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Some people, when they remember their schooldays, will wander off in a trance and eulogise about those halcyon times when life was simple. Others have consigned that era to a deep and dark corner of their mind. However, there is one particular aspect of our schooldays that many of us recollect with affection and that is the games we used to play in the schoolyard. Those dinner-time activities that gave us the chance to get together and have fun - albeit for a short while between lessons.
Below you will find a selection of your favourite schoolyard games from past and present. Remember, play nicely with the other boys and girls... or else.
Wallball or Suey
This is a classic American game that requires nothing more than a wall, some sort of tennis ball, and a group of people. You just throw the ball at the wall over and over, but if you touch the ball and drop it, or it hits you on a bounce, you must run to tag the wall and say 'Safe1' when you tag it. Depending on the game (wallball you hit the wall, suey you hit the person), one or the other must be hit before the person tags the wall in order to give the person an 'out'. If you get a certain number of outs you must sit out and count to 100; either that or you are permanently out of the game. There are other rules that apply; if someone calls a 'Challenge', you must throw the ball from where you stand, regardless of distance. A 'Chicken' is when you hit the ball more than once without catching it. The first person gets a free shot at you from a certain distance, and if you move you they get another throw. It's a great game.
Here's an English version of the above which requires a soccer ball and a wall. You take turns to kick the ball against the wall. All that is required is that you hit the wall, with one kick. If you miss, or the ball goes out of any boundaries that you set at the beginning, you are out. Simple, but fun.
There is another form of this game called handball in which the people all have to hit the tennis ball with their open hand against the wall. It is much more challenging and less accommodating to larger groups.
I remember every day 25 kids would always grab a tennis ball and pick the tallest wall on the school and play one or the other. We only got to nail someone when they touched the ball twice in a row though. The worst part was when someone roofed the ball, then everyone would yell and whine and carry on because we couldn't play anymore. Those were some great days.
This game consisted of pretty much the entire schoolyard of boys, and the odd girl who had it in her head to prove her ability to whip the boys at their own game, so to speak. It required merely a tall wall, preferably a brick one with no windows, such as the side of a school gym, and a tennis ball.
The objective was to prevent the words 'Red-Eye' from being spelled against oneself, thus avoiding the horribly barbaric penalty (see below).
A kid would toss the ball at the wall and it would (invariably) rebound off the wall and careen back into the crowd of participants. An ambitious player would attempt to catch the careening ball, at which point one of two things would happen; the ball would be caught successfully, and the whole procedure would be repeated; or the ball would be fumbled, and hit the ground. In the latter case, it was the duty of the fumbler to race towards the wall and touch it. It was the duty of the rest of the participants to retrieve the ball and hurl it at the fumbler. If, however, the ball was fumbled a second time, or it was thrown but failed to make contact with the fumbler, the second participant suddenly became the fumbler, and must then follow the first towards the wall. This process continued until a fumbler was struck by the ball, or he touched the wall before the ball could be thrown. In the former case, the fumbler got the letters 'R' and 'E' (the first two letters in 'Red-Eye') against him, and returned to non-fumbler status, at which point the procedure resumed from the start.
One would win at Red-Eye by not losing. Losing consisted of having the words 'Red' and 'Eye' spelled against one, whereat the game took on a new and even more barbaric atmosphere. The unfortunate player had to stand with their hands on the wall, police line-up style. The remaining participants would then line up at an arbitrarily defined distance, usually about 20 metres or so, and hurl the ball with as much force as desired at the hindquarters of the 'loser' (from this, one may now deduce the true name of the game). There was a catch, however. If the ball missed the loser altogether, the game assumed 'fumbler' mode, at which point the thrower became the fumbler and was susceptible to having letters put against himself, by any player including the loser, if he could not reach the wall in time. When this nasty business was concluded, the remaining players got their shots at the loser. When they were done, the loser became a player once more, with a clean record, and the game resumed happily.
If one was a weak shot, it was a good strategy to avoid all but the most certain of attacks upon fumblers. This was sometimes rather difficult, however, since the whole schoolyard was watching, and failure to throw when there was obviously sufficient time to do so would result in inevitable ridicule and grief, and the embarrassment of being exposed for the coward one was. If one was rather quick, it was quite exciting and clever to purposely fumble the ball near to a player who was a notoriously weak shot, forcing that player to attempt the shot, and often drawing some letters down upon that player. If one was a good shot, it was to one's advantage to situate oneself near such an intentional fumbler, thereby undermining the advantage of the former strategy. Overall, it was a good strategy to run like hell if you dropped the ball or missed a shot, and avoid taking crazy long shots which made it necessary to run directly at the player with the ball, who so dearly wanted to nail you with it.
