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Canton playdate teaches children about colonial toys

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CANTON — Children from across the county visited the St. Lawrence County Historical Association, Silas Wright House, 3 E. Main St., to play with toys Saturday.

The historical association partnered with the Fort La Presentation Association of Ogdensburg for a demonstration about what children played with during colonial times.

From rag dolls to whirligigs, penny whistles and a centuries-old board game called the Royal Game of Goose, children ages 4 to 10 kept busy from 11 a.m. to noon trying out the different toys.

“No batteries. They didn’t have batteries, so you’re the battery,” said Barbara J. O’Keefe, president of the Fort La Presentation Association. “No plastic. Plastic hadn’t really been invented yet.”

Dressed in colonial attire, Ms. O’Keefe presented each of the many toys spread out on the tables to a group of eager children, explaining how each toy worked and what materials it was made of.

Most of the toys were made out of animal bone or wood, but she also showed the children a doll made out of corn husks, a small leather ball, a tin penny whistle and horn boards with the alphabet on them that children used for school.

One of the most popular games the children took turns with was a bowling game with nine wooden pins and two balls.

Connor A. Flack, 7, Lisbon, said his favorite game from the colonial period was the bowling game.

“I think I knocked over six pins so far,” he said.

Esther M. McKeever, 6, Lisbon, said that although she liked playing with a wooden rifle and whirligig, her favorite game was also the bowling.

“The physical manipulation skills of spinning a top or some of the other toys are important, as well as using their own imaginations and creativity to come up with things,” said J. Susanne Longshore, Canton.

Ms. Longshore is the collections manager and staff representative for the education committee at the historical association.

She said they began doing children’s programs every second Saturday of the month in 2005, with a different topic each month. Last week they had full-costumed guest speakers from Fort La Presentation who brought all the toys with them.

“There were people here before us and we need to understand that history as adults to help us make better decisions for the future,” she said. “This is a way of getting kids interested, and hopefully, as they grow up, they’ll continue to connect with local history in different ways.”

Candy L. Pratt, Ogdensburg, brought her two daughters, Abbigail I., 5, and Zoey L., 4, to experience toys from hundreds of years ago.

“It’s not anything they’ve ever been exposed to and Abbigail’s having a ball,” Mrs. Pratt said. “I would like them to be less focused on the electronics, more actively doing stuff and learning how it used to be.”

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