Kids growing up in Scott County today would likely have a hard time with carrying buckets of water from a well each day, and they would probably rather play with some digital gadget than a homemade toy.
But those chores and simple toys were once the reality for most children in the area.
The Scott County Historical Society will highlight how childhood has changed since the mid-1850s in its new exhibit “Games and Chores: Growing up in Scott County,” which opens May 28 at the Stans Museum in Shakopee.
“One thing that I do really love about this exhibit is that it is crammed full of things,” said Kathleen Klehr, executive director at the Scott County Historical Society. “It’s not a giant space, it’s a smaller space, but there’s just so much to see and learn. It’s a rich, rich exhibit.”
There have been major lifestyle changes — less farming — and manufacturing advances that made toys more accessible for families to buy over the past 160 years. But in many ways, living in the county is also still the same, Klehr said.
“People still like to play games,” she said. “Just like kids still do chores today, like make your bed, clean your room. Maybe it is not the same type of chores, but they still have to do work.”
There are two parts to the exhibit: work and play. Both focus on how life would have been in the past, as seen through the eyes of kids growing up in the county. Each will have interactive components for visitors to try chores and games that were common in the past.
On the work side, visitors can learn about the tougher parts of early Scott County life. For instance, the exhibit will have an interactive piece about carrying buckets of water for daily living — a task often relegated to kids, said Theresa Norman, curator of exhibits and collections.
“Kids will be able to see how many trips carrying buckets of water were needed for basic tasks,” Norman said.
The exhibit also includes school information. It will feature stories and information about how many children attended school vs. working and how those statistics have changed over the past 160 years.
“Going [to school] past eighth grade was not very common at all — even completing grade school was not very common,” Klehr said. “It was all about work and supporting the family then.”
On the play side, the exhibit includes historical pictures, oral histories and homemade toys from the era. People can play with toys, like a replica of an 1850s-style log cabin toy, and supplies to make paper dolls, among other activities.
The exhibit opens with a celebration at the museum from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday.
Keeping with the childhood theme, root beer floats and other treats will be served.
During the event, visitors can also try activities that won’t be available for the full run of the exhibit. Kids will be able to play games and do chores to win prizes and visitors can try churning butter.
The party is free with the cost of museum admission, but people can enter for free if they bring a new or gently used toy to donate. Donations will be given to The Toy Corner, which provides toys to children in need in Savage, Prior Lake and Shakopee.
“It’s a nice way for us to give back to the community by partnering with someone else to promote what they do with something that we do,” Klehr said. “It’s a great partnership because this is about games and toys, and even today a lot of kids don’t have toys.”
Janice Bitters is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.