Students attending country schools in my day didnít have much equipment to play with. We learned early how to improvise our entertainment during our recess and lunch periods. At my country school, the outdoor playground equipment included three rope swings, a teeter-totter, a baseball, a catcherís mitt, two baseball gloves and a tired old basketball. That was it. We had two 15 minute recess periods, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. We also had a 1 hour lunch period. Unless the weather was especially bad, we spent most of this time outside.
The swings and the teeter-totter got a good workout every day, especially by the younger children. The older children, both boys and girls, liked to play Andy-over. This game was simple and required a lot of running. The baseball was thrown over the roof of the school house. The rule was that it had to touch the roof at least once. Sides were chosen to divide the players into two groups. One group on each side of the schoolhouse. As the ball came over, attempts were made to catch it before it touched the ground. If the ball was caught, the whole team raced around the school house in an attempt to tag one or more of the other team with the ball. Tagged members were added to the other team.
Then there was the game of tag. Sides were chosen and bases were established, usually one against the schoolhouse and the other against the barbed wire fence. Players attempted to run between the bases without being tagged by the person designated as being "it". Sometimes we played hide-and-seek. There was only one problem, there weren't very many places to hide out on the prairie.
We also had games of skill. Every boy had a leather bag full of marbles. The marbles were of different size, color, and composition. The favorite was a "steelie". These were simply steel ball bearings salvaged from some piece of farm equipment. The bigger the better because the "steelies" were heavy and made good shooters. There were also agates and just plain glass marbles. A circle about 2 feet in diameter was drawn on any smooth patch of bare ground. Every player contributed his share, or about 5 marbles, and these were dropped into the circle. A "taw line" was drawn about 10 feet away. Each player pitched his shooter marble towards the taw line. The closest to the line got to shoot first. He got to keep all the marbles he could knock outside the circle and could continue to shoot as long as he could knock marbles out of the circle. The accuracy of the shooter often depended on his method of holding the marble. The shooter had to keep "knuckles down" unless he was inside the circle. This game required a lot of crawling on your hands and knees. By the second month of school almost every boy had patches on the knees of his overalls.
In addition to a bag of marbles, most everyone had a 2-bladed pocket knife. If we could find a smooth surface, hopefully a wooden one, we would start a game of mumbley peg using our pocket knives. One rule was that the knife must have one long blade and one short one. The short blade was opened straight out, while the long blade was half open. The knife was balanced on the long blade with the point in the ground and the end of the knife also touching the ground. The knife was flipped into the air with your forefinger. If the knife came down and stuck with the straightened out short blade you scored 100 points. If both blades were stuck you got 75 points. If the knife didn't stick you got 0 points.
Occasionally, if the teacher wasn't looking, or was inside, we would pitch pennies at a crack or line. However, this wasn't too popular, because if the teacher caught you, she confiscated all your pennies until the end of the week. Something about gambling was usually mentioned.
If we could interest the girls, we would sometimes have a ball game. If there were not enough for two teams we played "one-o-cat". This was a progressive type game and each player moved up through the various positions until he took his turn at bat. Then he moved out to left field to move up again.
If the weather was bad we stayed indoors and drove the poor teacher up the wall. There were always some chores to be done, such as fetching a fresh pail of water from the well, bringing in wood or coal, dusting the erasers or sweeping the floor. After all these were done, we would sometimes have a spelling bee. Sides were chosen for two or three teams and we would have a spell down. Later on in the spring, the better spellers would get to go to the county spelling contest.
Some of our teachers promoted extra reading as an indoor activity. The material was usually short stories and we were expected to report on what we had read, either verbally or written. Sometimes we would take imaginary trips using our geography books. (I still have mine.)
When we had snowstorms, all of the children wanted to go outside to play. The poor teacher spent most of recess getting little folks into heavy clothing and she often extended playtime. Most everyone had a sled that we brought to school. Our school stood at the top of a small hill, so we did a lot of sliding down and walking back up. There were snowball fights and washing the face of your favorite girlfriend with snow.
Parent-teacher meetings were held each month. These were carry-in supper affairs, with a program following. One of my favorites was the annual box-supper. Each lady would prepare a lunch to share with a male friend, who would buy the decorated box at auction. The bidding was often spirited, as young swains competed for the box of their current lady friend. The proceeds were used for new equipment for the school.
School closed the last weekend in April, with a carry-in picnic dinner. It was customary to have a father-son baseball game. The last year I attended country school, the game was canceled because it snowed so hard we couldn't see the ball. The date was April 30, 1930 --- my birthday.
It's possible that we didn't learn as much in school in those days as students do today. But we did learn one thing, and that was how to entertain ourselves. I can't remember a single time that I was ever bored in school. As a matter of fact, I just barely knew what the word meant until I heard my grandchildren complaining "I'm bored." With radio, T. V. programs, videos and modern teaching techniques, we seem to have lost the art of self entertainment.