We’re now entering our ninth month of unemployment, which is a bit depressing. But last week, instead of having a pity party, I chose to take a day off from our regular routine to have a Great Depression Party. The kids and I have been reading the book, “Welcome to Kit’s World 1934: Growing Up During America’s Great Depression.” It provides an overview of the Great Depression, while focusing on the kinds of details mentioned in the Kit Kittredge books. Although we haven’t read the books, we’ve enjoyed the Kit Kittredge movie that came out a few years ago. The book has plenty of pictures to capture kids’ attention, and real life stories of what life was like 80 years ago. (You can find the book at my Amazon store on More Joyful Choices.)
One of the things we’ve learned from the book is that although the 1930s were a time of great suffering and making do with very little, people still found ways to entertain themselves and have fun. Some of the ways families and children had fun during the Depression are still great ways to enjoy inexpensive fun today. To party like it’s 1939, try:
- Playing Monopoly – This popular board game was invented in 1935 and was the best-selling game in America. Monopoly not your favorite? Pick whatever game your family enjoys. Softball, called “mushball” because they used a mushy ball, also became popular in the 1930’s. So for some outdoor fun, round up a few other families and head to your local park for a game of “mushball.”
- Roller-skating – During the Depression, kids strapped skates onto their shoes and skated for free in parks or on sidewalks. For some 21st Century fun, dust off those roller-blades, or go on a family bike ride.
- Making music – People played instruments and had family sing-alongs. Not musical? Turn on your favorite CD and have a lip-syncing (or air guitar) contest. Award points for accuracy, style, and most creative presentation.
- Running through sprinklers – In the 1930s, New York City used its water system to create sprinklers so that kids could keep cool during hot weather. Next time you get to the park and discover that the sprinklers are on, instead of going home, let the kids run through them!
- Reading library books – Weekly trips to the library are one way our family keeps from feeling deprived. It’s like Christmas every week for my kids when we come home with new books, CDs, computer games, Wii games, and movies. Every few weeks I go online and reserve items I think the kids will enjoy, like Lego books and the latest Barbie movies. I’ve even found gluten free cookbooks and Blu-Ray movies at our library.
- Making toys out of whatever items you can recycle – Long before recycling was considered hip, kids made stilts and scooters out of scraps of wood, and jump ropes out of spare rope. Check out our pictures below for recycling craft inspiration.
- Flying kites – Families made kites out of newspaper, sticks, string, and colorful rags for the kite’s tail. We’ve found cheap little kites at the dollar store, and should probably be using them to take advantage of our windy spring!
- Playing miniature golf – Miniature golf was created during the Depression, and was called “midget golf.” They would set up a small course with a series of makeshift obstacles in a small lot. If you don’t have a putter, you can get cheap kiddie plastic putters and golf balls from the dollar store or Wal-Mart, and use household items for obstacles. This is a great rainy day activity that can be set up inside.
- Watching movies – Eighty million people went to the movies every week in the 1930s – more than half the population of America! A nickel or dime bought a whole Saturday’s worth of fun, including a newsreel, the coming attractions, cartoons, and a double feature. Unfortunately, taking the family to the movies today can cost $40 or more. So many of us have turned to Netflix as an affordable way to get new release DVDs and instantly stream older movies and TV shows over the internet. With a subscription to Netflix (1 DVD out at a time), the whole family can curl up on the couch with some homemade popcorn and enjoy a month of movies for the price of one theater ticket. Popular movies from the 1930s that are available through Netflix include Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, and Shirley Temple movies. (Although Gone With The Wind is the only one currently offered through streaming.)
Our Great Depression Party
After reading some of “Kit’s World,” we started our Great Depression-style party by making what was called, “Depression Syrup,” for our pancakes. Since maple syrup was expensive in the ’30s (and still is), people made their syrup with water, sugar, and a drop of maple flavoring. (If you’re not starting with breakfast, you could serve “Depression Tomato Soup,” which was simply ketchup and water.) To make your own Depression Syrup (with no artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup!):
- Heat 1/2 c. water and 1 c. sugar until sugar is dissolved. (I added 1 T. cornstarch before heating, to help thicken it, although it will thicken as it cools.)
- Stir in 1/4 tsp. Mapleine.
- Set aside and allow to cool while you make pancakes.
After breakfast, my daughter wanted to make homemade stickers. So in the spirit of recycling, I pulled out some CD label sheets that had the labels removed, but the remaining page was still covered in adhesive paper. I got out my rubber stamps and stamp pads, and showed the kids how to color the inside of the stamped pictures with colored pencils. The kids cut out the stamped pictures and decorated strips of card stock with their homemade stickers to make colorful bookmarks.
Next, the kids played Monopoly with my husband while I assembled chili for the crock pot. The kids then washed out all the cans I’d used, and peeled off the labels to use for their next craft. I had purchased some small magnets with adhesive foam for a robot craft I’d seen in a magazine a while ago. My husband dug out odds and ends from his toolbox, and I found a few other items for the kids to attach to the magnets to make robot faces for their cans. I also pulled out some Disney princess contact paper and showed my daughter how to measure everything so we could cover a can with the paper to make a holder for her brush and hand mirror. To finish it, we hot glued some lacy ribbon to the top and bottom.
After lunch, everyone came up with their own miniature golf obstacles (including the dog, who decided to be a moving obstacle), and we used cans tipped on their sides for the holes. Of course, a Great Depression party wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the movies, so after dinner we popped some popcorn and watched “Annie.” Even though this movie wasn’t made in the 1930s, Little Orphan Annie was a popular radio and comic book character during that era.
Our Great Depression-style party was a lot of fun, and we were reminded that the best things in life are free. All we need to have fun is a little creativity, resourcefulness, and each other. So if the economy’s got you down, don’t get depressed – throw a Great Depression Party!