Sunday, August 11, 2013

Victorian Children at Play

It's been a busy summer, so I'd like to thank everyone for continuing to follow my blog, as my posting has been somewhat sporadic as of late. I am getting back on track though, now that some more time consuming projects are done.
One of the fun summer things I've been up to is taking the kids (my step kids are 4 and 5) to the playground to run around and enjoy the lovely weather. In doing so I wondered about Victorian era kids and where playgrounds started from.

The idea for children's playgrounds actually started in Germany during the mid 19th century and were built in connection with schools. The first British playground opened in 1859 in Manchester and the first US playground was in San Francisco and opened in 1887. The playground included swings, a slide, a carousal under a roman style dome, and a cart pulled by a goat. Why playgrounds still don't have goat rides is beyond me.
As the Victorian era gave way to the Edwardian period, playgrounds in large cities became more common. Concerns about safety also naturally arose. In 1912 New York banned climbing apparatus in playgrounds due to fears of children falling and getting hurt. I guess over protective patents existed back then too.

Most Victorian kids did not have the luxury of a playground. Rich children had nurseries, and a large house and large gardens to play in. Girls had dolls made from porcelain, and ornate doll houses, while boys had tin soldiers, wind up toys, and wooden rocking horses.

The vast majority of children did not have fine toys or spacious houses to play in. They often lived in cramped houses and many had to work, as child labour was unfortunately all too common. They did play outside on the street though, or in fields. Street games like tag, hopscotch and catch were played. Balls could be made from rags filled with sawdust and a bat from a wooden stick. Some kids had marbles, tops, skipping rope, or dolls made from clothes pins or rags. There was also the classic wooden hoop thing you chased down the street with a stick.

These days kids have all sorts of toys and gadgets, even more variety then what I had as a child, and definitely more than what kids 100 years ago or more had. Somehow though they still seem to get the most out of simple things, like a ball, or a doll, some blocks and of course the classic large empty cardboard box (now playing a rocket ship currently).

What were you favourite toys as a kid?

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  1. Rope skipping and building huts indoors and outdoors.
    I guess that the poor goats were poked at by evil children, thats why they stopped with goats :)

  2. I somewhat envy the childhood simplicity of times gone by... There was inherent creativity in play time that seems to be lacking these days. Sure, kids are whizzes with technology now (and I'm sure there are tech toys with a creative side, too), but it somehow doesn't seem as pure. Nor does it help keep kids physically active like skipping rope!

    I wonder if there are still any Victorian-era porcelain dolls floating around out there. Those must be treasures now!