We would play this all recess. Kids have great memories, and letters would actually carry over from the previous recess, ensuring the ongoing game dealt with everyone fairly. It was wildly entertaining, mostly due, I'm sure, to the exhilaration of the possibility of being hit by a fuzzy, yellow, elastic object projected at a high speed at one's hindquarters, combined perhaps with the excitement of the opportunity of effecting the same fate upon another.
I have a great desire to play this juvenile game again sometime, although I am aware that grown-ups have, on average, much stronger throwing arms, and a somewhat lower threshold of pain...
To play this game, you need a minimum of five people, a basketball-sized ball, and large court divided into four equal squares.
One square is named A. The next square, clockwise from A is called B, the next C, the last D. Each square has one person. The other kids wait in line to join the game. A is the head square. The person in A gets to serve the ball and make the rules (see below). The game is started by A serving the ball. The game is over when someone cannot return the ball or breaks the rules. That player then has to leave the square and go to the back of the line. If A, B, or C is out, the kids remaining in the square rotate up to fill the vacancy. The player in the front of the line enters at D and the game starts again. The object of Four-Square is to stay in the game as long as possible, hopefully working your way up to square A.
The way to hit the ball is similar to tennis, except you use your hands. Square A serves by bouncing the ball once, then hitting it to another square. A can serve to any square, but D is the typical choice. The other player lets it bounce once in their square, then hits it to another square, and so on. If a player cannot return the ball after it bounces in their square, they are out. If the ball lands out of bounds before it lands in a square, the kid who last touched it is out. One may hit the ball before it bounces in their square. In case of a dispute, the kids in line vote on who won.
The twist to the game is the rules. Square A gets to make new rules with the beginning of every game if they choose to. A rule stands until it is nullified by someone in square A. The rules may pertain to any aspect of the game, from how to hit the ball, who to hit it to, how many times the ball can bounce before you are out, etc. Examples of typical rules:
The best tactic is to play with your best buds and take over squares A, B and C. Hit nice easy shots to each other and set up the poor sap in square D to get knocked out. Trickery also works. Wind up like you are going to hit the ball 100 miles per hour, and then lightly tap it into another square. A good way to make sure no one can return your shot is to hit is right at their feet.
This game was all the rage when I was in elementary school in the late 1970s early '80s. We used to play every recess time when it wasn't raining or snowing. If you were good enough, you might try playing with the older kids in the next grade. There always seemed to be a group of three kids that would monopolise the square. (This may have been when those kids became known as jocks.) It was always a triumph for everyone in line waiting to play when one of the jocks was knocked out and sent to the back of the line.
Who Do You Squeak?
For this game, you will need a netball, a five-a-side soccer pitch or basketball court (as long as it doesn't have side wire fencing) and some people.
One person is nominated 'It' (usually the winner of the previous game), and is asked 'Who Do You Squeak' by the players waiting in the 'D', semicircle etc. The nominated Squeakee then has to run past the 'It' person (The Squeaker) to the opposite 'D' without being tagged. If they are tagged, they become part of the Squeaker's team, and another person is nominated to run. The only boundaries that are observed are the 'D's; both Squeaker and Squeakee can run outside the lines of the court, but not encroach on either of the 'bases'.
A successful runner gets no real reward, other than the usual 'I'm better than you' feeling often found in playgrounds. The game continues until all the Squeakees are caught, the winner being the last one successful in running the gauntlet. The winner then becomes Squeaker in a new game.
Fun, if you're eight.
Elastics or French Skipping
This was a real girl's game that left you with scuffed knees and sorted the men from the boys (so to speak). You needed precision jumping skills and supreme concentration to excel at this game, and those who achieved the highest levels had serious respect in the playground.
To play you needed a really long piece of knicker elastic - the kind that's about 5mm wide - or, more likely, several pieces that you'd scrounged from your mum's sewing basket all tied together to make a big loop of elastic. A good size for playing with three people would be about three metres.
