Unstructured play (not including video games!) helps children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. It provides an outlet for their creativity, and is an absolutely critical part of childhood. Before electronic games such as Playstation, Xbox and now the Wii, the only games available were board games and those we would make up in the streets with other neighborhood kids. The streets were the playground and anyone within a few block area was part of the game.
Below are a few timeless games and general rules, many of which historians have found to span a century of generations. Use these rules or have your kids make up their own.
Items needed: flashlight
Play this game in a dark house at night or outdoors after dark.
Find a place to be base.
Choose one player to be ‘IT.’
The person who is ‘IT’ waits at the base and counts while everyone else hides. Hiders can move around during the game.
‘IT’ searches for the hidden players with the flashlight. The flashlight must stay on at all time and cannot be covered.
Meanwhile, players try to run to the base without getting caught.
Players are tagged if ‘IT’ spots them with the flashlight and calls out a player’s name.
Each tagged player is sent to the base to wait until the very last player is caught.
The last person tagged is ‘IT’ for the next game.
Set a time limit for the game, if no one is tagged during that time frame, switch the person who is ‘IT.’
Kick the Can
Items needed: metal can
Start by choosing one person to be ‘IT.’ This player gets to kick the can as far as he or she is able.
The players scatter to find hiding places as the can rolls. ‘IT’ then chases after the can and brings it back to home base. Once he brings the can home, ‘IT’ counts to 50 with his eyes closed. When he opens them, he starts searching and the fun begins.
When ‘IT ‘ finds a hider, he calls out this player’s name. If the hider can kick over the can before ‘IT’ does, he’s safe. If ‘IT’ makes it to the can first, the player whose name he calls out is captured and must wait in the jail (next to the can). The players in jail are not hopeless. A brave soul can risk capture to save them. If this person can kick over the can and call out “Home free” without getting captured by It, the jailbirds are free to run and hide from ‘IT’ again.
The game continues until all the jailbirds have been captured. The first person caught becomes ‘IT’ in the next game. If jailbreaks keep the game going on too long, the first person who is caught three times becomes ‘IT’ and a new game begins.
Ghost in the Graveyard
Items needed: none
Pick a home base, then pick someone to be ‘IT.’ This person is the Ghost and the person who hides.
Everyone starts at home base (the entrance to the graveyard). The group starts counting down to midnight using the “o’clock rock system” (i.e. 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock rock, 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock rock …). When the group reaches midnight they yell out, “Midnight, hope we don’t see a ghost tonight” and start their search.
When someone in the search party finds the Ghost they scream, “Ghost in the grave-yard!” and runs to home base. If the ghost tags someone before they reach the base, that person is ‘IT.’ If not, the ghost remains ‘IT’ and you start all over again.
These are only three games, but there are endless possibilities for activities that require only imagination: red rover, playing house, cops and robbers, red light-green light, hide and seek, rock paper scissors, sardines, tag … and the list goes on!
The Adventurous Book of Outdoor Games: Classic Fun for Daring Boys and Girls by Scott Strother. Sourcebooks Inc 2008.