Elementary school. Remember that? Seems like it was a not only a million years ago, but that it was a whole other lifetime. We can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a kid again, and sometimes we wish we hadn’t grown up quite so fast. Summer vacation, birthday parties with friends, and Saturday morning cartoons all seemed like the most fun things in the world. And though we may not have realized it at the time, there was a freedom to being young that we sorely miss.
Another wonderful thing about being a kid was that school was everything, and was made to be fun. Ok yes, so getting up early always sucked, but you got to hang out with friends all day and learn exciting new subjects. We even loved that terrible square shaped pizza that all cafeterias across the country seemed to serve.
Whether you loved or hated school, we can all agree that sometimes, the days dragged on a bit. But there was always one magical moment in the day right after lunch where school work was put on pause, and fun was the name of the game. We’re talking about recess. The pinnacle of elementary school fun was full of all sorts of games. The best ones normally involved the whole class getting together and playing as a group. Take a walk down memory lane of the classic school games you may have forgotten about. And frankly they look a lot more fun than working out. So, who’s down for a game of tag later?
Capture The Flag
All is fair in love – and playground games.
Your heart is racing, your face is glistening with sweat, and you’re starting to lose feeling in your legs. But you have to try. One last burst of adrenaline sends you running out of the safe zone and bounding at full speed across the grass as you try to cross the middle line and seal victory for your team. As you run you hope you’re still clutching tightly to the other teams flag. All these years later, we still remember the sheer thrill of Capture The Flag.
The game is best played in larger groups.
The main objective is simple, steal the other teams flag and take it safely back to your territory. If you’re caught behind enemy lines you get tagged and put into “jail” (most likely a corner area of the field.) The game is not only a playground classic, but draws its inspiration from an unlikely source, the Civil War. During wartime, victory wasn’t calculated by death toll or land taken. It was actually when the opposing sides flag was captured that soldiers knew to stop fighting. Who knew one of our favorite recess activities was also tied to a historical lesson?
Duck Duck Goose
Duck, duck, duck, duck…
We think we can all agree that those kids were “the worst.” But let’s circle back a bit. (Ha. See what we did there?) Duck, Duck, Goose is a popular children’s game for younger elementary and preschool kids. The concept is simple. One person starts outside the circle, standing, as everyone else sits on the floor. The person who is “it” walks the circle tapping each head saying “Duck” until a “Goose” is chosen. Whoever is “Goose” must chase them around the circle and tag them before they sit in their spot. Then the game repeats. While its origins aren’t known the game has created several variations including Minnesota’s, Duck, Duck Gray Duck.
The most accurate way to predict your fate. Well, possibly.
For decades, girls around the world have played M.A.S.H. to learn what their life would grow up to be like. The acronym stands for mansion, apartment, shack, house, and works similar to a fortune teller. The main categories usually include what your job will be, who you will marry, and of course, where you will live. The game is chance with choices coming as the first player draws a circle, and the second player yells stop. The number of rings equal the number that player one tallies and crosses off when its reached.
So basically, it’s an exact science.
There was almost nothing more thrilling (and nerve wracking) than hoping you would end up with your crush. Turns out, we weren’t the only ones. M.A.S.H. has been played since the 1950’s, but its origins can be traced back much further. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, there is a game called “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,” which is remarkably similar and dates back to the 15th-century. Glad to know us girls have been stressing over ending up with their crush for hundreds of years. Truly a tale as old as time.
The absolute best thing to ever happen in a gym class.
You walk in from the locker room, and there it is. It’s bright rainbow colors shine like magic across the linoleum gym floor and you can barely contain your excitement – it’s parachute day. It’s hard to say why but something about the entire class playing with a big colorful sheet was literally the most exciting thing about school.
(We’re still chasing the high of parachute day honestly.)
Normally the games involved were simple. Everyone would sit in a circle and bring the parachute up, then quickly get inside as it fell around everyone. Another was simply trying to run to the other side before it hit the ground. Either way you played, it was always full of laughter and fun.
Quite possibly the most quintessential playground game is Tag, or “touch and go.” The game is played in a big group and one person starts out as being “it.” They chase around people until tagging someone else, then the new person takes on the role of “it.” It was fun, it was easy, and then came the variations. The most popular is freeze tag where “it” remains “it” until everyone is frozen in place. There’s also, candlestick, TV, and shadow tag. Honestly we miss the simplicity of playing with your entire class at recess. Hmmm, maybe we’ll start a pick-up tag league at lunch.
