Fish ponds and school carnivals


Back during my childhood years, I attended a small country school from first through the eighth grade. The school was small enough teachers had two grades per classroom (first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, seven and eighth).

Every year around the end of February or beginning of March, the CSO (Community School Organization – better known as Parent Teacher Association) would host an indoor carnival in the school gymnasium. For the rural families who attended, it was an evening of games, treats, and a chance to get out and visit before the busyness of spring farm work descended.

I haven’t been able to find much history on school carnivals, other than they’ve been around a long time. They most often serve as a fundraiser for the school for something in particular.

A variety of games and booths were included each year, like the cake walk. Music played and you walked around in a circle on the numbers that had been taped to the floor. When the music stopped, you stood on a number, hoping the person pulling numbers out of a glass jar would pick yours. There were some wonderful bakers in our community and a cake made by them was awesome.

There were ring toss games, a ball toss, and several others to keep the youngsters busy.  My husband remembers a dig in the sand game from his school carnival days which entailed digging through a box of sand for poker chips. The color of the chip determined the type of prize. He, admittedly, watched to see which color garnered the best prizes and dug until he found one.

Tickets were sold at the door, just like for a carnival. I think they sold for something like 20 tickets for $5. Each game required a different number of tickets to play. The cakewalk seems like it took five.

My favorite game at the carnival was the fish pond. Sheets were hung on a rope, making an enclosed area. The students lined up on the outside of it with a “fishing pole,” which was usually a dowel or old broom handle with a piece of yarn attached to it. A clothespin dangled from the end of the string. After surrendering the appropriate number of tickets to play, you lifted up the pole and dropped the end behind the curtain, waiting with great anticipation of what treasure you’d “catch.” There were usually three parents helping with the booth. One who took the tickets and helped get the line over the curtain. One who stood at the side of the curtain and whispered which child was in line. And then the person who chose the prize and attached it to the line.

People donated items and funds for the carnival, and the fish pond seemed to have an assortment of treasures and junk.  Unlike the other games, the fish pond guaranteed a prize. And depending on which parent was helping behind the curtain, sometimes the prizes were so perfect for the child. It was fun because you had no idea what you’d get, but you knew you’d have something unexpected when you felt the tug on the string and pulled the line back over the curtain.

The winter I was eleven, my mom helped organize the carnival. I’d buzzed around the gym with my best friend, playing various games and spending way too many tickets at the cake walk (where she won a cake!), before I wandered over to the fish pond.

I should probably explain that anyone who even remotely knew me knew I liked pretty, girly things even though I was a farm girl who loved (and still loves) all things John Deere.

So I handed over the required tickets, lifted the pole and anxiously waited to see what treasure I’d receive. When the line gently tugged, the parent standing beside me carefully lifted it up over the curtain. A wrinkled brown paper sack hung from the clothespin.

“Be careful,” she warned as I unfastened the pin and opened the sack.

Inside was a little porcelain statue.

My childish heart pitter-pattered in excitement. I loved it! It was pretty, and pink, and so, so perfect for me.

Who cared about my friend’s silly cake when I held in my hands something so girly and sweet!

At the time, it didn’t register in my head when I saw my mom step out from behind the fish pond booth a few minutes later. But I know she was the one who chose that special little gift for me, knowing how much it would delight me.

I discovered the statue wasn’t a statue at all, but part of a salt and pepper set produced by Enesco in the 1950s. The pattern is Prayer Lady. There were numerous pieces produced in a variety of styles, from a tea pot and soap dish to a canister set. They also produced them in a blue color scheme.

But none of that mattered to me. What mattered was that someone I loved made sure I received something I loved.

My little prayer lady sits on a shelf by my kitchen sink and every time I look at it, I think of that carnival and my mom, and it warms my heart all over again.

Do you have any fun or special school memories?

Did your school put on a carnival? 

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After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky western heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

51 thoughts on “Fish ponds and school carnivals”

  1. High School I was part of the cross country team and we would run through and old cemetery. No headstones to say but rocks with initials on them. No school carnivals as all the schools I went to were out in the country.

