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Kickball, Red Rover, hopscotch, marbles, Pogo sticks. They all have one thing in common: They're "retro" play, according to a recent New York Times story on children's play.

Here's the theory: Kids need to be taught to play because they spend so much time on modern activities like video games and computers and because they are overscheduled rather than having large amounts of idle and recess time. So, parents and child-development specialists are trying to bring back some "traditional" play with what The Times calls "modest" success.

I must admit that it hasn't really occurred to me to teach my children how to play. On some level, I suppose it makes sense. I bring the kids into the backyard and show them how to hold a bat. I explain the rules to Monopoly. They dig for caterpillars and I teach them about what caterpillars eat and what happens to them. But I generally look to them to create their own play. And they never disappoint. At the park, they swing to Israel or outer space. Elder son recently taught his brother to avoid cracks in the sidewalk. They gallop down the street.

Hmm. Is it really necessary to insert myself into their creative process to teach them these games? What do you think? Are you a "retro"-teaching parent or do you let your kids loose in the back yard and leave them to their imaginations?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  May 23, 2007; 7:15 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Preschoolers
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Comments


I always figured that games like spud, kill the carrier, capture the flag, etc. were passed down kid to kid, i.e. the older kids in the nieghborhood "teach" the younger ones how to play. I know it wasn't my mom teaching me 'kill the carrier'...

Posted by: 1975 | May 23, 2007 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the first poster. Most of the traditional child hood games seem to be a play ground rite of passage. I never remember my mother teaching me hopscotch or jumping rope. When your child is a toddler and preschool, the play resembles real life activities or things they see on TV. My 3 year old daughter plays all the traditional dress up, taking care of dolls, and tea parties. The only difference between me and her is that I noticed she pretends to catalogue and online shop versus going to the store and ringing up items. She also uses a plastic credit card to pay versus cash.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 23, 2007 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Kind of fun to think about all those old games too...ghost in the graveyard, sardines, freeze tag, four square, running bases, monkey in the middle, and a particularly brutal neighborhood special: peg (where we would stand about 30 feet away and whiz crabapples at each other...good times.

Posted by: 1975 | May 23, 2007 7:52 AM | Report abuse

"a particularly brutal neighborhood special: peg (where we would stand about 30 feet away and whiz crabapples at each other"

Heh. We used walnuts and apples in that game when they were available, or sweet gum balls when they weren't. You learned eye-hand coordination really well when your aim depended on it!

Posted by: John L | May 23, 2007 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Double
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2007 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Older siblings and cousins passed down games to us, but our parents, aunts and uncles organized games like kickball for us when we were little (we did "kill the man with the ball" on our own). Video games and parents being afraid to let kids play outside alone are probably the two major blows to the kinds of games we used to play.

Posted by: 1974 | May 23, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

It is a little sad that it has come to the point where we have to make an effort to teach kids how to play...don't you think? It is true that if left to their own devices kids can certainly figure out how to entertain themselves, the problem is many parents don't leave their kids alone for five minutes, let alone long enough to organize a neighborhod kick ball game. They feel as though they need to fill every minute with extra curricular activities, tutoring, and play dates where every minute is parent-planned.

Posted by: MMW | May 23, 2007 8:29 AM | Report abuse

It is a little sad that it has come to the point where we have to make an effort to teach kids how to play...don't you think? It is true that if left to their own devices kids can certainly figure out how to entertain themselves, the problem is many parents don't leave their kids alone for five minutes, let alone long enough to organize a neighborhod kick ball game. They feel as though they need to fill every minute with extra curricular activities, tutoring, and play dates where every minute is parent-planned.

Posted by: MMW | May 23, 2007 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Even if children learn these games from each other, isn't it still possible that the number of children who know the rules is dwindling? I could see how that would necessitate some kind of outside intervention.

That said, free play (without adult intervention) is important. It's okay for kids to create their own rules and games. Just because it's not "traditional" marbles or kick ball doesn't make it bad.

