Unit 3: Free Time and Recreation

In this unit, students will discover some of the typical leisure time activities which took place in the 1800s. Read the background information for the unit and then select which activities you would like the students to complete. Don't forget that some of the Photo Gallery pictures link with this unit.


Children in the 1800s had very little free time compared to children of today. They had many chores to do on their farm, school work and church to attend. Free time only occurred after all chores were completed. What sort of chores do your students do to help out at home? The Blundell children lived on a farm with no electricity or running water and all children were expected to pull their weight with chores. There are several online resources listing typical rural chores but ones your students may not be familiar with would include:

Before electricity, what did children do?

Our modern entertainment and leisure activities rely heavily on the use of electricity and motorised transport. For example, using a computer to play games or for surfing the net; watching television; and going to the movies. Nineteenth century activities could not. Listed below are some of the most common pastimes:

Saturdays were usually a 'family day' and picnics with other families in the area were often arranged. They met with packed picnic baskets somewhere the children could play, maybe at a waterhole in the warmer months.

Cricket and football were popular games with the boys. Fathers often made the cricket bat from an old board and the stumps from sticks.

Mothers frequently made dolls for the girls, using whatever materials were available. These could be rags or old stockings. "Peg doll" making, using a wooden peg and a piece of fabric was also a favourite pastime.

PianoSinging was a common part of family life. Mothers and fathers sang the songs they had learnt as children. Sing-a-longs around the piano were great fun. Most working class families were not wealthy enough to own a piano, so a mouth organ or flute was used instead.
Games with chanting songs like 'Oranges and Lemons' and 'Ring-a-ring-a-rosie' were well liked amongst the children.


Instruments such as the zither or harmonium were played when families would listen and sing together.

Children found enjoyment from discovering their environment. They learnt about nature through walks in the country side, collecting flowers, leaves and rocks. Pressing flowers was also very popular. They enjoyed observing birds and animals. Some kept pets such as magpies, parrots, kangaroos, possums and rabbits, or baby chickens, ducklings, lambs or calves that had lost their mothers and had to be fed by hand.

'Knuckles' or 'Jacks' was a game played with sheep's knucklebones. Players would try to pick up knuckles before the one they had thrown into the air landed.


Reading books, 'knucklebones', spinning top, cards, musical instruments and the stereoscope for viewing photos are on display in Blundells Cottage.

Stereoscopes, with a set of photos, were a quiet, indoor form of entertainment. Stereo photographs are photos taken at the same time from two different angles. When seen through the viewer, our eyes compensate and the photo appears three-dimensional.

Other popular toys or entertainment of the time included skipping ropes, horse shoe throwing, marbles, finger knitting, traditional dancing and handkerchief dolls.

Discussion Points

Free time usually occurs after all the chores are completed. What kinds of chores do you do to help out at home? These children lived on a farm with no electricity or running water. What kind of jobs might they have had to do to help out?

What are your favorite toys, games and activities? Compare them to those from the cottage years – skipping ropes, horse shoe throwing, marbles, finger knitting, cricket, football, embroidery/cross stitch, traditional dance, rag dolls and peg dolls, hoops, hobby horses and singing. How many of these items and activities are still popular today?

A common hobby for children like the Blundells was collecting. Flowers, leaves, birds eggs and rocks were often preserved and collected, and became highly valued because children had few personal possessions. Today, children might collect different items, like football cards, coins or teddy bears. Do you collect anything? What?

The Blundell family regularly gathered around the piano in their parlor for sing-songs on a Sunday afternoon. Singing and music were popular family pastimes. Can you play a musical instrument? Do you like to sing?

Activity Sheets

Download activity sheets (PDF:1.1MB)

The PDF contains:

In the days before computer games and toy stores, children often made their own toys from the things they had around the home, like these: