I confess that my fine motor skills left much to be desired. I never perfected penmanship, for instance, and continually received “needs improvement” on my report cards in that category. Three of the games we liked to play indoors, pictured above, were jacks, pick up sticks and tiddlywinks. I have written a little about the first two a while back, but include them again remembering the challenges they presented to my lack of manual dexterity.
Jacks seemed simple enough. We made a circle on the hardwood floor with a piece of string marking the boundary for the game. Then taking turns, we bounced the ball and took in sequence one jack, then two jacks, and so forth until we could scoop up all the jacks on one bounce. Simple, right? Well there were four of us siblings and we never missed an opportunity for mayhem. The ball would bounce into someone. That someone would start yelling or worse still crying. Jacks would go flying. One or more of us would stomp off, ending the game. I never completed a game of jacks at home, only with a friend at school.
Pick up sticks was also simple to play in theory. Players could remove sticks without any of the others moving. Their turn ended when a stick moved while moving the target stick. What could go wrong? Well, our father was an attorney, so we were well schooled in argument. Needless to say no one could agree whether a stick had moved or not. The player insisted she had removed a stick without a problem. Some other kid would insist “I saw that one move!!!” Also the sticks had pointed ends, supposedly to allow intricate maneuvers. Unfortunately, the sticks had pointed ends. Enough said.
Tiddlywinks required the player to use one large plastic disc to snap little ones into a cup. While some versions of this game had a box with various scores on it, we played with just the cup. If we had owned the fancier version, it must have been destroyed early on. All four of us were hopeless at this game. Our success matched that of rigged carnival games. Discs flew willy-nilly around the room. We dissolved in gales of laughter. Even today, saying the word “tiddlywinks,” I smile thinking of those rainy afternoons indoors.
I grew up in a “privileged” neighborhood which forbid both stores and sidewalks. I guess they were considered déclassé at the time. I was enchanted with the possibilities of sidewalks when I visited my grandparents in Buffalo, New York. I could go down one to the main street and buy penny candy at a store. I could roller skate. But, best of all, I could take a stick of chalk, draw a hopscotch pattern and play with other kids using just a rock and the sidewalk.
I determined at age eleven that when I was grown I would either live completely in the country surrounded by animals or I would live somewhere with sidewalks. Since I was thirty, I have always lived in houses with sidewalks. I think the real estate broker thought I was a little odd when I insisted at only looking at such houses. She had other priorities, but we wanted walk-ability above all else.
I am amused to see that in the neighboring “privileged” town they are methodically building sidewalks where none existed. Apparently they have begun to value a safer place to walk than on the side of the road. Interestingly, they built bike lanes before they thought of pedestrian traffic. Because they are being developed in a patchwork way, they really don’t function very well yet. But perhaps some time in the future some kid will take a piece of chalk outside, draw a hopscotch pattern, toss a rock, and start hopping. I certainly hope so.
We spent much time on the northern Oregon coast, and one constant there was the wind. Clearly wind exists to amuse kids, and we took full advantage of it. We flew paper kites, such as the one on the left. We assembled and flew balsa gliders such as the one on the right. Each was inexpensive. I remember that the planes cost 10 cents. The kites were not much more money. Fortunately they were not a great expense because neither one lasted very long. The kites ripped or the wooden support struts snapped. The balsa fared little better, as bits of the wings and tail broke off after a couple of flights.
In kite shops today these inexpensive paper kites have been replaced by spendy nylon ones, each trying to outshine the next. Some even require two lines to keep them soaring and dipping. I never had very elaborate acrobatics with my paper kites. Mainly they went way up and then crashed to the ground, hence the rips and snaps. But the joy of running full speed against the wind and then watching the kite take off continually thrilled me.
In the park near us, in the neighboring wealthy town, children fly remote controlled planes. Clearly they cost most than 10 cents! They don’t require any running, nor do they need a strong thrust to have them take flight. They also make an annoying humming noise. I suppose our little balsa gliders would seem BORING. But we loved them, and often used our weekly allowance to replace the one broken the week before.
As I continue to write about childhood games, I am struck by how much physical activity we got every day. We didn’t need Fitbits or pedometers to encourage us. We were expected to regularly “burn off our energy.” And we did.
We didn’t own a pogo stick since we had a gravel driveway which didn’t have a good surface for using one. My good friend Penny, however, owned one and I used it at her house. This picture accurately portrays the outfit I would have been wearing to jump. However, there the similarity ends. This little girl and boy seem to defy gravity, making a deft series of hops, all the while staying upright and smiling. Me–not so much!