As a side note, a lot of the article seems to focus on outside activities. I was in SoCA recently visiting my in laws and the air quality was just awful. Maybe sometimes it's not such a good idea to play outside.

Posted by: David S | May 23, 2007 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Hee hee, we also played "Peg" with little spiny unripe berries from the bushes around our house which we called "Peg-ems" They really hurt yet we found it fun. Nice to see our neighborhood was not alone in brutal games.

Posted by: Working Mom of 2 | May 23, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

This is my super-retro approach -- go play outside, and I don't want to hear from you unless there's blood or a broken bone. Kids are happy.

Posted by: Arlington Dad | May 23, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

The only time I intervened in my kids play was to address bad behavior when the kids were unable to handle the situation themselves or when they were looking for some instruction on improving their skill in playing. I always enjoyed watching the ingenuity of our kids in amusing themselves with whatever was handy, like the big box in which some toy had been packaged.

Recently I enjoyed watching a nineteen year-old grandson of mine instruct a six year-old granddaughter of mine (a cousin) on how to throw a Frisbee so she could participate in a game. There was no need to interject myself into that situation.

More recently one of my grandsons organized a friendly family father-son Texas Holdem tournament that pitted the poker skills of three generations against one another. To my delight I, representing the senior generation, came in second to a very sharp teenage grandson. It was a perfect ending to a delightful event.

There is a time to be involved, and a time to watch. Last week I watched six of my teen grandsons with six of their best friends compete in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament and win. The week before that, I watched seven granddaughters participate in a School's Irish Dance show. Who needs television?

Last year my oldest son organized a family treasure hunt in Washington DC for all of our grandchildren. Each team included a couple of parents and had to locate a number of items in various locations, like a particular painting in an Art Museum or a soldier's name on the Vietnam Wall Memorial. It was such success that he is doing it again this summer.

Play is important, but even more important is teaching kids to play fair, to play hard, and to respect each other. As Gen. Douglass McArthur once said in addressing the Corps of Cadets at West Point, "On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days on other fields will bear the fruits of victory."

Posted by: Jim | May 23, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

The kids in my neighborhood (same one I grew up in) play different games than I did. My son talks about "soldier down" and "slo-mo football". There isn't anything inherently special about "my games", so I wouldn't think it necessary to teach him about them. It's not like he and his friends are going to go out, sit on the grass and wait for someone to tell them what to do. (and if kids in your neighborhood do this, I would advise resisting the urge to intervene - it only limits them)

We haven't bought him a gaming consol (and won't). And when he goes out we just make sure he's with 2 or more kids. Works for us. So far, he comes back for dinner relatively unscathed every night...

Posted by: 1975 | May 23, 2007 9:05 AM | Report abuse

David S

I am going to SoCal in June. How bad is the air there?

Posted by: Sue | May 23, 2007 9:13 AM | Report abuse

What is Texas Holdem ?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

We used to play all sorts of great games in the playground. The sad thing is over here (UK) that school playgrounds are being sold off for development and in fact there was a new school opened recently with NO outside soace at all! How terrible that is.

Posted by: Sally | May 23, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

As 1975 said, the games I see played now are different from the games I played. I remember a group of kids from age about 5 to high school playing moonlight tag, kickball, and some others that are a little hazy. Now the older kids are not outside. Most kids are not outside, although mine are. So they ride bikes, practice hula hooping, use scooters, jump rope.

Last week my 5 yo was a little under the weather, but didn't want to stay home from school because they were doing hopscotch in PE, so I can see that the next thing they'll be doing is getting out the sidewalk chalk to draw hopscotch games. They also do jump rope and hula hoop in PE.

So no, I have never thought to teach children any outside games. I stay inside and get things done while they play outside. And like the other poster said--don't come in unless you are bleeding or something is broken. I don't want to hear how someone has wronged you. And the neighbors think they are very well behaved, so apparently they do get along pretty well outside. They also also get a lot of free time inside to be creative, either with art materials or with toys. No video games. No computer games. No gameboy or whatever. TV at my parents' house, but only appropriate things, and I monitor that.

