Playground Games

“Kids these days spend all their time looking at a screen and no time outside running around…”. I’m sure most parents have had someone say this to them, or have seen a Facebook meme with words to that effect. However, it’s just not true! They may not get outside as much as the free-roaming kids of the 1980s and before, but most children I know still enjoy plenty of physical activity, are fit, healthy and imaginative.

Kids today also play most of the same games we did as children. A conversation about what they play in the playground with my kids on the way to school this morning was very enlightening for them when they realised that the games they had ‘invented’ had already been played by their parents, their grandparents and probably further back than them! Many have slight tweaks that are different, or a different (ie. wrong) name but the majority of the playground staples are much the same. The conversation got me feeling quite nostalgic, so I thought it would be fun to revisit some of those old favourites!


Needs no explanation: the classic childhood game, played by kids the world over as well as many animals! Run and catch, you’re on, repeat! The game had many variations including ‘Off Ground Touch’, ‘Sticky Glue/Toffee’, ‘Stuck in the Mud’ and the equally loved and loathed ‘Kiss Chase’: the beginning (or end) of many a playground crush! Another favourite where I lived was the horrific ‘He-Ball’ which involved chasing after people and throwing a ball at them as they ran, resulting in many injuries as balls collided with faces and feet!

2. 123 Home/40-40/Kick the Can/Manhunt

This was probably our most played game when I was a child. We lived in a close with a lamp-post in the middle, which was home. Someone was it, while everyone else went to hide. The seeker then had to try and find everyone and catch them before they got home. The twist to the game being that no-one could be caught just by being tagged, the person who was it would have to return to the home and yell ‘123 home, I spy Louise behind her Dad’s orange Ford Escort…’. Likewise, when a child got home they shouted ‘123 home’. This resulted in many races back to the lamp-post, accusations of not saying it properly, arguments about whether or not people had been in the place they were spied and attempts to trick the seeker into naming the wrong person by wearing each other’s clothes etc. (maybe that last one was just us!).

My children call this game Manhunt, which I find frankly terrifying.

There was also another version of this called ‘Runouts’ which involved going much further afield, possibly on teams and was more of a traditional hide and seek, in that once you were found you joined the hunt. In my memory this a game of epic proporations – usually played on summer evenings and could cover miles, with loads of kids involved. To be fair, that probably only happened once, but I’m sticking with that lovely bit of nostalgia!

3. Bulldog/British Bulldog

Possibly the most aggressive of all playground games, and even banned in some schools, this was a game that could involve the whole class. One person was it, and on their say so, everyone else would attempt to run past them and get to the other side. Anyone who was caught would join their team, which would eventually result in the lucky person who was the only one left in facing a motley crew of as many as 20 or 30 kids baying for their blood as they attempted to make their way over to the other side. We used to play a variation on this where we had to all think of things from a category then the person who was it would call things out and the people who had chosen it would have to make their way across, but my fondest memories are of a playground full of hyped up kids playing the classic version!

A similar game to this was Red Rover: I seem to remember it involved everyone linking arms or holding hands, then chanting “red rover, red rover, we call Louise over!” while the poor victim had to attempt to break through the chain of children opposite them. Usually resulted in pain, humiliation or both.

4. Piggy in the Middle

My most loathed childhood game. Fine if you were one of the throwers but when you were the piggy, stuck in the middle and unable to catch the ball it just started to get upsetting. We used to play with lots of people around the outside and one poor piggy stuck in the middle. The joy of actually managing to grab the ball was second to none though!

5. Kerbsie

Looking back, I can’t really believe we played this game. We’d stand on opposite paths, with a road between us, then attempt to throw the ball across and hit the kerb so that it bounced back to us and we could catch it. We added extra points for a kerbsie from a kick, backwards throw, and (as mortified as I am to admit it), throwing it over a moving car and managing to get the kerb. Those poor, poor drivers.

When I asked friends and family what games they enjoyed, a few people also mentioned a game called ‘Balls Up the Wall’ which involved throwing increasing numbers of balls at a wall, funnily enough. I don’t think we ever played this one but it reminded me of a variation on Kerbsy we invented called ‘Kerbsy Jesus’ which is probably best not to mention for fear of offending!


6. Skipping Rope/Elastic Games

There were lots of variations on these, from Cat’s Cradle, where you had to make certain patterns by moving elastic around your hands (okay, that’s a terrible description, I never did get that game), to the game where two people had elastic round their legs and other people had to jump in and perform particular moves. No-one seems sure of the name of this, the only suggestion I’ve been given is ‘ushala’ but this sounds likely to be a colloquial name!

Skipping ropes also provided a wealth of ideas, I remember having huge numbers of kids in jumping at the same time, and the disappointment of someone messing it up! And that quite dangerous game where someone would spin a rope round in a circle and everyone would try to jump it!


7. What’s the Time Mr. Wolf/Fox and Grandmother’s Footsteps

These games are actually still fun to play as adults and with really small kids. What’s the Time… involved one person being Mr. Wolf and facing away from the group, then everyone chanting “what’s the time Mr. Wolf?”. They would answer “one o’clock”, “four o’clock” etc and everyone would have to move that number of steps. Eventually Mr Wolf would yell “DINNER TIME!” and everyone would run away squealing!

Grandmother’s Footsteps was a little more sedate, and involved a rather stern Grandmother, whose job it was to turn round and try and catch people moving as they edged their way towards her. I seem to remember this one caused a lot of arguments.

8. Hand Clap Games

I’m sure there’s a whole big chunk of my brain that is dedicated to these, as occasionally one will pop into my head. “When Susie was a Baby…”, “Cee-Cee My Baby” and (oh, I’m cringing just writing it) “I went to a Chinese restaurant” spring to mind, but there were literally hundreds of them, some quite rude!


9. Games with dice/stones

There have been many of these over the years, some of which you can now buy ‘kits’ for in shops which seems kind of ridiculous to me. Hopscotch: boxes with 1-9 and a King at the top (tsk, why not a queen?!), then having to hop over increasing numbers of stones to get to the top. Sounds simple but I remember it being quite tricky, especially to do quickly! Five Stones/Jacks: throwing balls/jacks and trying to catch as many as possible and many variations on this theme.


10. Football Games

As well as the obvious, we had many offshoot football games, many of which my kids still play today. A couple of favourites were Wembley, where everyone competed to score one goal to take them through to the next round, until there were two in the final, and Rebounds, which involved kicking a ball as hard as possible against a wall, then the next person having to intercept it and do the same, or kick it from whatever position it ended in. We never really gave much though to the poor person living in the building we were using as a target, whose entire house must have been shaking! Kids of the ’80s, they had no respect…


What were your favourites? Any glaringly obvious ones I’ve missed?


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