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Old-school street games

Outdoor games.webp

Every summer, I post this article describing the games that I grew up playing on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s with my sister and other kids on the block. Camp counselors here in Durham (and just people in general) often thank me for the article and have told me that they were teaching their kids how to play them. This has been a crazy year, and as you know, summer camps and other gatherings have been cancelled. Even so, I decided to post this anyway for those families who are allowing their children to play together. I’ll leave it up to them to decide whether they want to make use of this article. Enjoy, and I hope this helps provide some fun for kids who want to learn how to play these old-school games. 


I’ve noticed that kids don’t seem to play outside half as much as I did when I was young. In light of all the media attention being given to inactivity causing obesity, I thought I’d put together an article describing the games we used to play on the south side of Chicago in the 1960s. These games are really fun to play once you get the hang of them. Try them out during summer camp or family reunions! (I say “he” throughout this article for simplicity’s sake. Of course, these game rules apply equally to boys and girls.)



Simon is the leader. He stands in front of the group and all the other kids are supposed to do whatever he says. Simon gives orders like, “Touch your nose,” “Jump up and down like a monkey,” or “Spin around.”


However—and here’s the key—nobody should do what he says unless he starts with “Simon says.” So, if Simon says “Spin around,” don’t do anything. Anyone who does is out. If he says, “Simon says spin around,” then go ahead and spin around. The last kid left is the winner and gets to be Simon.



One kid is IT. He stands at Home, which can be anything he chooses, like a particular tree or bush. He then turns his back, covers his eyes, and counts out loud to 25 (or whatever number the kids agree on). While he’s counting, the other kids run and hide. After reaching “25,” the kid who’s It calls out, “Ready or not, here I come!” Then he runs and tries to find the others. Whenever he finds one, he has to chase her and tag her out before she can run Home. The kids who make it Home before being tagged can help the others trying to reach Home. One kid keeps his hand or foot on Home and holds hands with another kid. They can form a chain and shout, “Electricity!” Any kids running Home can grab the last kid’s hand and be declared Safe.



All of the kids except for the one who’s IT line up going across (the opposite of single file). The goal is to reach the IT kid (who plays Mother) first. Each kid takes turns trying to move up enough to tag Mother. One by one, each kid asks permission to take a certain number of steps, always starting with “Mother, my I. …” The steps that the kids can choose from are Bathtub, Giant, Regular, and Baby Steps. So, one kid would say something like, “Mother, may I take 5 Giant Steps?” The kid who’s playing Mother can then say, “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not.” Even though Mother doesn’t want the other kids to reach him, it’s not fair to say “No” every time. But he can offer an alternative, such as, “No you may not, but you can take 3 Regular Steps [or whatever].” Whoever is able to make his way to the front first and tag Mother gets to be Mother next.


Here are the steps you can take:

  • Baby Steps—tiny steps made on tiptoe

  • Regular Steps—“normal” steps

  • Giant Steps—the biggest step you can make

  • Bathtub Steps—nothing’s bigger than a Bathtub Step; you lie face down with your arms overhead. Then you get up and stand where the tips of your fingers were.


Now, here’s the tricky part: If the kid asking permission forgets to start with “Mother, may I,” he has to go all the way back and start all over.



You need a bunch of kids to play this game! Form two teams. Each team stands on opposite sides (maybe 10 or 12 feet across), facing the other team and holding hands tightly. Team A shouts, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jimmy [or whoever] right over!” Jimmy, who’s on Team B, runs as fast as he can toward Team A and tries to break through the line. If he does break through, he gets to choose one kid from Team A and the two of them run back to Team B. But if he doesn’t break through, he has to join Team A. Then it’s Team B’s turn to shout, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Kelly [or whoever] right over!” The team that ends up with the most kids, wins.



Just like with Mother, May I, the goal of this game is to line up across the yard and reach the kid who’s IT first. The kid who’s IT turns his back and loudly counts up to 10 as fast as he can, ending with “Red Light!” (He whirls around when he shouts “Red Light!”) While he has his back turned, the other kids run and try to tag him before he whirls around. But they have to Stop when he shouts “Red Light!” Anyone who moves even a little bit has to go back and start all over. The first kid to tag the IT kid gets to be IT next.



Just like in the regular game of Hide and Seek, one kid is IT and runs around trying to tag the others before they run Home. But in Freeze Tag, any kid who gets tagged is frozen in place. He can’t move until another kid unfreezes him by tagging him. Then both of them try to run Home before being tagged. The last kid left without being tagged gets to be IT next.




Naturally, everybody wants to be IT when deciding to play a game. Here’s one way to do it: Form a circle and have each kid put one foot forward to form a circle with their feet. Ordinarily, the natural leader (or loudest kid) chooses to start by reciting a rhyme while going around the circle touching each shoe to the rhythm of the rhyme. Whoever’s shoe is touched at the end of the rhyme is eliminated and the rhyme is repeated until there’s one shoe left. That kid is declared IT.


Here’s one of the rhymes we used as kids:


“Engine Engine number 9, going down Chicago line. If the train should jump the track, do you want your money back?”


The kid whose shoe is touched while the leader says the word “back” can answer Yes or No. If he says No, the leader then continues around the circle saying, “N-O spells No, so out you go with a dirty dirty dishrag on your toe.” Whoever’s toe is touched with the word “toe” is eliminated. If he says Yes, then the leader continues with “Y-E-S spells Yes.” No one is eliminated at this point. This continues until one kid is left and he gets to be IT.



What games do you remember from your childhood? Let us know and describe it as best as you can—maybe it will be added to this article!

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