Posted by: single mother by choice | May 23, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

DIG for CATERPILLARS?? Worms, yes. Grubs, yes, but caterpillars?

Posted by: Owlice | May 23, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Interesting note on kids and how games may change. Last summer, one of the games all the kids (OK boys, of which I contribute 3) in the neighborhood would play is Jedi vs Sith. All of them would grab their lightsabers (the plastic kind you buy) and divide up and run around the neighborhood 'slicing' off body parts (which would regenerate in 3 - 10 seconds) and having a grand ole time. My first thought was "It's cops n robbers or cowboys n Indians... modernized!"

Kinda neat.

Second comment, I think many kids today DON'T know traditional outdoor games. On the other hand (or OTOH), kids today, as with kids of yesterday, don't have any problems making up new games and occupying themselves.

Finally, what does DD stand for? Daughter something or something Daughter I'm guessing...

Posted by: Craig | May 23, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Man i have to tell my kids to go outside. Dude, get off the computer and go outside. Put down the XBOX and go outside. Turn off the TV and go outside. All these activities are fine at NIGHT. Daytime means outside play, not video games, tv, and computer. At night go crazy on that stuff if you want, but there has to be a balance.

Posted by: Parent On Duty | May 23, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

In response to question, "What is Texas Holdem?"

It is a popular game of Poker, also referred to as Texas Hold'em.

Posted by: Jim | May 23, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Off topic...it always intrigues me when someone types "What is 'blank'?". It would take literally less than 30 seconds to open a new browser to Google, type 'texas holdem' in the search box, and be magically educated. Much better solution than waiting 50 minutes for someone to bother to respond.

(acronyms are different - annoying but different).

Posted by: off topic | May 23, 2007 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, some kids DO have to be taught to play. In the book Play=Learning (I think that is the title) the authors from Univ. of Delaware, note that in U.S. society, "where young children are EXCLUDED from adult activities, play plays an important role in their development." Meanwhile, in the developing world, 2 and 3 year olds are gathering firewood, hauling water and grinding grain...while in the U.S. we buy toy kitchens to teach adult imitatation skills rather than risk them burning themselves on the real oven.

Not that this is new...when I was 7 (40 years ago), my favorite toy was my EZ bake oven...so I could bake a cake, just like mom.
So that our kids don't get spoiled or have a sense of entitlement, the things we SHOULD be teaching them are how to do chores, vaccume, dust, and other ways to contribute to the family workload...but it is a lot of work and far easier to tell them to just "go outside and play" (or let them sit in front of TV or computer screen)while we do the chores ourselves ...
But, this is not possible with an autistic child who, in order to develop, must be taught not just chores, and self-help skills, but how to play, and even how to follow the plot of a simple board book or tv video...

OTOH, I'm in awe of how easy it is for my typical daughter to just use her imagination to play...as well as how hard it is to try to get her interested in learning how to do "real" chores that would actually help me around the house (that I eagerly learned 40 years ago to help my mother). But I'm also eternally grateful for the way she teaches her autistic brother HOW to play...a far more difficult task than learning to help me with the laundry.
If it brings you joy to teach your kids the games you enjoyed as a child, do it...but chances are, if they are typical, they will find ways to play on their own as long as you limit their screen time.
I used TVFree week as an opportunity to force myself to take them on field trips, and we invited another 9 year old friend over to play games, do slip n slide, and detail the car...an exhausting week for me, but satisfying for all of us...and I'm still enjoying the car they washed and vaccumed, streaked windows and all.

Posted by: mom of child with autism | May 23, 2007 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, some kids DO have to be taught to play. In the book Play=Learning (I think that is the title) the authors from Univ. of Delaware, note that in U.S. society, "where young children are EXCLUDED from adult activities, play plays an important role in their development." Meanwhile, in the developing world, 2 and 3 year olds are gathering firewood, hauling water and grinding grain...while in the U.S. we buy toy kitchens to teach adult imitatation skills rather than risk them burning themselves on the real oven.

