Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Playing Around

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo challenge presents a most delightful scene: children at play. Long before everyone had a trampoline in the backyard and bounce houses and ball pits for birthday parties, there was the swing set.
Mary J and Susan 1966
Our backyard 1966
My sister Mary Jollette on the right with her friend Susan
A couple swings, maybe a glider or seesaw, a slide if your parents could afford it provided hours of fun in their simplicity. If you pumped hard enough you could force the supports out of the ground. Thrilling!
Sears ad 1960s

My children came along in the early 1980s when notions about good parenting seemed to be changing, or maybe I was just more aware being a new parent myself. Lamaze classes promoting “prepared childbirth” promised a more fulfilling birth experience and bonding with your baby. Breast-feeding was making a big comeback thanks to groups like La Leche League. Fathers were given greater emphasis as an equal partner in raising happy, healthy children.

Parents were challenged to prepare children emotionally, physically, and intellectually for a changing world. Playtime was to be learning time too. Conscientious parents made sure to provide educational toys, not anything silly or frivolous that failed to challenge the future leaders of the world. 

Given the attitudes of the day, it is no surprise that the common metal swing set was snubbed in favor of wood structures that inspired creativity. The message was clear: the ideal play equipment should help children develop their large motor skills AND their imagination.

I drank the Kool-Aid.

I even purchased a book about fatherhood written BY a DAD so that my husband would know exactly what to do and how to act. The dad-author shared wonderful stories of playtime. He even provided instructions for building a playset.

We can build that!
Playset 1989
Photo taken in 1989, the year we sold our house
and left the playset behind. 
And we did. 
Barry 1983 building the playset
Barry 1983
Barry 1983 building the playset
Drilling holes for closet poles 1983
Poles for climbing. 

Two levels of platforms. 

A rope for climbing or swinging. 

A tire for a target or a lookout. 

Surely we were doing what it took for our girls to to become chemistry professors and business executives.

We were determined to be the best parents. But we still had to have REAL swings so we added this monstrosity.

Our play equipment seemed pretty big in the 1980s, but it does not compare to the set Santa brought my grand-baboo this past Christmas.


Hmm – she has a rock wall, rope ladder, AND a telescope. Why didn’t we think of that?

Please visit my friends at the Sepia Saturday playground.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. I hadn't thought of it before but the swing set/play equipment has definitely evolved! We had a wooden swing set with some climbing things for our kids when they were growing up. Funny how it was really used for the first few weeks and then rarely used after that (at least in our case LOL). We did frequent parks though that had lots of wooden playground equipment, most built on castle themes :) Got to give it to you and your hubby for building your own!


  2. What an amazing project. We were farm kids, so amused ourselves by playing in the creek and roaming the pastures and woods.

  3. The early days of the Monroe Brothers! and I had rusty swing set from Sears! But didn't we look cute in our dresses that were once Momma's?!

    Your girls are indeed lucky you drank the kool aid!

  4. When I was growing up, our favorite play place was underneath a beach umbrella. My Dad sank a pipe in the ground into which the umbrella pole fit snuggly. We'd clothes-pin old sheets & blankets around the umbrella to close it off & it became anything our imaginations could make of it - a space ship on its way to the moon, or what have you. Meanwhile, we had a wooden swing-set frame with no swings, so used to pull ourselves up on the side bars, reach out, and hand-over-hand work our way across the top to the opposite side bar and down - all without realizing we were exercising our big muscles. It was just fun. We also hung upside-down by our knees (from the top) which scared our Mom to death. :)

  5. Excellent match! Very organic. Growing up as a monkey bars, kid I wish someone came up with a playground for adults! That didn't require a monthly subscription!

  6. We didn't have fancy play equipment when I was a kid - house and garden too small and thanks to the war, not a lot of children's play things were made. We relied on our old bikes and trikes, home made cricket bats, rag dolls and wooden blocks and toy cars. Most of our time was spent playing in the surrounding paddocks, catching tadpoles and having mock battles with the kids from thew next street.

  7. Great to see the industrious Dad, and the kids playing dress-up...used to enjoy trying to walk in my mom's heels...thanks for the memory.

  8. Wonderful post. I remember hanging upside down from the top of a friend's swing set on summer nights after dinner and somersaulting to the ground, in fact we all took turns. May not have been educational, but we learned social and acrobatic skills as we took turns. Still, those play sets you constructed look like they offered hours of great play!

  9. We were just talking about "play" when I was a kid. I remember a favorite activity was playing Monopoly with the next door neighbor. One of the places we played was under a ping pong table covered with blankets (don't bother us!). Another favorite was the way back of the neighbor's station wagon on the driveway - how comfortable could that have been?