  2. I went to a country school, too, and we did have a school carnival every year. We also had a movie every Friday afternoon where the students could pay a quarter and attend the movie. They would have sell popcorn and snacks. The teachers would take turns keeping those who didn’t go, and the if they didn’t have duty, they would use the time to plan. It was the only planning time they got.

    • That’s so neat you had movies on Friday! And it was nice the teachers took turns so they could have planning time. I bet it was fun to enjoy the snacks and watch the movies!
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  3. We had a school carnival six years ago when I was in eighth grade, and me and my friends had a baking stall where we displayed all the cupcakes we had stayed up baking the night before. They were so delicious but the best part about them was how we had decorated them, some of the cupcakes were so funny and crazy, while others were just so pretty to look at it. I remember being torn between wanting to eat one but stopping myself because I didn’t want to ruin how they look and the struggle was so real even though now I think it is just silly!

    • Hi February!
      That is so fun you and your friends had the baking booth with cupcakes. Such a sweet memory for you!
      Thank you for stopping in today! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

  4. Oh Shanna- What an amazing and precious story. I remember my school carnivals. We had 2 elementary schools in town and one would hold a fall fair and the other a spring carnival. It did not matter which school you attended, everyone was invited.
    Your Prayer Lady S & P is just so precious. I’m so glad you still have it and it brings you such sweet memories.
    Thank you for sharing this and for the trip back down memory lane.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day, May the luck of the Irish bd with you & Mr. CC!

    • That is so neat your schools welcomed each other. So fun you could go both in the fall and spring! Thank you so much, my friend. I know you love S&P sets, and this half of a set is so special to me.
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

  5. I always remember a Spring Carnival held at my elementary school. You could win a gold fish, buy second-hand books–I still have a vintage Babar book, bake sale, the state police, fire department, and more.

    The elementary school my kids attended had them, too.

  6. I love the prize you got and the fact that you still have it says so much about how you love it. I don’t remember if any of the schools I went to had a carnival.

  7. Yes we had a carnival with a cake walk and the fishing pond (usually books!) but the best game is the roll of toilet paper secured with rubber bands you tried to throw through a toilet seat sitting on a 5 gallon bucket!! Oh and remember the little goldfish in the bowls where you threw the ping pong balls – my kids always brought home fish!!

    • Oh, my goodness! What a clever game! And we did have the goldfish game, too. I won a fish one year and it (sadly) lasted only a day.
      Thank you for stopping in today! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

  8. I remember our school carnivals like that! It was always an adventure for me. My favorite is from the movie Pollyanna where she does the fish pond and gets the beautiful doll.

  9. What an awesome story. Yes we did have carnivals at my school and guess what the fish pond was always my favorite game to play. Most of the time it was just junky little stuff that you won but it was so fun.

    • It was so fun to play the fish pond. I think most of the stuff was likely garage sale rejects, but once in a while there were great treasures!
      Thank you for stopping in today! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

  10. My elementary school always had a Halloween Carnival! It was so much fun to see all the teachers in charge of the games! My friends and I even went back every year well into high school to see our teachers and because it was so much fun! AND of course the candied apples & cotton candy was an added bonus! LOL!

    • That is so neat you and your friends went back to the carnival even after you were in high school. I’m sure your teachers loved seeing you, too! And the treats were a fun bonus! LOL!
      Thank you for stopping in today! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

  11. Welcome. What a fun post today. Our school was from kindergarten through eighth grade also. I too lived in a farming community. On the last day of school and Halloween day our school also put on a carnival. We had so many wonderful things to try. Tables were set up on one end. My mom was either a part of or in charge of the carnival. She had five kids in school. It was always so fun and everyone was there. At the end we would all sit down. The parents in the cafeteria tables and the kids on the floor in front of the stage. We all had something to eat and drink. There was always some form of amusement. Puppet show, songs, amusement from outside the school. One time we had Roy Rogers and some of his friends. We always knew that it would be a time to remember. Our moms put a lot of energy to make it so. One year for the last day of school carnival, all of us eighth graders went to the principal and asked if we could be the final event. We got the go ahead. We did song and dance and told stories. We dressed up and at the end we threw candy out to the kids, making sure that they all got at least one piece. Yes, great days. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    • Wow, Lori!
      What wonderful memories from your school days. That is so fun you also attended a country school. How neat your Mom was involved with the carnivals, too. We also had a day of fun with a picnic lunch on the last day of school. Such fun times!
      Wishing you a fabulous day!

