Pioneer Fun

Pioneer Fun

Life during the pioneer days was hard and filled with danger. Most of the time, both the adults and children were busy with work and chores, but they set time aside to have fun. Since the kids didn’t have very many luxury items, they made many of their own toys and used their imaginations to create games. Many of the games that they played were the same that their own families had played in their previous homes or countries. Some of these games continued so they were played as long as the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Checkers was a favorite game for both children and adults. The boards and game pieces were often made of a homemade board and pieces of wood.
  • Marbles were a rare and prized possession of the pioneer children. The most valuable was the “cat’s eye” that had a center that looked like an eye. A group of marbles was placed on the ground inside a circle, and each child took a turn by flicking their own marble to get the other child’s marbles out of the circle. The last marble standing was the winner.
  • Paper dolls were popular with girls. They could design and cut their own clothes out of paper, and then play dress up, changing the clothes as they developed stories. As communities grew, there were pre-printed paper dolls and clothes. This kind of fun remained popular through the 1960s.
  • Jacks was another game that both boys and girls could play. All of the jacks were placed in a kind of circle on the floor. Using a ball, the player could only let the ball bounce once, and they had to see if they could pick up one or more jacks and then catch the ball before it bounced a second time. If you missed catching the ball or picking up any of the jacks, you were out of the game.
  • Cat’s cradle is a game of dexterity that has become popular again. It is played with two or more people and involves using a piece of yarn that is held in a particular design on both hands of one player. The other player pinches and slides the yarn to make unique designs.
  • Button, Button, Whose Got the Button was popular during pioneer days and eventually became the game “Hot Potato.” Kids sit in a circle and pass a button from one to another as they chant the “button” chant. When they stop, a child that was placed in the middle of the circle has to guess who has the button.
  • Rolling hoops from wagon wheels with a stick was another fun game. Kids would roll the hoop to see who could keep it rolling the longest.
  • Potato sack races are something that we still see today in many of the fairs around the world. Potato sacks were a common item around the pioneer household, and a lot was made of burlap. The game involved kids getting inside individual potato sacks and seeing who could hop to the finishing line while inside the bag.
  • Games and fun weren’t limited to kids alone; many of the adults had their games. If the pioneers had the room they might have brought a piano, melodeon, or other musical instruments with them. This was often their only source of music and entertainment, and they would sometimes invite neighbors over for dances and little parties where they would all play their musical instruments.


What was a board game played by both children and adults?

What game involved yarn and dexterity?
Cat’s cradle

What game involved racing in bags?
Potato sack races

What did the pioneer adults use for entertainment and fun?
Playing musical instruments

What was the most prized marble?
Cat’s eye

What was a popular dress up game for pioneer girls?
Paper dolls