Keeping the lost tradition of playground games alive

As part of her second grade homework, my daughter has to read out loud to us every night. This exercise can vary from excruciatingly painful to fun depending on the book she’s brought home, but we are pretty dedicated about getting it done. Last night she was reading a chapter book about a school and she read something about the characters playing hopscotch.

“Hang on a second,” I said. “Did you say hopscotch? Do you and your friends play hopscotch at recess? I’ve never heard you mention it.”

She wrinkled her face in thought. “Is that the one with the squares you jump on?”


“I think we played it once last year when we found some chalk.” She picked up the book again.

“How about jump rope?” I interrupted. “I’ve never seen you jump rope.”

She pondered. “There were a couple of second graders who jumped rope last year, I’m pretty sure. But we don’t.”

“Do you kick a ball around?”

“Not really.”

“So what do you do at recess?”

“We walk around and talk. Sometimes we swing or climb on the climber. We play tag. Can I finish reading now?”

When my kids started school, I was amazed at how consistent playground culture has remained over the years. The same jokes. The same chasing of the opposite gender. The same cracks breaking mother’s backs. I really love this little bit of folk tradition that just keeps going, handed down from kid to kid, unchanged through the years. But somehow, we lost hopscotch.


Photo courtesy Flickr user Steven Cateris

I remember my playground experience as being rich in games. Hopscotch, jump rope, foursquare, the complicated jumping thing with a giant stretch band, even the unfortunately-named Suicide, which–as far as I can remember–involved trying to avoid getting pegged with a small rubber ball. I’m not one to get too lost in romantic nostalgia for yesteryear (those rubber balls really hurt!), but what happened to the games?

I’m sure part of this has to do with playground design. My kids’ school has a giant climbing structure that my second grade class probably would have killed for. We just had a giant stretch of blacktop, two basketball hoops, and some swings–forcing us to be more creative. I’m not sure my kids are playing less than we did, but they do seem to be playing differently, and I’m a little torn about that. I don’t know that being pegged repeatedly with a rubber ball did much for my character development, but losing the cultural touchstone that is “Miss Mary Mack” or the thrill of finally figuring out how to enter in double dutch doesn’t seem right either.

It seems odd to me that I should have to teach my children things that I learned on the playground from other kids. But I suppose it would have been odd to my grandparents that I take my kids on planned hikes to make sure they become woodswise. These days it seems like conscious effort is needed to keep the outdoor culture and traditions alive and well. I’m up for it. So this weekend, we’ve got a hopscotch date. Maybe I’ll see if I can rustle up a jump rope, too.

I think I’ll skip Suicide, though.

Do your kids still play games on the playground? Did you? What were your favorites?

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.