In the School Playground: Times Past

1958.100 Col W.Tamworth School

© irene waters 2017

Driving past school playgrounds I find myself saying “If only I could have been a kid now” or ” I wish we’d had that equipment to play on.” This led me to think of the differences that climate may have had on where you might have spent your breaks at school. Perhaps some of the time is taken up with prepared meals or going home to eat and therefore little time was spent in the playground. It made me wonder what would be the differences between countries, city and rural living and between generations. I hope you’ll join in and give us a view of school playgrounds around the world and between generations.

Please join in giving your location at the time of your memory and  your generation. An explanation of the generations and the purpose of the prompts along with conditions for joining in can be seen at the Times Past Page. Join in either in the comments or by creating your own post and linking. Looking forward to your memories.

Baby Boomer

Rural Australia

The playground of my primary school was a ripe ground for skinned knees, abrasions and other injuries. It was a huge barren wasteland where the girls were segregated from boys. The girls were allocated to the asphalt area where the only break in the grey hard surface was the white lines painted on it for various ball games. The boys were allocated to a paddock of grass where they played more violent games in their short lunch breaks.

Our school day started on the asphalt with school assembly. The flag was raised. We sang God save the Queen and the Principal gave any notices and orders for the day. It was often quite hot at school opening and I had some unknown sickness that caused me to faint so I was one of the few kids who were allowed to sit on the hot paving.

Morning Classes were broken by morning tea where we’d all spill out onto the asphalt. We all stayed on the asphalt for this short break but the boys naturally avoided the girls. The government had decided that all school children were to get allocated a bottle of milk which had been delivered in crates into the playground during class, heating in the sun. The warm milk was enough to turn your stomach and I was so grateful to my illness that the doctor decided must be due to a dairy allergy that I had the magic letter from him allowing me to forgo my bottle.

When the bell rang for lunch we all filed out onto long benches that were around the perimeter of the playground. Few were in the shade and it was before the days that hats were compulsory. I had a permanently peeling red nose but luckily my olive skin saved the rest of me from the melanomas that were probably laid down for many at this time. Sitting on these benches we ate our packed lunch that we had bought from home. Mine was always a sandwich with a variety of different fillings and an apple or orange. The fruit usually returned home with me unless I could persuade someone else to eat it. We sat there quietly – one teacher was allocated to playground duty – until the whistle blew to let us know we could get up and play for half an hour before classes resumed. The girls tended to play with whatever the fad of the moment was. This could be hula hoops, skipping, hopscotch, yoyos. The only game the girls didn’t seem to adopt was marbles.

Apart from these breaks our playground was also used for classes – sports, dancing (this we all thought was yuk) and the occasional nature class. Even though they were devoid of play equipment and shade we relished the time we spent in our playground.

Now for your memories……

Baby Boomer  

Australian City

Australian rural

Times Past: In the School Playground

UK Working Class Northern England

Gen Y

USA       Texas


About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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26 Responses to In the School Playground: Times Past

  1. Wow, they really restricted and structured your playground time – so much for childhood being a time of imagination and free time. Is that you in the red ribbon? Adorable as always.

    Me, a baby boomer in New Jersey, USA. We didn’t have such restrictions on what we did but our playground was a large asphalt space with no equipment. I was gawky and insecure and had no idea how to make friends, so I walked by myself in the weedy area beyond our playground. The only fun thing I ever remember doing was learning how to make snow angels one winter – that was an amazing achievement to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Seems like asphalt was the medium of our day for covering the ground. These days they have wonderful surfaces that cushion falls. I would have joined you in your walks in the weedy area. What are snow angels?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now there’s a question that shows the difference between New Jersey and Australia! You can only make a snow angel on freshly fallen snow. You stand, then flop backwards so you are completely lying flat on a patch of snow, arms straight down at your sides, legs straight down with feet together. Then push your arms away from your sides, straight out and up as far as you can go, but always still on the snow. At the same time, you spread your legs away from each other as far to the sides as they will go, but also always still on the snow. You wave your arms and legs back and forth several times in the same path, then very carefully get up so as not to disturb your snow creation. When you look back, there she is – a lovely snow angel! When you’re a kid, it’s like magic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds like magic even when you’re not a kid. You have given me a beautiful image and yes it is a big difference between New Jersey and Australia.

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. You have almost described my childhood as well. I was a bit of a loner though and preferred to go off on my own a lot of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that was the Australian way when we were growing up. I had one good friend in primary school and we sat together and read together and played together. We both preferred our own company to that of crowds although we did seem to play the in fad of the moment. Thanks for adding to the mix.

