Looking Back

Playing outdoors in the 1950s

By Mary Ellen Shaw

If you grew up in the 50s you probably spent a lot of time outdoors. There were no digital devices to keep your eyes glued to a screen. In fact, many homes in our area were just getting their first television.

My parents and those of my friends didn’t allow us to spend much time in front of the TV. They must have “been onto something.” They wanted us up and out of the house, not sitting in one spot glued to an inanimate object. Watching TV was a nighttime privilege that was allowed when homework was done. The shows that were viewed were selected by our parents as most homes only had one TV and family shows were enjoyed by everyone.

If you wanted to change the channel, you got up, walked over and turned the dial. No “surfing” of channels and no “guide” to show you what was available.

With summer just around the corner, it reminds me of the fun all of us neighborhood kids had when good weather arrived. We all headed outdoors and didn’t come in until we were called to a meal. If the truth be known, most of us would have chosen to skip the meal and keep on playing! We loved being outside.

This past summer a friend from another state was renting a home for a few months and her grandchildren were coming for a visit. I commented that it would be nice to have a large side lawn for them to play on. She replied that they wouldn’t know what to do if they were told to go out and play!

Since I don’t have grandchildren, I was clueless that imagination didn’t provide a child with all kinds of ways to have fun outdoors. The kids in my day spent as much time making up games as they did playing the ones that most kids were familiar with.

Fortunately, back in the day there were about a dozen kids on our street. We often played together and came up with our own version of Clue. We took turns hiding clues on a piece of paper, each one leading you to the next. About 10 clues later we would find the final one that said something like, “You did it, congrats!” There was no prize, just bragging rights.

There was a wooded area behind some of the houses and that is where we built camps among the trees. Any parent who had lumber lying around probably found some of it missing. My father’s hammer and nails were also missing quite often. Old rugs were used as walls when we filled in the gaps among the boards. You needed a password to get inside.
While the boys were running around playing cops and robbers, the girls played hopscotch, jumped rope and played jacks. Hopscotch was like balance training. as you tossed a stone and made your way from square 1 to square 9, mostly on one foot. Jumping rope was great aerobic exercise. When you played “double Dutch” with two ropes at once it was a definite act of coordination. Jacks were played with 10 metal or plastic jacks and a rubber ball. The game resulted in some scraped knuckles at times but eye and hand coordination were key to winning. We didn’t know that our parents had a motive for letting us play all these fun games.

Our neighborhood had quite a few houses under construction during the 50s. As soon as the workmen left at the end of the day these houses became our playground. We walked across boards to get from the dirt lawn area to the cutouts for doorways. There was an eight foot dropoff under the boards and it ran the depth of the foundation. Our parents would not have been happy about that risk. Yours truly decided to jump one day when the board wasn’t there. I missed and fortunately didn’t kill myself! I had to tell my parents, because I was pretty sore.

Oh, the adventures we had! We still talk about them today. Our outdoor time together helped us form lifelong friendships. A child can’t do that with his or her digital device. Time to head outdoors!

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