The games we played

We asked and you answered. Now let’s all go outside and find some friends.

Memories supplied by Kiwanis members

“What d’ya wanna play?” 

It was the rallying question that called us into the streets, alleys, backyards and barn lots, where no adults were around to organize us or enforce the rules.

“I don’t know. What d’ya wanna play?”

No one ever wanted to be the first to answer, because the first suggestion was always shot down.

“Four square!”

“We played that yesterday.”


“Nah, that’s for babies.”


“Nobody has chalk.”

“I know! Let’s play tag!”

“Yeah. You’re it!”

And off we’d go, racing through our childhood.

Outdoor games are among our most precious memories. Kiwanis magazine asked members to share favorite stories from a time when having fun was as simple as kicking a can, scooping up jacks or obeying “Simon.”

Here’s what we played.


Old jump rope

We had a big grassy lot next to our house owned by an older couple that let all the neighborhood kids play … hide-and-seek, two-hand touch football, kickball, cowboys and Indians, Army (I was always the nurse), red rover, ring around the rosie, Chinese jump rope, hopscotch, marbles or freeze tag. It was fun, safe and the memories are lasting forever.

Mother May I

Mother May I was a fun game with as many kids as you wanted to play. A leader would give a direction such as, “Take three giant steps,” and the person would have to respond, “Mother May I” before taking the direction.

Screen Shot 2019-03-19 at 9.14.44 AM.png
Favorite childhood games video

Red rover

Red rover. … We always played in our front yard with many of the neighborhood kiddos. It was not unusual to have 20-plus kids. So much fun.

I always got a running start to break the line when it was my turn, and since I lived on a farm, I had the strength to do it. But I held tight when the other team was chosen.

Capture the flag

Waving Red Golf Flag

Our favorite outdoor game growing up in southern Vermont in the 1940s and 1950s was prisoner’s base. My husband, growing up in Washington, D.C. … played a similar game called capture the flag. In both cases, the game started with two teams on either side of a line dividing the play area. There were piles of sticks (in Vermont) or a piece of cloth on a stick (in D.C.) at the back of the play area, and the goal was to get across the line and grab a stick or the flag and make it back to one’s own side without getting tagged. The side that lost all its sticks or its flag lost. If a player was tagged on the wrong side of the line, they had to stand with the sticks/flag until they were tagged by a member of their own team, at which point both players were allowed to return directly to their own side to resume play.


Wooden swing in the park isolated on white background , clipping

Swing hockey

I grew up across the street from a community park called Berry Park … heavily shaded by elm trees. The city at one point put a telephone pole across the forks of two of these elm trees, about 20 feet off the ground. From it hung two swings. … We’d put a small flat rock on the ground between the swings, which were about four feet apart. We’d (step) back as far as we could reach with our feet on the ground, standing on our tiptoes, and draw a line in the dirt behind us. Then we’d stand there and on the count of three, we’d let go. And the swing would arc toward this rock, and we would try to knock the rock over the opponent’s end line. Each time you’d do that, that was a point. … We played this game for hours, and we called it swing hockey.

Vintage baseball glove and ball isolated on white

Scrub. It was baseball with three players: batter, pitcher and outfielder. We constantly rotated positions. It was just like kickball in that regard.

We’d gather in the park — kids of all ages — and choose sides using a baseball bat. When us young ones grew up to the high school level in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin, our team had to play schools in Janesville and Madison in order to make our way to the state tournament. My class had 54 students — smallest school to ever make it to state. Lessons learned when we were young: We played together by our own rules, and we cheered everyone on.

Kick the can

Kick the can … but only after dark.

We had a gentleman who lived down the street who was blind. He would play with us and be “it.” Even without seeing, he could still catch us trying to kick the can.

Children's colored chalks


Hopscotch was my favorite because I played it by myself when no friends were around or together with a group of girls. My favorite memory was using “fancy” charms as markers. My friends and I would try to outdo each other with our markers. I loved using the chalk to draw the hopscotch game on the ground. That was always special to get it just right.

Jacks with Red Ball on White Background


My friends and I loved hunkering down on the walkways at recess and digging our jacks and balls out of our pockets for lengthy and quite advanced competitions!

I loved to play jacks at recess. … I (recently) bought myself some jacks for home, and sometimes I’ll play on the kitchen floor, though it’s harder to get down and back up off the floor now.

Old leather style football helmet on a white background


I was the girl in my neighborhood … with seven boys. Flag football was the name of the game, and I was quarterback. I worked well in the position until I got hit by a 200-pound boy. My mother ended my career as a quarterback.

This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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