Not that this is new...when I was 7 (40 years ago), my favorite toy was my EZ bake oven...so I could bake a cake, just like mom.
So that our kids don't get spoiled or have a sense of entitlement, the things we SHOULD be teaching them are how to do chores, vaccume, dust, and other ways to contribute to the family workload...but it is a lot of work and far easier to tell them to just "go outside and play" (or let them sit in front of TV or computer screen)while we do the chores ourselves ...
But, this is not possible with an autistic child who, in order to develop, must be taught not just chores, and self-help skills, but how to play, and even how to follow the plot of a simple board book or tv video...

OTOH, I'm in awe of how easy it is for my typical daughter to just use her imagination to play...as well as how hard it is to try to get her interested in learning how to do "real" chores that would actually help me around the house (that I eagerly learned 40 years ago to help my mother). But I'm also eternally grateful for the way she teaches her autistic brother HOW to play...a far more difficult task than learning to help me with the laundry.
If it brings you joy to teach your kids the games you enjoyed as a child, do it...but chances are, if they are typical, they will find ways to play on their own as long as you limit their screen time.
I used TVFree week as an opportunity to force myself to take them on field trips, and we invited another 9 year old friend over to play games, do slip n slide, and detail the car...an exhausting week for me, but satisfying for all of us...and I'm still enjoying the car they washed and vaccumed, streaked windows and all.

Posted by: mom of child with autism | May 23, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

"Man i have to tell my kids to go outside. Dude, get off the computer and go outside. Put down the XBOX and go outside. Turn off the TV and go outside. All these activities are fine at NIGHT. Daytime means outside play, not video games, tv, and computer. At night go crazy on that stuff if you want, but there has to be a balance."

But there are so many better things they could be doing at night, too. Dungeons and Dragons for the older kids, board games, making a mess in the basement, taking the TV apart and putting it back together (with parts leftover), etc. Reading. If there isn't a purpose to what they are doing, why let them do it? Why do it yourself? Why have an xbox? What is the goal of such an activity? For outdoor play the goal is teamwork, being active, solving problems, relaxing, using your imagination, etc. If there is a meaningful purpose to what they are doing, let them do it. I'm not sure I see a meaningful purpose to xbox (well, I don't see one, but since I don't have one, there may be a purpose I don't know about).

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Sadly, some kids DO have to be taught to play. In the book Play=Learning (I think that is the title) the authors from Univ. of Delaware, note that in U.S. society, "where young children are EXCLUDED from adult activities, play plays an important role in their development." Meanwhile, in the developing world, 2 and 3 year olds are gathering firewood, hauling water and grinding grain...while in the U.S. we buy toy kitchens to teach adult imitatation skills rather than risk them burning themselves on the real oven.

Not that this is new...when I was 7 (40 years ago), my favorite toy was my EZ bake oven...so I could bake a cake, just like mom.
But, so that our kids don't get spoiled or have a sense of entitlement, the things we SHOULD be teaching them are how to do chores, vaccume, dust, and other ways to contribute to the family workload...but it is a lot of work and far easier to tell them to just "go outside and play" (or let them sit in front of TV or computer screen)while we do the chores ourselves ...
But, this is not possible with an autistic child who, in order to develop, must be taught not self-help skills, but how to play, and even how to follow the plot of a simple board book or tv video...

