roll.

Another fun game was nine pins, which is similar to bowling. Nine pins would be placed three in a row on the lawn and the object was to knock down all nine pins with a ball. The slope of the lawn made the game tricky.

Children had sack races and played tag, quoits, marbles, hopscotch, leapfrog, and Blindman’s Buff. They flew kites and went fishing and swimming. Even simple activities like swinging or taking a walk were enjoyed if they had friend to accompany them. If the weather was bad, children often played with simple wooden toys like spinning tops and whirligigs, read, and embroidered samplers.

  • Use a compass, plastic lid, or a pencil and string to draw a 4-inch (10 cm) circle on stiff cardboard.
  • Cut out the circle and color it as desired. Experiment with different geometric patterns, spirals, and colors!
  • Punch out two small, diagonal holes in the circle, each about 3/8 inch (9mm) from the center of the circle.
  • Thread about 2-1/2 feet (60 cm) of string through the holes and tie the ends together.
  • Holding the string between the thumb and index fingers of both hands, twirl the circle until the string is taut. Then stretch it out and pull hard to make the whirligig spin! Continue to pull hard, alternating pulling and relaxing the string. It makes a “whiligig” sound as its name implies.


Instead of a cardboard circle, you may wish to use a large 2- or 4-holed button.

Suggested Reading

Kalman, Bobbie. Colonial Life. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 1992.
Kalman, Bobbie. Early Pleasures and Pastimes. Crabtree Publishing Company, 1992.
McGovern, Ann. If You Lived in Colonial Times. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1964.
Newell, William Wells. Games and Songs of American Children. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1963.

Suggested Activities

Have students record their daily leisure time activities for one week in a journal. Compare and contrast their activities with those of colonial children.
Have each student make a whirligig.
As a class, have an eighteenth century games recess. Include hopscotch, leapfrog, Blindman’s Buff, marbles, quoits (ring toss), and bowling.