More than just a child’s game.
Cats Cradle is a portable game that is played using a tied string. The goal is to transfer the loop of string back and fourth while creating more and more loops. Somehow, even though we’d never read a book on it, all girls seemed to know how to play Cats Cradle. We can’t remember, but maybe we learned from watching older kids do it, and then running home and practicing on our shoelaces. (Ok, we definitely did that part.)
However, it’s one of the oldest games in the world.
The first recorded game of Cats Cradle dates back to 1768, though it was likely played much earlier. It also has ties to several different regions and was often played around Asia and Europe. The name is credited to Abraham Tucker’s work, The light of nature pursued. Next time an adult tries to tell you it’s just a silly game, pull out that it’s the “original” game. Ha!
If you were a cool kid on the playground, chances are you were playing Four Square.
The court was made up of a big square and four smaller squares inside. Four players stand in each square and try to bounce the ball into another square before that person can catch it. The squares move up in rank. (Normally in Jack, Queen, King, Ace formation.) While the main rules are relatively simple, each playground normally had its own rules. (We still remember the “baby drop,” and it was rough.)
The history of the game is somewhat hard to trace.
Few people can agree on the true origins of the game, but safe to say it’s been around for a long time. Just how long? Well, according to one source the game evolved from a French game called “Paume” which was popular in the 12th-century. That game merged into what was called “Boxball.” In the United States, Boxball made its first appearance in World War I, and picked up the name Four Square by World War II. Whatever the history, we’re pretty sure this game isn’t going away any time soon.
Heads Up, 7-Up
No, not the drink.
It’s hard to say what made Heads Up, 7-Up so fun. Was it the mystery? The intrigue? The fact that we got to put our heads down with the lights off? Whatever the reason, we can all agree it was a great way to spend time in a classroom. The game starts with a few people at the front of the room, while everyone else has their heads down and their thumbs up. The people at the front walk around and press down a few thumbs then go back to the front. Everyone opens their eyes, and the people with their thumbs down try to guess who did it. If they get it right, they get to go up front. The game gained popularity in the 1950’s, but dates back to 1882, when it was mentioned in a local paper.
Ring Around The Rosie
We all know it, but do we all know where it came from?
The nursery rhyme “Ring Around The Rosie” normally brings back fond memories of childhood and playing with friends. The song is sung as you hold hands with your friends and run in a circle. At the end of the rhyme you all fall to the floor. (Normally in a fit of laughter.) It seems innocent enough right? Well, the rhyme is widely thought to date back to the plague. Yes, as in the Black Plague.
Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics.
“Ring around the rosies” actually refers to the red rings and rashes that would develop on a plague victims skin. It was one of the first symptoms and would eventually turn into boils. The “pocket full of posies” line is in reference to the pockets of flowers people would carry around to avoid catching the disease. (It was mistakenly believed the illness was carried through smell.) And the last two lines are to represent the mass amounts of death that were caused by the plague. Once we learned its real history, we have to admit the rhyme started to seem a bit creepy.
Red Light, Green Light
More fun than it sounds.
Red Light, Green Light was another staple playground gamed that got everyone involved. One person would act as the “traffic light” by turning around and saying green light. Everyone on the other end would run towards the light until they yelled “red light.” Everyone had to freeze, and anyone caught moving when the “traffic light” turned around had to start over. Once they were tagged, the winner would get to be the “traffic light.” While this game was definitely one of our favorites, it’s crazy to us to think we literally used to pretend to sit in traffic for fun. Who knew one day we’d play Red Light, Green Light every day on the way to work? *Sigh*
Way cheaper than a real phone plan.
Let’s be real, is there anything more fun than gossiping? Yes, we know, it’s not good to do. But, admittedly it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. We blame Telephone. No, not real ones, the game. Usually saved for rainy recess days, Telephone required everyone to sit in a circle, while one person whispered a sentence into the person next to them’s ear. This would repeat until it went all the way around the circle, and the last person would have to say the sentence. Somehow, things always got lost in translation and the new sentence was always completely different, and funny. The game was simple, but always left us laughing in a pile on the floor.
Hide And Seek
Ready or not, here we come.
It’s been what feels like hours. (In reality probably about eight and half minutes.) You’re not sure if you should try coming out of your hiding place or wait until they find you. You have a sneaking suspicion the game might be over, and they just forgot to find you. What? Was that just us? Either way, the game of Hide and Seek was hugely popular as kids, and frankly we think it might be the best.