OTOH, I'm in awe of how easy it is for my typical daughter to just use her imagination to play...as well as how hard it is to try to get her interested in learning how to do "real" chores that would actually help me around the house (that I eagerly learned 40 years ago to help my mother). But I'm also so grateful for the way she teaches her autistic brother HOW to play...a far more difficult task than learning to help me with the laundry.
So, if it brings you joy to teach your kids the games you enjoyed as a child, do it...but chances are, if they are typical, they will find plenty of ways to play on their own as long as you limit their screen time.
I used TVFree week as an opportunity to force myself to take them on field trips and work on projects. We invited another 9 year old over to play games, do slip n slide, and detail the car...an exhausting week for me, but satisfying for all of us...and I'm still enjoying the car they windexed, washed and vaccumed--streaked windows and all. If only I had the energy for tv-free week all the time.

Posted by: mom of child with autism | May 23, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

I believe DD = darling daughter (or similar), and you can replace the second D with H for husband, S for son, W for wife....

Posted by: FYI | May 23, 2007 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I agree, the worse thing about TV and computer time, is not TV shows or computer games themselves (PBS kids and Disney channel have good, clean fun)...but the fact that this means they are not doing so many other things: reading (!!!), playing, socializing, chores, developing skills, crafts, artwork, sports, climbing trees, swimming, building forts, etc etc etc

Posted by: mom of child w/ autism | May 23, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Helpful hint I learned when I was 10...if you're going to take apart electronics, make sure they're unplugged! (seriously teaching your kid some basic electricity/chemical/powertool safety early is more than just a little helpful).

Posted by: 1975 | May 23, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

No, there is no need whatsoever to "teach" your children to play. The bigger task is parents "unlearning" bogus notions that push-button toys and light up screeching gadgets somehow enhance imagination. For children, less is always more as long as you are mindful to let them play with what is around and to use plenty of open ended toys, including many, many items from nature. Those toys you do add to the nursery-playroom should be open ended as well: blocks, sorting beads, playsilks for dress up, baskets, buttons, retired dishes or fresh little tea sets, wooden animals, vehicles with minor details only, etc.

Children come into the world with this precious little window of time until they're about 9 when their imaginations are so ripe and during which we are actually supposed to let that unfold, participating in their play, perhaps, by not bursting any holes in their wee imagininations, and fully buying into to whatever "game" they're playing. And that's where this whole early-reading thing and the destruction of traditional kindergarten is really wreaking havoc on the hearts, minds, and souols of too many kinds these days.

My twelve year old is still deep into her imagination and she's never had an electronic gadget, watches only commercial-free dvds and the occasional network or cable show w/ ads, and has extremely limited Internet access. She has no sense of being "deprived," or "sheltered, and in fact she's just as savvy--though not jaded or too old for her age--as other girls her age. Its refreshing.

There's time in enough life with our long life spans to structure everything down to the last obligation and tutorial and scheduled event. Childhood comes once. America has got to stop robbing it from those who need it most.

Posted by: Long Time Single Mom | May 23, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Minimize "electronic" time (tv, games, computer) and kids will learn to play the "old fashioned" way.

My kids loved legos. And climbing trees. And running. and Baseball. and camping. And playing in the dirt with their cars and trucks.

Then they became teenagers. And then enters a whole different world.

Posted by: C.W. | May 23, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Some games come and go in kids fashion. A few years back the yo-yo was a rage. It was hard to even find them in stores they were so popular. My kids have never been into marbles. Good -- they're messy and it hurts to step on them. When the boys outside play "capture the flag" they always invite my DD because she's the fastest kid on the block.

I allow video games on the weekend if everyone is caught up on homework and chores. I figure they deserve to make their own choices after the adults have made so many for them during the week.

Summer is when we have a problem, especially with the boys. They'll play video games and eat and make messes all day long. I tell them to go outside and find something else to do. Then they go to someone else's house and play video games until a parent kicks them out. On a good day they can play video games at four houses and never play outside. Eventually, they actually get bored with the games and go outside by choice.

Posted by: free bird | May 23, 2007 11:07 AM | Report abuse

By Sue at 09:13 AM:

"I am going to SoCal in June. How bad is the air there?"

