These fun colonial games for children to play are the perfect way to get older kids excited about studying history. When we study the 13 Colonies in our homeschool, I include as many colonial games as possible to bring history to life.
Although children in Colonial times worked hard around the house or farm to help their family, when they had free time, they would frequently spend it playing games. Kids would often play outside or make simple toys with scraps of wood or cloth.
When your family studies the early days of our country, be sure to take some time away from the textbook to enjoy one of these games played in Colonial America.
Colonial Games for Children
Kids in Colonial America found many ways to entertain themselves. Here are a handful of fun activities they participated in years ago that you can play with your kids today.
Kids in the 13 Colonies played jackstraws, the game that later became pick-up sticks.
If you want to make your own version, you’ll need a bunch of straw (like you would find in a straw broom) or thin, straight sticks, about 9 inches long. To make the game challenging enough, use at least 40 pieces.
- Players sit in a circle on the floor. One person holds all the sticks in their hand above the ground and then lets them go so they form a pile on the floor.
- Taking turns, players try to remove sticks without moving any of the surrounding pieces. As soon as a person moves other sticks while they’re removing one, their turn is over.
- Play continues until all sticks have been picked up and the person with the most sticks wins.
Marbles can be made of stone, clay, or glass. There are many different games you can play with marbles.
Here’s how to play the basic game of marbles:
- Head outside and draw a circle on the ground with a stick, chalk, or make one out of tape. If you can’t go outside, you can play indoors. Just make a circle on the floor with some yarn.
- To begin, each player places a marble in the circle.
- Players then take turns rolling or shooting their marble into someone else’s, trying to knock it out of the circle.
- Any marbles that end up outside the circle are kept by the person who knocked them out.
Nine Men’s Morris
Nine Men’s Morris is a strategy board game designed to be played by two people that dates back to at least the Roman empire.
You can purchase a wooden version or make your own simple version with paper and tokens.
If you’re making your own game, grab a piece of paper, a pencil/marker, and 18 small game pieces, like tiny rocks or tokens (9 for each player). Then, draw 3 concentric squares on the paper with your pencil or marker. The next step is to add a dot to the midpoint of each side of every square (like the picture below). Finally, draw a straight line to connect the 3 dots at each side’s midpoint.
Now the board has 24 intersections, or points – 12 midsections and 12 corners. The goal is to remove enough of your opponent’s tokens so they’re out of moves.
How to Play:
- The game begins with an empty board. Players then take turns laying their pieces on the vacant dots and corners.
- If a player is able to get three tokens in a row either horizontally or vertically (a mill), they remove one of their opponent’s game pieces from the board. You may remove a piece from one of the opposing player’s mills, but only if there are no other available tokens to take. Breaking up a three-in-a-row is a last resort.
- When both players have placed all 9 tokens on the board, it’s time to start moving pieces. As each person takes their turn, they slide one of their tokens along a line to a vacant dot, trying to get three of their pieces in a row, essentially blocking the other player.
- After players make a mill (row of 3), they remove one of their opponent’s pieces from the board.
- The game is over when one player has just two markers left on the board.
Outdoor Running Games
Children in colonial times enjoyed many of the same outdoor running games children still play today, like tag, leapfrog, and hide and seek. These games are wonderful because they don’t require any special equipment, just a group of children and room to run!
Quoits is what we know today as ring toss or horseshoes.
For this activity, you need rings (made of rope, iron, leather, or even tree branches) and a stake (hob). The stake is pushed into the ground so it won’t fall over. Decide how far players should stand across from the stake to throw and draw a line there.
Players take turns tossing their rings toward the stake, attempting to get them around it. If the ring completely encircles the stake, you receive 2 points. If the ring leans against the stake, you receive 1 point.
The first player to reach 21 points, wins.
This simple toy was made with a button or small piece of wood and string. We have made our own on several occasions and I am always surprised how much fun the kids have with these toys. Your children can decorate the whirligigs with markers or color pencils to make it their own.
This toy is one of the activities included in our Discover the 13 Colonies Study Guide. There you’ll find directions for making your own whirligig along with instructions on how to play with it.
As you can see, kids in the 13 Colonies found ways to have a lot of fun. And by playing colonial-era games like these, your kids will discover how enjoyable history can be.
More American History Activities
The 13 Colonies Notebooking and Activity Unit is full of writing prompts, discussion questions, and hands-on activities that you can use as part of your American history lesson plans.
Do your kids enjoy mapping? Combine geography and history through these Colonial America map activities.
If you are looking for more American History activities you can do with your tween, check out this massive list of ideas.
Some Colonial America Books for Middle School
Here are a couple of handy books about the 13 colonies, including two with some additional games and hands-on activities.
- Colonial Days: Discover the Past with Fun Projects, Games, Activities, and Recipes
- Great Colonial America Projects: You Can Build Yourself
- You Wouldn’t Want to Be an American Colonist!