JAZZ! SPEAKEASIES! WILD PARTIES! (Welcome to America in the 1920’s)
The most surefire way to spark a lifelong interest in a subject is by finding and enjoying that subject as early as possible. History is something that can be incredibly hands on and engaging, but is often encountered for the first time through stuffy textbooks or dry lectures. It had always perplexed me that children were encouraged to experiment and “get their hands dirty” in subjects like the sciences when history was always seen as something to be worked on alone with nothing more than a book and a piece of paper.
But as we all know, history is an ongoing story. It’s passionate and exciting, and is most definitely meant to be hands on. So I had an idea- what if we grabbed all that fun from the past, and brought it into today’s classrooms? This is how I got the idea for the educational initiative “Food and Fun From the Past.”
Often, we only learn the “big” stuff from a particular epoch in human history. Names; dates; major events; battles. But what about leisure time? What about board games? What about snacks? What about dances? I wanted to show the kids what THEY would have been doing at this time, not their parents.
“Fun and Food From the Past” focuses on a particular decade by highlighting FOOD, MUSIC/DANCE, GAMES, and PHOTOS. These topics are explored through stations that allow kids to discover these subjects in a hands on way.
For our very first FAFFTP day, we decided on the 1920’s. With all of the popularity of The Great Gatsby and flapper/jazz culture, the kids would have a wonderful time connecting with this fun and groundbreaking time in American History. This decade also had the added benefit of being nearly 100 years ago.
Since this event was held during the summer months, we brought our activities to our local Boys and Girls Club. And it went wonderfully! Please enjoy some fun facts and pictures from our stations!
The 1920’s were a fun time for food in America! We had just been victorious in WW1, and the rationing of war-time had come to an end. Families decided it was time to celebrate- so they began experimenting in the kitchen. This included ethnic foods, new American recipes, and lots and lots of dishes that included sugar- an American staple denied during the years of the war. You could say Americans developed a serious sweet tooth!
To pay homage to the newfound love of baked goods in America, I decided on a homemade pineapple upside down cake for the food station. I called my great-aunt and got ahold of our family recipe, which happened to date back to the 20’s!
* Note on pineapple upside down cake- originally called a “skillet cake”, pineapple upside down cake has been around far longer than the 1920’s. However, this was when the desert gained popularity. The famous pineaple company Dole (then known as The Hawaiian Pineapple Company) hosted a nationwide competition to encourage the use of their product in American’s recipes. After receiving thousands of entries, the winner was a tasty recipe for none other than pineaple upside down cake. The rest was history!
Above is my friend Shannon. She goes to school with me and has just spent the summer teaching about the environment to kids at a summer camp near campus. The kids at the Boys and Girls Club LOVED the cake. (This station was definitely a crowd favorite)
Since the war’s end and the advantages in technology, Americans found they had much more idle time in the 1920’s, and became bored quite quickly. They searched for things to fill their time, and turned to fun and games!
The 1920’s is known as the time of American Baseball; games popped up everywhere and anywhere. You could find a pickup game in a farmer’s field on a summer afternoon, or could participate in a rousing game of stickball in the city. Icons like Babe Ruth were household names, and a “trip to the ballgame” was a popular American pastime. We would have loved to play baseball with the kids, but we were given space in a church basement, which was not an ideal place to play such an active game that required so much space.
What we did do was teach the kids another wildly popular American pastime- marbles. Marbles would have been played in nearly every schoolyard, and are still a favorite among collectors of antique items. Marbles were an engaging and exciting way for kids to spend an afternoon, and were versatile. They could be played on any hard surface, and could be played either quietly or with noisy groups of friends. The kids loved learning first hand what someone their age would have done with their spare time. (We even heard some kids planning a game as they left!)
Connor teaches a group of kids how to play marbles.
I had the honor of teaching this station. Since there was no television and radio was just beginning to gain momentum, music was a vital part of people’s lives. Music began a transition from the classical tones of the early 1900’s to the new, wild , and soulful tones of JAZZ. This music was new, exciting, and a little sinful. Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” revolutionized the way people thought about music. (Check the bottom of this page for a recording of West End Blues!) Dances like the Charlston were popular, with its message of freedom and improvisational movements. The tempo of America was reaching a fever pitch, and the music of the time definitely reflected that.
Kids who came to this station discussed personal perceptions and characteristics of music in the 1920’s, and were invited to dance to a modern popular song in order to show me their “modern moves.” Afterwards, we all learned the Charlston and had a dance off. The kids were encouraged not to worry over accuracy and focus on letting loose and feeling the tempo of the music. They were surprised how easy it was once they stopped worrying about the steps!
Here I am with some of the kids from the FAFFTP day. These three were especially gifted at dancing the Charlston!
*Stay tuned for my post about KIDS RECREATING ICONIC 1920’S PHOTOS!*
(I reserve all rights to Food and Fun From the Past. However, if you would like us to bring it to a place near you, or have suggestions or stories to share, please don’t hesitate to contact me!)
Photo credit- Google Images for historical photos. All photos for FAFFTP were taken by myself or members of my group.