Survive half-term with these historical tips to keep your kids occupied!

February 16, 2016

Argh!!! It’s only the second day of half-term. You’ve braved the snot and germ filled play centre, the plans for a healthy and active week have been kicked into touch by the good old British weather and despite the best intentions, your little ones are currently dividing their time between the Sky remote and competing over who can make your iPad screen the filthiest.

Well fear not, we have some examples from history of how children occupied their boredom. It’s well worth reading this little list to the kids, to remind them to play nice!

Oh, and a word of warning for those who take everything they read on the internet literally - we aren't suggesting you actually DO any of these things with your children!!

Get married


In the past, marriages were as much about political or economic alliances as they were about love and romance, particularly when it concerned the children of powerful rulers. Richard, Duke of York was just 4 years old when he married the 6 year old Countess of Norfolk!


Fight in a war

Cardboard Crafts 038

Children in the Greek state of Sparta began military training at seven years old!! Amongst the skills they needed to learn were pain tolerance, cunning and thieving, extreme hunger and bizarrely dancing.

Get a job!


Whilst there are thousands of ‘children’ who still borrow the odd tenner off their mum well into their 30s, it was pretty standard practice for all but wealthy children to be earning their keep as soon as they were able to. Jobs varied depending upon the time period, but being small and agile has its advantages, so you could find yourself down a mine-shaft, up a chimney or crawling through 19th century milling machines (death traps!) to retrieve a bobbin.

Interestingly, there is a suggestion that prehistoric flint tools may well have been made by children rather than adults, as their smaller hands could have had their advantages.

Have a beer


Yes, believe it or not, beer was a staple part of many children’s diet in Early Medieval Britain. Whilst it would not be a strong brew (it was often known as small-beer) it would have been safer to drink than water in urban areas where poor quality water could make you very ill.

Whipping Boy


This would be the play mate of an important child who would take on punishment when the said child was naughty. When he was growing up, Henry VIII had a friend of the same age who he would play with. However, it would be unheard of to punish or spank a future king, so every time Henry was naughty, his play-mate would take the beating on his behalf! It wasn’t all bad though, King Charles I made his whipping boy an Earl!

Play with toys!



It wasn’t all bad! Toys have been a staple part of childhood for millennia, and a child’s imagination is as powerful today as it ever has been. Whilst people moan about the impact of TV and iPads on kids, give them time, space and a few props (a stick can be a thing of wonder!!) and they’ll soon create their own fun! Why not replace their x-box with a stick this Christmas, I’m sure you’ll be hugely popular!!


In fact, Big Heritage run a hugely successful ‘Toys Through Time’ workshop in primary schools, where our education team bring out boxes of toys ranging from ancient Rome through to the 1990s. We find the children tend to shun the Gameboy and Atari and head straight to the cup and ball, spinning tops and Jacob’s Ladders!

No comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *