The United States and much of the world were deep in economic depression during the 1930s. Few families had money to spend on toys and games. Many children worked alongside their parents on farms or in shops, or they took on more household tasks to help out. There was leisure time, but much less than children have in the 21st century. Kids had plenty of fun, but their activities were also likely to include some work, like a paper route, babysitting or picking fruit.
Children in the 1930s, just as today, came from very different experiences. The activities of children in a wealthy New York City family were much different from those of children in a poor, black sharecropper family in Alabama. A child living in an orphanage spent time very differently than a child surrounded by multiple generations of his family. A child's activities depended very much on his family's economic condition and where he lived in the country. Different as they might be, however, kids found ways to enjoy themselves, and to perform the school, religious and household tasks expected of them.
Picture and Airwaves
Television was not in households until the late 1940s, so 1930s kids headed for the movies or listened to the radio. Radio was everywhere and kids tuned in to shows made just for them. Popular ones were Superman, Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie. At the movies were serials, movies that continued over 12 or 15 episodes. Children would watch several episodes in one afternoon at the matinee or go once a week. Popular serials were "Buck Rodgers," "Our Gang," and "Flash Gordon." The main feature came with cartoons and newsreels that gave the news of the world.
When children and their parents had money to buy toys and games there were plenty to choose from. Monopoly and Sorry appeared in the 1930s. Kids loved comic books, especially late in the 1930s when Action Comics and "Superman" appeared on news stands. Hand-held radios were new and so were dolls depicting movie characters. The first one was the Scarlett O'Hara doll. Shirley Temple, a child actor, also had dolls in her likeness.
Children in the 1930s often made their own toys, especially when there was no money to buy toys or spend the day at the movies. They carved bows and arrows from tree branches and built tree houses out of old wood scraps. They played games in the yard like hide-and-seek or tag and played games with marbles. Baseball, stick ball and skating were games that cost nothing to play. Fishing and swimming were constant summer activities. Games of dress-up, cowboys, and cops and robbers were everyday activities. Singing, reading and cracking jokes kept kids busy too.