Early Victorian Children's Games

Written by judith gorham-nye
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Early Victorian Children's Games
Lower-class Victorian children played with simple toys. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The lives of children during early Victorian times -- 1837 to 1858 -- were greatly dependent on the social status and wealth of their family. Children of a lower class played with very simple, mostly handmade cloth or wooden items. Children of wealthy parents stayed home, enjoyed the attention of nannies and had more elaborate toys and games. The games of both classes were generally very similar, but the amount of time allotted to play them -- and the number and quality of the playthings -- differed greatly.

Society generally held children in low regard and expected them to behave as small adults. It discouraged frivolity unless the game resulted in the child's receiving some degree of physical or mental improvement. Older girls in particular were encouraged to play "parlor games." The younger children more frequently took part in outdoor games. (See Reference 1)

Balance and Dexterity Games

"Ball and cup" was a simple device constructed of string and wood. The object was to manoeuvre the cup to catch the ball. It taught the child balance, hand and eye coordination and abundant patience.

"Deerstalker" entertained the observers almost as much as the players. A pair of blindfolded children became the "deer" and the "stalker." The children began at opposite ends of a large table. During the play, the "deer" tried to avoid the "stalker," who valiantly attempted to catch the "deer." The rules forbade observers from leaving the room during the play, and enforced total silence on the players and the audience. The players sometimes went barefoot, the better to conceal the sound of movement

Parlour Games

Jackstraws was a popular table game during early Victorian times. The players dropped wood straws or splinters on the centre of a table. Taking turns, the players removed one stick at a time without moving any other stick. Wealthy families sometimes used "straws" carved from ivory.

"Tiddly Winks" was taken very seriously during the early Victorian era; people practised it diligently. Players used a "shooter" disk to flip the smaller "winks" into a cup in the centre of a table. The winner was the person who was the first to get all of his "winks" in the cup.

Board Games

Many board games of the early Victorian years are still loved in 2011. These include chess, backgammon and draughts. Several board games introduced in the 1800s instructed children in geography, science and history. Some taught the importance of good values.

One board game was called "Errand Boy." It taught children the benefits of helping other people and working hard. The game's theme centred on the career of a young errand boy as he rose higher in the banking business. The object of the game was to become the bank president.

Outdoor Games

"Bandy"or "shinny" was a game similar to field hockey that was played in early Victorian times. "Curling" somewhat resembled shuffleboard. Children playing "Bandy" fashioned branches into playing sticks, swatting at used tin cans or balls of yarn. "Curling" was played on frozen puddles, lakes or rivers. The field of play was called a "sheet." Teams of four slid granite stones across the ice, attempting to place them near a "tee."

Nettlesworth School in Durham, England relates that, "Some boys would beg a pig's bladder from the butcher, which they would blow up to use as a football."

One of the most popular games during the Victorian era was "hoops and sticks." This game was a favourite with children for centuries. The player struck the hoop with a stick to make it continue rolling, while the child ran alongside.

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