Even getting on a pogo stick required a certain grace. Somehow while keeping the pole upright, you had to put both feet on the little step which was about 12 inches off the ground. As soon as you were on the thing, you needed to begin hopping in order to stay on it. I spent most of my time trying to get on the stick and picking myself off the ground after I fell off the stick. Penny and I quickly found something else to do.
Fortunately, her father had built her a set of wooden stilts. While these required some of the same agility as the pogo stick, at least once you were on them you could step, not hop, across the yard. I enjoyed the stilts more than Penny. I was always one of the shortest girls in my class. For a short while, I could tower over my playmates!
What kid doesn’t like a swing? Here I am at two on a wonderful contraption hung from a tree. By the time I was three I had an actual swing set with two metal swings. Later we acquired a set with two swings and a glider. The school had swings, parks had swings, friends had swings. When I was a kid the seats on swings were either wood or metal, but the seat was always flat. This allowed two wonderful and often parental discouraged activities. One was standing up on the swing seat. The other was getting high in the air and jumping off the seat.
Getting a swing going by oneself requires the skill of “pumping” one’s legs. It takes kids quite a while to master that. Until then every child continually yells “Push me. Push me.” As the oldest child, I often obliged by pushing my younger siblings until I was tired. The seats were hard edged and it was imperative for me to get out of the way before I was hit in the face by the swing. I remember many adults yelling at kids in the park to “Get away from the swings. You’re going to get hit.”
Sadly some safety conscious people decided to redesign swing seats. They replaced those platform seats with curved rubber. The first time I encountered one I was angry. It was impossible to stand up on that rubber seat. Besides, they pinched the sides of my legs making it impossible to make the death defying leaps out of the swing.
My husband hung a tire swing from my grandchildren’s tree. The kids swing high and dangerously I suppose, standing and leaping to their hearts’ content. Thankfully no one has discovered how to take the fun out of a tire!
A favorite game for us girls was “Red Rover.” In this game two lines of girls face off against each other forming chains by holding hands. One team chants “red rover, red rover, send _____right over.” The girl who is named then runs at full speed into the opposing line, trying to break through between two girls. If she is successful at breaking the chain, she can take one girl back with her to join her team. If she can’t get through, she has to join the opposing team. Theoretically it is played until only one player is left on one team. We never made it that far. In our case, it ended when everyone was thoroughly sore from being run into.
I was one of the two smallest girls in my group. I was a poor candidate to be called to come “right over,” since I would rarely get through the line. I was also not an ideal member of the chain and probably suffered more arm collisions than most as stronger girls broke past me.
Teams were chosen by two team captains, usually the same two biggest girls. They would take turns choosing members. No matter the game, I was usually one of the last girls chosen. While contemporary theory suggests this is a dreadful thing to do to children, I accepted the logic of it. I was, after all, short and not very strong. I am grateful that no adult intervened in the hope of making things more “fair.” Kids gain resiliency in many ways, including recognizing reality about their abilities. I excelled in the classroom, so I figured it all balanced out.
The best word in grade school was “recess.” We had two of them every day, morning and afternoon. Rain or shine(and in Portland, Oregon it was often rain)we poured out of the classroom to play. We had most of the equipment pictured above, including the line of hanging rings, the jungle gym and the merry-go-round. I had to laugh when I was collecting these pictures off the internet since they were all found under the title “dangerous playgrounds.”
I suppose the playgrounds were dangerous compared to those of today. One could easily fall off the jungle gym, though I never knew anyone who did. We all seemed to pace ourselves according to how secure we felt climbing high. The rings were cushioned underneath with sawdust which helped when I inevitably fell before making it all the way across. The merry-go-round was probably the most potentially lethal since as it went faster and faster it could possibly fling you off. However the girls I knew who went flying off did it on purpose. The most damage I suffered was severe nausea from the spinning.
No teacher came outside during recess to supervise us as they do today. We were expected to work out all our squabbles over whose turn it was to use which equipment. I think the girls tended to use the equipment more than the boys. I remember the boys doing more general running and falling to the ground in mock battles on the grassy field.
I imagine that the boys in my school days would all be labeled ADHD today. They all fidgeted, spat paper wads, poked girls and ran amok outside. Fortunately we just thought that was what boys were like. Thank goodness they had not only two recesses each day but also daily gym class. Educators when I was a kid knew no child could go more than two hours without jumping or running. So they let us do both.