By Susan Davis
Friend, February 1989, page 46
A typical pioneer school had only one room, one teacher, and about twenty-five students in grades one through eight. Not only did boys and girls of different ages study together, they often played together during recess.
On bright, sunny days, shadow tag was a perfect game to play. At the beginning of recess, Henry was chosen to be it. Henry chased the other boys and girls, trying to step on somebody’s shadow. He was just about to step on Laura’s shadow, when she cleverly hid it inside a tree’s shadow. But Laura couldn’t stay there; she had to count to ten, then leave the safety of the shadow. When she did, Henry quickly stomped on her shadow, and she became it.
Another form of tag that pioneer children played was chain tag. In this game, two people were it; this time it was Edna and Mary. Edna clasped Mary’s hand, and they began chasing the others. When they tagged Carrie behind the schoolhouse, she linked hands with Edna, making the chain three people long. The chain grew longer as more people were tagged.
Last Couple Out
Another pioneer game was last couple out. Caroline was chosen to be the leader, and the other children each chose a partner. They lined up side by side behind Caroline. Henry and Charles were partners, and they were the last couple lined up behind Caroline. When Caroline yelled, “Last couple out!” Henry and Charles separated. Henry ran forward along the right side of the line, and Charles along the left side. The two boys tried to clasp hands before Caroline tagged either of them. But Caroline touched Charles, thus becoming his partner. They took their place at the front of the line behind Henry, the new leader.
Sometimes pioneer children divided into two groups and played dare base. Helen and Loren were the two team captains. Helen’s team’s base was the area around the flagpole. Loren’s team’s base was the area around the seesaw.
Loren felt daring; he thought that he could run around the flagpole without getting caught. He ran his fastest, and he made it! Since Loren’s dare paid off, he got to choose Henry to join his team. Carrie was on Helen’s team, and she felt daring too. She ran her fastest but only made it halfway around the seesaw before she got caught. Her dare failed, and she had to join Loren’s team.
A form of baseball was another game the pioneer children played. Can you imagine the pitcher throwing a homemade twine ball and you swinging at it with a flat board? That’s how pioneer children did it.
Railroad spelling bee
In school, if the children had been well-behaved, the teacher might reward them by having a railroad spelling bee after the afternoon recess. All the children lined up next to the wall. One day little Mary was at the front of the line, so she could spell any word that she wanted to. She correctly spelled cat. Then Charles, who was next in line, had to spell a word beginning with t, the last letter in Mary’s word. He spelled tail. Laura was next, and she had to spell a word beginning with l. She slowly spelled, “l-i-v-e-l-e-e.” Then, because she had misspelled lively, she had to sit down. The game continued as Henry correctly spelled a word beginning with y.
All too soon the railroad spelling bee ended–it was time for the children to go home. But the next day they would return to the one-room schoolhouse to study and play again.
More Pioneer Games Online
Pioneer Games from Prairie School Distric – Describes leapfrog, Blindman’s Buff, Hide the Shoe, Drop the Hankderchief, and others
Saskatchewan Schools – has a list of indoor and outdoor games
Tumwater City – has a short story about how children played, and has several crafts and games to play