  12. We had a school carnival when I was growing up. As a first grader I went to the fish pond game and the prize I chose was a little lamb planter. I still have it sixty-five years later.

  13. Our school had a wonderful Spring carnival. Games, treats, prizes and such fun. Now they have all been stopped but what enjoyment.

  14. School carnivals were so special to help with and to get involved in. I loved being there and seeing the joy on the children’s faces when they played the games, and won the adorable prizes. The carnivals were old fashioned fun for all.

  15. Fun post, Shanna! I don’t remember attending a school carnival growing up. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  16. We had school carnivals, but I don’t remember ever going. I grew up in a single parent household and we didn’t have any extra money. In high school I remember gym class, our teacher asked for suggestions for things to do and we suggested Philippine dancing. It was great with the music of the 4 Seasons! I also have fond memories of Home Ec class and FHA.

    • Hi Karen,
      That’s wonderful you had dancing at school and the gym teacher asked for suggestions. I bet it was great fun to learn! And it’s so nice you have fond memories of Home Ec and FHA.
      Wishing you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    • Hi Joye!
      Oh, I would have loved a May pole ceremony. I’m sure it was a wonderful time for you and your fellow students!
      Thank you for stopping by today!
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  17. Our school did not have school carnivals but Open House days were kinda special where we got to show off some of our best work.

    • I bet they were special days when you could share your work with your family. I remember a few of those, too!
      Thank you for stopping by today!
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  18. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Shanna and All! I went to a small town school, and we were a sheep ranching community. We had our carnival for Halloween. All the students, grades 1 through 5, got to dress up in our Halloween costumes and parade down the Main Street of town to advertise/promote the carnival a couple of days ahead, during school hours, which was great fun!

    Then Halloween night, no matter if it fell on a weekend or weekday, North Heights Elementary would hold our carnival, always outside because this was SW Texas, and we didn’t have bad weather for Halloween, unless it rained, which being semi-arid, it seldom did.

    We had a “fish pond” too, just as you described, but we called it: “go fishing.” We had a lot of the same games as your small school did, but one of my other favs was the Cake Walk. The numbered circle was drawn and painted on a side street beside the school, and it stayed there, year-round. They would start music, stop it, you’d stay in the numbered slot where you landed, and then, they’d draw a number, and that person won a cake. Baked by one of the Moms, of course. Such sweet, simple fun! The Cake Walk went on until all the cakes were given away to lucky winners.

    • Hi Hebby!
      So wonderful to see you here today!
      Oh, I love that you had a school carnival for Halloween. The parade through town sounds like it was such fun! Those cake walks were s much fun. How awesome it was painted on the street all year!
      Thank you for sharing your memories with us!
      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  19. One of our area schools has a carnival every year and everyone talks about how much fun it is. The school our girls went to held cake walks between girls and boys, junior varsity and varsity basketball games. They were fund raisers for one of the classes, FFA, FHA, FBLA or one of the other school activities. Always a fun time….good cakes, too.

  20. Wow, what a Special prize and you still have it! That is wonderful! We had indoor carnivals also in our Junior High school and they were really a lot of fun. I loved it when it was time for the carnival. We also had Sock Hops, they were a lot of fun also, such good times. The day before Christmas vacation would start they would show us a movie on a Big screen in the gym, and I will always remember, one year , I believe I was in the 8th grade they showed us “The Son’s Katie Elder” and I still love that movie. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories with us, I enjoyed reading about them and it sure brought back really good memories for me of my Junior High school years. Thank you. Have a Great rest of the week and stay safe. God Bless you and your family.

  21. I’m old. Back then, schools where I lived did not have many if any extra such activities. At least I don’t remember any. Most classes took field trips, all my siblings’ did, but my classes never did take a field trip. I got my opportunity to participate by working on those activities with my children’s classes.

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