18th Century Games for Children

18th Century Games for Children
Martha Jefferson: Sports and Popular Culture

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Three days


Colonial children didn’t have a great deal of time for games because there was always a lot of work to do and children were very much a part of the family economy.  Even relatively well-off children like Martha Wayles (who grew up to marry Thomas Jefferson), had lessons to learn and many tasks to perform around the house.  When Martha and her friends did have time to play, however, they played as hard as any children do, today. And they even played some of the same games!


Students who participate in this lesson will learn something about toys and games that were likely to have been played during the lifetime of Martha Jefferson, and will learn to play some of those that are unfamiliar to them.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet. A printer, or paper and pencils.


1. Make a list on the board (or on a poster) of the following games which likely were played in Colonial Virginia and other colonies (this list is taken, in part, from a list given on the Noah Webster House website:
Yo-Yo                       Puzzles                        Hoops
Kite flying                  Jump rope                    London Bridge 
Ice sliding                  Spinning tops                Hopscotch 
Bow and Arrow         Marbles                       Rocking Horses
Blind Man’s Bluff       See Saw                      Jack Straws (or pick-up sticks)
2. Ask the students if they have played any of these games or with any of these toys.  Check those that are the most-often mentioned.
3. Ask the students what kinds of games they play that are different from those listed above.  Write those on the board, too.
4. Then, let students each select one game (or toy) from the list to research.  Each student should try to find the history of the game (or toy), and instructions on how to play (or play with) it. Students can also draw pictures to illustrate their research. The web sites listed below should be of some help, but additional research is also encouraged.
5. When the research is complete, each student should report on his or her findings. 
6. Then, the class should select two or three of the games that they may not be familiar with, and have the person who researched the game (or toy) show them how to play it.  Students should be encouraged to practice the game or games on the playground.
7. The lesson should be concluded with a discussion of the students’ favorite games, their thoughts on the newly-learned game or games, and a little speculation about how much children of the 18th century had in common with children of the 21st century.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by engaging the whole school (or, perhaps, two classes) in a “game day” in which many of these games are played by everyone.

Sources & Resources:


Facts on 18th Century Toys and Games
Toys and Games
Children's Games in the 18th Century

Credits: This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University, with some help from the scholars at Noah Webster House (see above).