It also is one of the first games in history.
While it’s official origins are unclear, it is most widely believed that it is based on an ancient Greek game called, “Apodidraskinda.” (Try saying that three times fast. Jeez.) According to Britannica, it’s recorded by a Greek writer named Julius Pollux in the 2nd-century. So essentially, people have been playing Hide and Seek since the dawn of time, and the game still holds up today.
Way before Bird scooters.
The activities we did in gym class as kids definitely had their hierarchy. (Let’s be real no one liked climbing that rope.) But high up on the list, quite possibly at the top was the scooters. They were comically small, came in bright rainbow collars, and had little handles on each side. Endless games could be played on them including tag, obstacle courses, and relay races. Honestly, it didn’t even matter what the game was, we could roll around on these all day. Fun fact, you can still by them on Amazon, if you want to bring out your inner child.
We’re still scared of this one.
Red Rover was certainly not a game for the weak, or the weak-willed. It involved running full speed at a group of people who were linking arms and trying to break through. Don’t get us wrong, it was scary to run into people, but it may have been even scarier from the other end. When a kid would barrel through your arm, it tended to hurt. It’s fair to say this wasn’t the safest game to ever grace the playground, but many found it very fun.
An ancient tradition…of war.
Hopscotch is one of the most innocent children’s games around. All you need is a piece of chalk and a stone. It’s played by drawing at least nine numbered squares and then tossing the stone onto the first square. You must hope over the rock with one foot all the way to the end, then turn around and come back. It was easy and fun to do with friends, but we never realized it had a darker history.
It was used as training on the battle field.
It dates back to ancient Britain around the time of the early Roman empire. Reportedly, the original courts were over 100 feel long and would be used for endurance. Soldiers, dressed in full armor, would run the course to practice their footwork for when they got to the battle field. Next time you’re trying to up your cardio, maybe try a game of Hopscotch?
When it was raining, there was only one thing to do, play Mafia.
Mafia, also sometimes referred to as Murderer, is an indoor game that involves guessing. Everyone walks around the room shaking hands with each other. One person who is the killer must tap on a person’s wrist with their finger to simulate “killing” them. That person waits a few turns, then falls to the ground. (Hopefully with a dramatic flair.) Each time someone “dies,” everyone must guess who did it. This continues until they are caught. While it sounds morbid, this game was pure fun and adrenaline.
Good for lunch, and for recess.
Spud was a bit complicated at first, but ended up being one of the most popular games to play at school. Everyone got a number and then someone who is “it” stands in the middle with a ball. They throw the ball up in the air as “it” calls out a number. Whoever’s number was called must try and catch the ball, then yell “Spud!” Everyone freezes, and they try to hit someone with the ball. Whoever gets hit get’s a letter until “Spud” is spelled out. We still remember the dizzy running that would ensure trying to follow the ball into the air. What, we weren’t that coordinated, ok?
Who the heck is Simon?
Simon Says is played by “Simon” calling out different silly things to do. (Standing on one leg, hopping, rubbing your stomach, etc.) Everyone else must do as they say. But, the catch is it’s only when they say “Simon says” before the command. If anyone follows suit after just the direction, they are out of the game.
It dates back to Cicero.
Reportedly, the game was originally called “Cicero dicit fac hoc,” and is literally centuries old. It was modeled after the statesmen Marcus Tullius Cicero, who would give dire consequences if the rules weren’t followed. So when did Simon come along? Around the 13th-century with the advancement of the French-English nobleman Simon De Montfort. Safe to say these rules probably didn’t realize they’d serve as the inspiration for a bossy children’s game. Oh, well.
Miss Mary Mack
Bet you still know the song.
Miss Mary Mack is one of the most classic hand-clap games around. It also dates back to before the Civil War. Unfortunately the origin of many hand-clapping games is dark. Apparently, Miss Mark Mack was often taught to children who were slaves on plantations in order to distract them from their surroundings. Many other games followed suit. If you take a close look at the lyrics, many have historical references. It’s even thought that the elephant who jumped the fence is referring to the Republican party.
Money In The Middle
Half game, half method of teasing.
We’re still not convinced that Money In The Middle is a real game. Sure, it’s fun for some of the people involved, but being the monkey normally felt, well like being a circus monkey. The game takes three people, two on each end, one in the middle, and tosses a ball back and forth. The person in the middle has to jump and intercept the ball, then they take the place on the outside. We don’t know about you, but this game can stay on the playground.