Whatever happened to …

… marbles?

Sheila Stewart sent me an article with 65 things that kids used to do in recess. Doing the mathematics, that could be one per week for a year so I’ll just tuck this away. There are some great things there. I had an awesome youth! So many things in there that aren’t done today.

So, I picked one to start with.


Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

Playing marbles was a hit activity in the middle elementary school years for us. The cool kids had fancy purchased marble bags to carry their collection with. I had a custom one that my Mom made for me. A new bag of marbles from Stedman’s downtown was always a real treat.

You’d play various permutations of games with the marbles with the winner getting the spoils. I recall that one of the games required “borrowing” a piece of chalk from the chalkboard ledge as we left the room for recess and then using it to draw a circle, the play space, on the asphalt outside. Playing the game required that you stick your tongue out and clamp it with your teeth as you get the right line and then flick your marble with the thumb to drive an opponent’s marble out of the circle.

Enhancements to the game involved making combo shots and also flicking with the thumb on your non-dominant hand. In most of our cases, that would have been our left hand. We had a name for that which isn’t printable by me in this day and age!

LIttle did I realize at the time that there was a great deal of learning that was going on. Force – you had to stay in the circle after knocking your opponent out. Angles – all kinds of them for the perfect shot or combo shot. Little did I know that it would lead to an understanding in Physics or a career at the pool hall during high school years.

There were unfortunate issues for teachers! You should shake your bag of marbles to distract the class; if you swung the bag by the string, it became a weapon; and heaven help you if your bag fell open and your marbles rolled out all over the classroom floor. Mandatory comment here about Doug losing his marbles.

Marbles were wonderful things to collect. There were different colours, sizes, designs, and some were just mystical when you held them up to the light. These days, I don’t think we have any in the house except for those used as play pieces for board games.

Do kids today know the wonder of marbles or do they just play them online?

For a Sunday, it’s time to share some childhood memories…

  • did you play marbles as a child?
  • are they played at your school? are they even allowed?
  • what’s a Cat’s Eye? Did you know that some are very valuable?
  • what’s the difference between a marble and an alley?
  • can you describe a game that you used to play now or then using marbles?
  • in your youth, were marbles ever a form of currency?
  • can you name a board game that relies on marbles for play pieces?
  • if you had a desire to get back in the game, where would you go to buy brand new marbles?

As always on a Sunday, please extend the conversation with your own marble stories in the comments below. Thanks, Sheila Stewart, for the idea.

For anyone, there is always a standing offer to write a guest blog post for this blog. If you have a memory and would like to write about it, I’d be more than happy to share it here and/or cross-blog it with your blog. That might also give Stephen Hurley and me something to chat about on a Wednesday morning.

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8 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. When I read the first line of this post, I was going to reply that all of the marbles ended up lost in a our classroom. 🙂 Right now, marble runs are big in our room. I don’t remember this other marble game, but I’m glad that marbles have a different purpose now. I must say though, it drives me crazy how easily they get lost. Anyone else?



  2. Never played marbles. We used marbles to play Chinese checkers. Lots of Red River, British Bulldog, Kickball, skipping, ball related games, hopscotch. Juggling games were big for a while too. Silly putty was a big crazy for a while in my elementary years too.


  3. We also love marbles in our classroom and I always have one or two in my coat or pants pocket – like stones, small, easy to roll-/spin, they come in real handy when I need to help co-regulate with a child at recess or in the forest. Like gems, dinky cars and beyblades but infinitely more versatile and portable. And still, like Aviva, at the end of playtime with marble ramps or runs or games *in the classroom * that is precisely the question I find myself asking…what happened to all the marbles? To which kids answer, matter-of-factly, the blue one rolled under the door, the green one is under that cabinet, the white one rolled off and it was going so fast we just don’t know. Marbles are still a hot commodity and yes, kindie kids also pocket them, but with a smile and a gentle question we can usually get them back, or let them borrow them for a while longer. It doesn’t have to be all iPads and expensive things. When we don’t have those, it takes kids precisely zero time to become creative. The best toys? Sticks, stones, MUD, snow, and yes, marbles.


  4. Came to Canada at the age of 9, and while still in Portugal, we also played marbles. We made a little hole in the dirt. Then one by one, standing a couple of metres away from the hole, we would each throw one marble, aiming at the hole. Whoever got closest to the hole began. Goals: get marble to the hole. Hit opponent’s marble and you keep it. Other details I can’t recall. Hours of simple fun! Today, going back as an adult, I don’t see it being played anymore…thanks Doug. You took me back to my wonder-full childhood! Happy Sunday!


  5. Nice choice! 🙂 I didn’t play marble games, but I did play games that involved marbles eg Kerplunk. I certainly had a guarded marble collection though — they were like little (some big) gems to me! I still recall some of the colours and patterns that I had, including some “cat-eyes”. I had to look up marbles vs alleys — it’s about what they are made of?
    Interesting stories from others too!


  6. I was a big fan of marbles back in the day. We used to play at recess all the time. I really can’t remember the rules of the game, but I do remember losing a lot. My mom sewed a nice bag for my collection, I remember that. I think the difference between an ally and a marble was that marbles were clear and ally’s were white with a swirled pattern on them. There were two sizes but I don’t remember what the larger ones were called. I remember having a ruby red one that I think was called a “Devil’s Eye” or something cool like that. It was still an expensive game when your allowance was only 25 cents a week. I liked collecting marbles for a while. Then Hot Wheels came along …


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