We tend to judge the past in light of the technology that governs our lives today when we look back on how people lived in the past. Imagine a world without cars, electricity, or running water, we ask. No television, radio, washing machines, refrigerators, or movies? No credit cards, computers, CDs, or mobile devices? What allowed them to live? If you choose to approach history in this manner, consider the following: what invention do we lack that will cause Iowans in the future to look back and wonder how they survived the day?

A better strategy is to consider how people of all ages adapted to their surroundings. Looking at children’s homes is a good place to start. On the Iowa frontier, the majority of homes had to provide for almost all of their own requirements. Early on, children were taught to help support their families. The majority of Iowans were farmers who produced the majority of their own food, and kids developed into valuable members of the family team. They collected eggs, tended to the garden, brought in wood and water, and perhaps took care of smaller siblings. As they grew older, females learned how to cook, sew, can food for the winter, wash clothes, and take care of the ill. Boys assisted their father with building and fence upkeep, hunting, planting, and harvesting. Their educational options were constrained to what a nearby school had to offer. Older boys particularly helped at home during times when there was a high demand for their assistance on the farm, such as during corn picking, and they only sometimes attended school.

Home renovations typically come to city kids before their cousins on farms. In the years just before or after 1900, many communities established electric networks that delivered electric lights, appliances, and other luxuries. Town kids were more likely to have access to high schools and participate in extracurricular activities like athletics and music. Children’s life both on farms and in cities saw significant alteration as a result of automobiles. Traveling to nearby towns for amusement and shopping was more convenient for all families. Families were able to buy more products from neighborhood businesses rather than producing as much of their own food and clothing, which freed up family members, especially children, from some time-consuming chores but increased their reliance on the father’s income. Children were able to communicate with friends and the outside world in ways that pioneer families could not have dreamed of thanks to the invention of computers, the internet, and cell phones, which substantially improved chances for everyone in the family.

As times evolved, so did toys and games. Early on, with the majority of Iowan families living on farms, brothers and sisters would play games together. They frequently invented the games they played and the accessories for them. When they were free from chores and the weather was nice, they played outside. Throughout the 20th century, industries devoted solely to entertaining kids emerged. These days, you can get video games, pricey sporting goods, foods like morning cereals and snacks targeted specifically for young children, as well as TV series and movies aimed at youngsters. Children had to attend school until they were 16 years old in order to graduate. College enrollment among young people is rising. There were a lot of large families with 8–10 children, or even more, back when homes supplied the majority of what people needed to subsist. Smaller families with 2-3 children became the norm as more families moved into towns and cities and needed to buy what they needed.

The chances and culture in which children lived were mirrored in their lives. Families adapted, and childhood altered, as the culture evolved, particularly with the introduction of new technologies. The lives of children today are very different from those of our pioneer ancestors, just as the great-grandchildren of today’s children will reflect on the things we “lived without” and be in awe of them.