Fun at the Greenville Public Library

By Kendra Gravelle

On a sunny day in July, taking a step onto the lawn of the Greenville Public Library may as well have been taking a step back in time.

Put on by Casey Farm, a historic farm in Saunderstown, RI, children were given the opportunity to try out popular leisure activities for children of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries — batteries not included.

“We teach them about what children did and how it is to live on a farm,” Terry Cowell of Casey Farm explained. “It’s important for them to learn that technology isn’t everything, and sometimes when you have two minutes, there’s so much you can do.”

Games included pick-up sticks, knucklebones, jacks, stick-and-ring, cup-and-ball, ring-toss, buzzsaw, Jacob’s ladder and wagon wheel, among others.

“If you look at a lot of these materials, they’re things that they’d have around the house. They didn’t cost any money, and were often things that wouldn’t be used anymore.” Cowell explained to the children. “Lots of families didn’t have any extra money.”

She added that children often didn’t have much time to play, so would have to get creative during their down time.

“So, tag was a game you could play between finishing one set of chores and going out to the barn to do the next set,” she said. “Even playing was a luxury.”

Some games were set up indoors, while others were played outside.

Braden, 11, said his favorite of the historical games is Jacob’s ladder.

“I like the way the ladder moves,” he said, twisting his wrist up and down as blocks of wood connected by ribbon turned alternately from left to right.

Jacob’s ladder was Levi’s favorite game, too.

“It looks like you’re switching these sticks,” said the 6-year-old.

In the corner of the room, Alexis, 7, and her big brother James, 9, took their turn playing jacks.

“You have to bounce the ball and catch as many of these as you can and you have to collect the ball as well,” James said, pointing to the pile of jacks on the floor. “Hey, believe me, I almost caught all of them on my first try.”

Although James admitted that jacks must have been a fun game to play between chores back in the day, he said it doesn’t compare to Minecraft, his favorite modern-day game.

“You can, like, build stuff with two modes — survival or creative,” James said of the game. “They didn’t have Minecraft then, though. You need a TV, Xbox, the game and a controller.”

Another set of siblings, Jordan, 7, and Joseph, 6, played on the lawn, flinging a knitting wheel back-and-forth by pulling apart two sticks.

Joseph cheered as he caught the wheel nearly every time it came his way.

For Gwen, 5, ring toss was a hit.

“I can kind of do it almost,” she said.

Cowell said the responses she’s gotten from children have been nothing but positive.

“A lot of kids are like, ‘I’m going to go home and make that,’” she said. “And that’s actually the best part.”

And for Babs Wells, children’s librarian at the Greenville Public Library, the day couldn’t have gone better.

“When I first booked this program I wasn’t sure which way it was going to go, because of the fact that there were no batteries required,” Wells admitted. “But it was a huge hit.”