Playground games (anytime)

March 4, 2008

One of the administrators at M.’s school told me recently that they were reconsidering the way they organize recess for the elementary school students — or, rather, the way they simply release the kids to the outdoors to play. She said the kids don’t seem to know what to do with themselves; it seems that their limited experience with unstructured free time results in difficulty organizing playground games.

Part of it, I suppose, is that these kids are in a fairly new school and don’t have the benefit of games being passed down to them through generations of students. But it’s also a commentary on the rarity of loosely supervised outdoor time in general. And then I got to thinking about the roving band of 8- and 9-year-olds in my neighborhood. They’re kids who live here, whose names and parents everyone knows (and M. wants more than anything to be part of the clique. At nearly 5, he’s much too young, of course, and their casual exclusion of him is totally justified — if painful for him!) But I find myself watching them from my office window so I can tell their parents if they’re getting into trouble, which I guess is old-fashioned of me. Mostly, though, I see them riding bikes around the block or playing pick-up kickball in the empty lots across the alley from our house. Exactly the harmless stuff an expert in child development might want them to be doing.

M.’s school might be going against the national trend in even thinking of promoting playground games; over the past few years, many districts have banned everything from tag to soccer to recess itself on safety grounds. It makes me wonder whether the Wii’s Playground Games virtual world is what this world is coming to!

In pondering all of this over the past few days, I’ve made some resolutions. I’m going to teach M. and his friends (the neighborhood has its own clique his age, they just can’t wander semi-unsupervised yet) some playground games from back in my day 30 years ago, like Colored Eggs (where a “witch” chases kids based on guessing colors from a crayon box, one of my all-time favorite games from third grade) and Circle Tag and Red Light/Green Light and Simon Says and Red Rover and maybe even Four Square. I will probably not teach him Kiss or Kill, just because I’m too old to roughhouse like that and would always choose kiss! Recess might not be around then, but perhaps he can introduce those games when he and his friends are finally old enough to roam the neighborhood on their own.

If anyone has any good games to suggest, e-mail me or comment with them. And if you want to take a trip down memory lane to your own gradeschool days, here are some sites where you can do that:

Kids Games

Wikipedia list of traditional children’s games (which they call street culture)

Suite 101’s Outdoor Games for Kids

Sports4Kids’s playground games how-to manual


5 Responses to “Playground games (anytime)”

  1. Charles J Taft Says:

    Hmm, good point indeed. I recall playing Ante-Ante Over, which in my case was the country schoolhouse I attended in grades 1-3. Of course, the “big” kids got to choose what we played at recess. Us little kids were just glad to be allowed to play.

    But, we didn’t get bullied either. That wouldn’t have gotten very far in a school of maybe 15 kids.

    BTW, I do enjoy reading your blog! You do good work!

  2. mom22kids Says:

    Thanks, Charles! I don’t remember playing Ante-Ante Over, but maybe it just wasn’t in vogue at my school. It’s also been pointed out that I left off jumping rope, but up in North Dakota we really never spent much time doing that — I never even learned any of the rhymes that are so common around here.

  3. Becky Says:

    Colored Eggs! Wow! I loved that game, but have never, ever found anyone outside my old neighborhood who had ever heard of it. Wish I could remember the little saying before the chase.

  4. mom22kids Says:

    Hi Becky,

    Your comment prompted me to e-mail my old elementary school friends … if someone comes up with the saying I will post it here. I did get a good description of the rules from Denalie, who’s going to be teaching the game to her own 5-year-old daughter. Her description:
    I remember the witch would come to the “house” and ask if anyone had a certain color egg. We did not stick with the common red and green….I remember as we got older, we’d have the tougher colors from the coloring box! Whoever was “called out” would have to run around the swings and get back to the
    house before the witch caught her…and if so, would switch places with the witch.

  5. mom22kids Says:

    An update on this topic: In a post on May 5, I give a link to a great playground game resource, and I wanted to add it here too in case anyone is interested — it’s a handbook from Sports4Kids, a nonprofit bringing games back to school playgrounds.

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