Like most colonists, Noah Webster lived on a farm. A lot of hard work had to be done on a farm, and children (even very young ones) had to help out as much as they could. The chores children had to do were often the simplest and most boring ones. Children might have to carry wood or water, husk corn, gather berries, lead oxen, card wool, gather eggs or churn butter. When children weren’t doing chores, their parents often sent them to school.
Many times children turned their work into games to make it more fun or to make the time go by faster. Two children might have a contest to see who could card wool faster. Boys might compete to see who could carry more wood. A group of students might sing their multiplication tables out loud to make it seem more fun.
When children had time to play, they played some of the same games we still play today – like tag, hid-and-seek, and hopscotch. There were no factories for making toys, and store-bought toys were very expensive. Children or adults made most toys from things they could find outside or in the house. They made dolls out of cornhusks and rags. Small pieces of wood and leftover string could be used to make spinning tops. Sometimes they made up games that needed no equipment at all.
On winter days, colonial children might stay inside to stay warm. If they did not have to card wool or do other chores, they played board games or did tongue twisters and riddles. When the weather was warm, they played outside with marbles, hoops or other toys.
Since many families had five or six children, colonial children usually had playmates nearby. Since adults did not have time to watch their children closely, they were often left alone to play in the gardens, fields and house when their chores were done.
Many games helped children learn skills they would need when they grew up. They learned how to solve problems, how to do things with their hands, how to follow directions and rules, how to be fair, and how to wait their turn.
Colonial life was filled with work, but it wasn’t always hard or boring. Early Americans knew how to turn work into fun by singing or telling stories, having contests, or working together in spinning or quilting bees. Some liked to dance to fiddle and fife music. Noah Webster loved to dance and play the fife.