      Liked by 1 person

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  6. Annecdotist says:

    As another baby boomer in a small town in England, our schoolyard was reserved for break times, running around, gossiping or playing French skipping (a.k.a. elastics) as covered in one of your previous prompts on crazes. I don’t remember any PE lessons until secondary school where we had a netball court and occasionally (perhaps because it was too much trouble to put up the nets) tennis. The memory I have recovered for my blog post (which I hope you can find buried within a review of a novel set in a schoolyard in America, excerpts from my own and this week’s 99-word story for Carrot Ranch) is about a punishment which was very much desired.
    Games in the schoolyard: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Anne for your wonderful contribution to this prompt. I love the mix of fiction and memoir and even flash fiction. I was surprised that your ruse worked and you got the punishment you desired.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Annecdotist says:

        Ha, you’ve made me wonder, Irene, whether our teacher knew what we were up to and decided to indulge us. But given that she was such a nasty piece of work otherwise, it’s hard to imagine that happening. But I’m fascinated that, now you raise that possibility, it strikes me that that’s what I’d think if someone told me a similar story right now, yet even looking back on this experience as I am now I interpret it the same way I did as a child. Maybe it’s important to me to hang onto that rare sense of mastery as a child, even if it was illusory.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely hang on to it Anne. It did seem rare those occasions where we did get one over adults.


  7. By the sound of things, I’ve been fortunate with my school yards! I managed to get myself into a few games of marbles with the boys in grade 5, but this was replaced with the endless shuffle of swap cards in grade six. I’ll have to put my thinking cap on and see what else I can recall. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Hello Irene, I finally made it!
    Ah, the playground. An old style 4 room schoolhouse, gym and stage on the second floor, a basement with an unused coal chute. An unpaved drive wrapped right around the school so that the bus, and fire trucks I suppose, had easy egress.
    This packed dirt was where marbles were won and lost. One used one’s heel to auger out a hole, then call the shots; bootsies, shootsies, no toesies, just call it before the game starts. In the spring the thawing ground left muddy water in the holes, the marbles having to be scooped out dripping by the winner. On a cold morning part of the hole maintenance was to lift the ice out. The ground would be harder then, by afternoon play was different with the ground being soft and sticky. By the time the ground was consistently dry and hard, the augering more difficult, we would have moved to the field, a scrappy sloped area actually, for kickball. Without any adult interventions, it was always an everyone-plays game, as everyone was needed from all the grades to make two competitive teams.
    In the winter time the snow plows created great mounds of solid packed snow that framed the encircling drive. Snowsuited kids were transformed into efficient teams of miners, using the gallon sized vegetable tins from the lunch lady to scoop out snow, passing the cans back, mittened hands to mittened hands to the outside, until the whole snow bank was a busy warren where we could disappear for the whole of recess. Maintenance and renovations were endless pursuits.
    We had lots of outside time, all unstructured. Nowadays this wouldn’t fly. Nowadays much of what we did and how we did it would not be allowed. Too bad. We learned a lot; it was an effective social skills and project based learning program

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your memories. You describe a world quite foreign to me although certainly marbles were played (by the boys) the terrain on which you played was quite different. You must have lived in a very small town or did you go to something like a Steiner school to have unstructured time and project based learning. It sound however that your schooling was valued by you and that you feel you had an experience that wouldn’t be allowed today. Mine on the other hand was Victorian and although I learnt a lot and didn’t hate school, I think I would have flourished if I was a pupil today. Thanks for joining in.


      • Not Steiner! Small school, rural and woodsy, long bus rides. The projects on the play ground were all of our own devising. Some of the learnings on the play ground were less than wholesome because of the lack of adult involvement, a few injuries occurred, like when Sean broke his arm after we catapulted him into the air from a board balanced over stacked tires and jumped from higher stacked tires onto one end of the board, but even in that there was collaboration and engineering employed. We all admired Sean for his loyalty and toughness in keeping his broken arm to himself all afternoon.
        Besides being busy, it was difficult to decide which tales to tell for your topic. Let’s just stick with marbles and snow forts.
        Oh, and tetherball was big for awhile.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m in awe of Sean just hearing about it. Wonderful story. Devising your own games probably led to an increase in creativity. Something I feel was knocked out of us in our schooling. Thanks for adding more.


  9. Oh, this was Vermont in the early to mid seventies.

    Liked by 1 person

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