Pioneer Children’s Games

I’ll be giving away another copy of my April release.  More on that later.  In the meantime, the heroine in my current manuscript has just agreed to serve as a temporary nanny for my hero’s three young children.  The year is 1843 and she’s just arrived in Oregon City after five months on the Oregon Trail.  Since she’s signed on to take care of three little girls I figured she better know how to play a few games with them.  Here’s a few of the ones she’s chosen to introduce to her charges.

Cat’s Cradle
: This is the same finger and string game I learned as a child.  It’s thought that this particular game first showed up in Europe, by way of the Asian tea trade.  Apparently, children in England played this game as early as 1782.  It arrived in American with the early colonists.  The game requires two people and six feet of cord, yarn or string tied in a loop.  If you want to see how it’s done, clink HERE

Blind Man’s Bluff – One person is blindfolded and other players form a circle around him/her. The blindfolded person is turned around a few times then let go to catch one of the players. There are different ways to play the game. One way is that the blindfolded player has to guess who they have caught.

Ducks Fly – Players face the leader, who says what to do. Then they copy the actions of the leader. The leader will say “Ducks fly” and flap his arms. The players also flap their arms. The leader continues with other actions like “cats meow”, “dogs bark, etc. But the leader also tries to trick others by saying “sheep oink”. The players must remain quiet until the leader says it correctly.

Marbles – The object of the game is to win marbles from other players. The first player tosses a marble on the ground. The second player tries to hit the marble by tossing his/her marble at it. If the second player is successful, he/she wins the marble. If not successful, the first player has a turn to try and hit the second player’s marble. There were many other ways to play “marbles”. glassmarbles1

Rolling the hoop – Children would run along beside a hoop, rolling it by using a stick. Sometimes races were held to see who could be the fastest. There were also contests to see who could roll the hoop the farthest or who could keep it rolling for the longest time.


Who Has the Button? – The players form a circle and the person who is “it” leaves (or closes his/her eyes) while the others pass a “button” or another object around the circle. One person hides the object behind his/her back. All the other players put their hands behind their backs, too. Then “it” is allowed three guesses as to who is hiding the object. If “it” guesses correctly they exchange places and a new person is “it”.

Simon Says – Players face the leader and must do what the leader says. If the leader says “Simon says, Thumbs up” and puts up his thumbs, then the players must do the same thing. The leader calls out and does other actions like “Simon says hop on one foot” or “Simon says touch your toes “, etc. But if the leader does not say the words “Simon says” and just says “jump up and down” the players should do nothing. Anyone who is tricked by the leader has to become the next leader.

Jack Straws – This game is like “pick up sticks”. Straws or very thin sticks were used. The straws were placed in a pile shaped like a haystack or tent (coming to a point at the top and spread out at the bottom). Each player took a turn pulling a straw out of the pile trying not to move any other straws. If a player was able to get a straw without jiggling any other straws he/she scored a point. Then it was the next player’s turn. The game ended when the stack fell. The winner was the player with the most straws. To make the game more interesting, there were “special” straws which were worth more points.

Children also played Hopscotch, Jacks, London Brides Falling Down,  Jumped Rope and many more.



Interesting tidbit.  Hopscotch has been around since the Roman Empire.



Have you played any of these games listed?  What was your favorite game as a child?  Leave a comment and be eligible to win a copy of my April release, CLAIMING THE DOCTOR’S HEART.

Claiming the Doctor's Heart cover art


+ posts

29 thoughts on “Pioneer Children’s Games”

  1. Oh Tanya. This brought back so many memories. We played all of these during my growing up years, plus many more. Hard to say which my favorite was. I spent hours playing Hop-Scotch, Jacks, jumping rope, and pick-up-sticks. Still love to play jacks, and pick-up-sticks, but my body won’t let me jump rope. 🙁 That was great exercise. I used to shoot marbles with my brother. Sometimes, I just get my jacks out and play by myself. Hope I can win one of your books. Love the cover. Thanks for the memories. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  2. Yep, I’ve play jump rope, Simon says, and cat’s cradle. And I like all three. 🙂

    Thanks for hosting the giveaway and telling us about some fun games. 🙂

  3. I played many of these games growing up. Hopscotch, Jack’s, jumprope, cats cradle, Simon Says, and Hide and Seek were my favorites. I wasn’t very good at marbles. I discovered the older games when I was doing programs on historical time periods with Scout troops or as a children’s librarian. It is always fun to learn early games from our culture and those children play and have played around the world.
    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  4. As a child, I played most of those games. Of course, that was before television so we entertained ourselves. That way we became creative. Children nowadays let the little tech things think for them and that’s a shame. I swear their thumbs will be worn out by the time they reach adulthood!