In the Valley, where my in-laws live, I found it hard to be outside for more than an hour or so without repeated coughing. Any sort of strenuous activity (running down a street) left me out of breath (and I'm not exactly out of shape). Appearance wise, it looked like was always foggy, and flying in on the plane looked like we were descending into a yellow-green soup.

So, it seemed pretty bad to me. My wife, who grew up there, has pretty bad asthma that I blame on the smog.

Posted by: David S | May 23, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

"My wife, who grew up there, has pretty bad asthma that I blame on the smog."

Where did you go to medical school?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 23, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Where did you go to medical school?


Posted by: | May 23, 2007 01:07 PM


Where did you go to charm school?

Posted by: 1975 | May 23, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

By Anonymous at 1:07pm

"Where did you go to medical school?"

I believe the correlation between smog levels and development of asthma in children is fairly well established in medical literature at this point. I am, however, open to the idea that this is incorrect if you can point me to a study or article about a study that demonstrates reason for doubt.

Posted by: David S | May 23, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Ditto to 1975.

Kids I guess are like cats- don't need to spend tons o cash on fancy sparkly toys. Just give them some cardboard, newspaper and string and they have a ball on their own.

Not that sparkly toys = evil or anything.

Posted by: Liz D | May 23, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I think this brings up a good point: I've seen SO MANY young boys with those hand-held play station games nowadays.

I think probably limited playing is fine, but I worry about those boys who play 24/7 at ages 6 years old (yes, I know one) and up. What does everyone think?

Posted by: Rebecca | May 23, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Hard to say. I'd be concerned and try to push them into doing some outside stuff regularly. They might really just be the shy type and need a bit more help to hang with other people. Showing up at a park during a busy time can be good, even if the kid is just playing with you, he's around the others and maybe spontaneously can hook up.

But as long as they are a good kid in other ways, not a huge issue for me.

Posted by: Liz D | May 23, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

As for other boys..all I can "control"...er, "influence"..."manage"?...is my own child. So other kids playing video games, I don't really worry about. As long as they can walk, talk, and count by the time they're 18, I won't judge their parents.

Alternatively, buy tech stocks and get rich off the little buggers...

Posted by: 1975 | May 23, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

So, Long Time Single Mom, which Waldorf school does your daughter attend?

Posted by: Wondering | May 23, 2007 6:32 PM | Report abuse

My biggest problem has been people keep giving my kids toys. I don't mind inanimate stuffed animals or figures, but I don't want anything electronic in their room. I want them to build up their imaginations without that overstimulation.

My stepdaughter makes up awesome games. When she was two, she made up "Umbrella". Her bouncy ball (the kind with a ring on it) was her "Umbrella". She would come up to her father or I and say "Umbrella broken!" and we would say "Oh no!" and "fix" it. Then we would call her on her phone (fingers) and tell her to come pick it up. I don't know where she got the model for that at two, but she wanted to play it every day repeatedly until I introduced her to a new model.

I live in So Cal. The air isn't too bad by me, but I wouldn't turn my back on my kids for a second at a park here, and they can't play in the streets. That's where cars go.

Kids learn games at school and at camp and from one another. Even if you teach them the bones of a game, they'll flesh it out with their own ideas (like Calvinball).

And when I was 10, I led a strike at my camp to get the counselors to stop making us play Red Rover, because we kept torquing our joints and pulling muscles and spraining things.

Posted by: Kat | May 23, 2007 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Many schools now ban Red Rover because of broken arms, etc. And before everyone bemoans the loss of a "traditional" game, think back--you probably knew people who played Red Rover too aggressively, too. It was kind of a scary game, especially if you locked arms instead of just holding hands.

Posted by: OldMom | May 24, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

What is Red Rover? I'm wondering if it's the game we call Bulldog here.

Posted by: Sally | May 24, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

4-Square FTW!

Posted by: We all want our childhood back | May 25, 2007 8:46 AM | Report abuse

4-Square FTW!

Posted by: We all want our childhood back | May 25, 2007 8:46 AM | Report abuse

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