Remember when we were kids and we played outside with no supervision? That’s when we used to play games like Hide-And-Go-Seek and Kick-The-Can. I can remember hiding on the roof of a house (not mine), hiding in the basement of another house (they kept an outside door to the cellar open), and in general, risking my life not to get caught.
I was so intense when playing these games that I had a mini-nervous breakdown playing Kick-The-Can at the age of 6. Every time I had all but one person captured, that bastard would run in, laughing manically, and kick the can setting everyone free. As you can see, I am now entirely over it.
All of these memories came back to me as I read an article by Nicholas Orme in Lapham’s Quarterly entitled “The Rules of the Games in Tudor England.”
That might seem a little arcane to you, but it listed many games we still play today. Think of all those long ago children, playing the same games we do today. Here is a partial list:
It is fascinating and a bit upsetting to think that those games we have played for hundreds of years may be going away. Why? Because children are trapped in backyards and playgroups, playing with a group of children, overseen and curated by their parents. Such an environment robs them of their creativity, sense of adventure, and ability to learn life-long lessons about setting boundaries, fairness, and judging.
I have touched on my concern before. In 2021 I wrote an article entitled: “Is It the End for Jump Rope Chants?” On a summer day, open your window and listen out for children playing jump rope. You probably won’t hear a thing. They are inside. As I wrote at the time:
If older children no longer teach the chants to younger ones, will the chants end up being stale rhymes in musty books or odd parts of the Internet? It would be sad if the death of the chant were to be a side effect of too little time to play and too much parenting.
Some people and organizations are trying to preserve these games. One such organization is the Tocati Festival of Traditional Games. It takes place in the streets of Verona, home to Romeo and Juliet, where they block off the city center to traffic. As you walk, you find that every square has a different game. A few years ago, I was privileged to be a guest of the festival organizers and my good friend, Laila Caroli.
Each year a different country is honored. There were games we were all familiar with, and then there were games that were unknown to me. It was called Fire Ball. It consisted of hitting a coconut soaked in gasoline, set on fire, and hitting back and forth with hockey sticks. Don’t worry, no children were involved.
It would be nice to have a similar festival in the U.S. It would be fun, entertaining, and educational for the family. It might also save some of these games in danger of expiring. Who wants to be involved?
In my next article, I will talk about some of the more dangerous games I used to play.