  5. When my first grandchild was born I found out I had NO TOYS left in the house.
    So trying to stock a Grandma Toy box I tried to think of GOOD toys. Toys that were basic and had stood the test of time.
    A top
    A jack in the box
    A Popcorn Popper type push toy.
    The toys have piled up over time but the kids really like those old standbys. I’m amazed at how they play with that top and enjoy getting to spin…and STRUGGLE to get it to spin. It’s good for coordination. Of course the push top makes GREAT noise. I’ve cranked that Jack In The Box a thousand times. The balls, well those are no fail!

  6. Renee, children learned to do so many things back then to keep themselves. Kids today are missing out because they have their faces stuck in a device of some kind. I never learned how to play cat’s cradle. It looks very, very difficult. Me and my sister played Jacks non-stop. And jumped rope. And we played Blind Man’s Bluff outside with the neighbor kids. Red Rover was a favorite game too when you have a lot of people to play that. Another thing my sister and I played was paper dolls. I remember spending hours cutting out their clothes. We made up complete storylines and had our dolls act it out. Loved that.

    Congratulations on the new release! I see it’s not a historical though. Are you changing genre’s?

  7. Maxie, isn’t it amazing how some of the best childhood games are simple and easy to follow? I figure that’s why so many of the ones I listed have been around for not only generations but centuries.

  8. Faith, I loved being the leader in Simon Says and trying to trip up my friends. Hmmm, wonder what that says about me. Anyone play Red Light Green Light? That was fun, too!

  9. CateS, YES, Red Rover. I remember that one, too. Although, I also remember not wanting to “call over” a boy to our side. They always chose the weak links to run through, AKA wherever I was standing!

  10. Mary, what a great idea. I need to start stocking up a toy box like yours for the day I’m a grandmother (not yet, please not yet!). And, hey, Jacks can be very physically challenging if you throw them out right. Or rather, wrong! LOL

  11. Hi Linda, I loved string games as a child, especially cat’s cradle because it required two people. I also liked the hand-slapping, sing-song games, too. Good times, good times. As far as your question about my latest release. Nope, not switching genres, just expanding into contemporaries. I’ll still be writing historical books (my first love). The contemporaries are loosely connected to the historical books, so win-win! 😉

  12. I love this post! What a great trip down memory lane. I was a big player of jacks, marbles, Red Rover, Mother, May I?, Simon Says, kick ball…..great times!

  13. LOL, Mary’s jacks comment is making me laugh. Red rover is about as far as I have come to running and athleticism. I loved reading about these games – it sure brought back some memories. I have only done about two out of the list, but have heard of most of them.

  14. How fun! I was recently at a pioneer festival and they had whirligigs and stick pulling. My daughter was fascinated 🙂 Thanks for the giveaway!!!

  15. Fun post, Renee. When I had my launch party for my first book, I did it at a local Texas history museum and had several children’s games going on the lawn. We did hoop rolling, sack races, three-legged races, and my favorite – Graces. This was where you used sticks to toss a hoop to a partner. We decorated the wooden hoops with ribbons and had a lot of fun with them.

  16. I just googled 23 Skiddoo and there is no reference to a game. So I’ll tell you what it was (is it possible we made it up? The phrase is all over but no game)
    It was like Tag…except.
    Someone was IT and the rest of us would have to run from one end of the basement (which was BASE) to the other end and back without getting tagged. If you got tagged you had to go to jail. Then the ones who weren’t in jail tried to get to the ones in jail and you’d have to grab their hand and count to 23 then yell SKIDDOO before whoever was IT got to you. Very fun, lots of running and screaming and laughing.

  17. I never heard of the game “Ducks fly” but I played all the other games you mentioned. My favorite of those was Jacks. Then I liked Marbles. Even to this day I have a big jar of marbles that my grandkids like to bounce down my stairs when they come over. I said one time to my daughter….all my grandkids are going to remember about coming to grandma’s house is the marbles and stairs.

Comments are closed.