To play properly, you'd need a minimum of three players, but at a pinch you could play with 2 and a bin (or in extreme desperation one person and two stools). All players but one would stand inside the loop so they were stretching it relatively taught around their collective ankles.
The remaining player would then perform a series of jumping moves to ensure that after each manoeuvre their feet would be in specified positions in relation to the gaps of elastic between each player. They went in the following order:
After a round of all the jump types above had been completed successfully, the height of the elastic would be raised (obviously increasing the difficulty of the jumps) to 'kneesies', then 'thighsies' before 'waistsies' and then the real challenge, which was 'chestsies'.
If the current player failed to execute the correct jump their turn was over and play would pass to one of the people inside the circle of elastic, who would then try to outdo the previous player. There was no winner as such (especially as playtime was often over before everyone had a turn), but the best players had major kudos in school.
We sometimes bought a bag of rubber bands and looped them, one onto the next to make the size of band you were talking of.
I remember kneesies and chestsies - and I also recall spending hours practising it at home, using chair legs to support the band. I'm trying to recall whether we had some kind of skipping songs or chants which went with this - but I think my memory is fading....
If your memory is failing, the following schoolyard chants should help:
England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales
At which point you would have to jump and land with both feet exactly on the elastic. There was also:
Banana Splits, Banana Splits, Ibble, Obble, Chocolate Bobble, Banana Splits.
I lived, as a child, in a northern mill town, so I'm not sure why this game was called 'farmer, farmer' - you couldn't see a farm until you had driven 20 miles! We played this on our street, in the days when it had cobbles and there were few cars. (I mean late 1950s/early 1960s)
One child from a group would stand on one side of the street facing all the others. Then the group would chant:
Farmer, farmer, may I cross your golden field,
... and the child would reply:
Not unless you're wearing red! (or any other colour)
Those wearing red could cross over in safety, while those not wearing red had to run across and avoid being tagged - in which case they were 'on' next.
As the sixties turned into the seventies, the mills were, of course, long gone. This game as played in my neighbourhood in Chicago, took a Freudian turn and became 'Mother, Mother'. The rules remained the same, but rather than seek permission from a farmer, we sought approval from our mothers.
When I played this game at school in the '80s, we sang:
In Belgium the game is more or less the same, but the song is obviously in Dutch... For some reason, it is not a farmer nor a mother nor a crocodile that you have to pass by, but a skipper. The song can be translated as :
Skipper, can I cross this water,
The 'skipper' then gave some kind of instruction (it wasn't always to do with the colour of your clothes, it could just as well be a weird way of walking or something).
A game for one embittered individual, Fighter Pilot was the school equivalent of a stress pouch or something similar. There was no equipment required except for a vivid imagination and a bellyful of boiling bile for one or more individuals.
By and large the rules of the game were to simply walk around the playground imagining shooting/strafing/bombing various people into little pieces. Innocent bystanders were naturally worth less than teachers or bullies, but everyone was basically fair game for a target.
It was one of those quiet, introspective games that probably made the person doing it look like a right 'nana, but in doing it there was the possibility of offloading a lot of schoolyard stress.
Variants were largely based upon the favoured shows and characters at the time - swapping machine guns for lasers and back to big machine guns (with shows like Airwolf around) then phasers and photon torpedoes (with Star Trek: Next Generation) and so forth.
Sides for this game were normally determined by who looked the nerdiest and least likely to make a struggle. The nerdy ones would take the victim role in the game.
The game required a goodly length of brick wall. This brick wall needed to be out of the way from the watchful eyes of teachers or lunchtime observers.
The idea was to go from one end of the wall to the other. Simple as that.
The complication was that the main body of the people involved (the non-nerdy ones) would adopt something like a frisking position, palms against the wall with feet slightly back from the vertical plane of the body. Once in position, everyone would start kicking the wall with their favoured foot.
Therefore, the lucky person at one end of the wall would have to run through the equivalent of three or four vicious rugby scrums to get to the other side.
The favoured tactic was simply to run like blazes and probably try to kick some legs on the way through. Damaging the kickers would at least limit some of the personal damage. Nimble nerds were naturally better off than the more slothful characters.
One person is the statue maker, one or two people are buyers, and the rest are statues. No one likes to be a buyer, so playground supervisors are often cajoled into taking on this less active role.
The statue maker forms the statues by grabbing the arm of one of the statue people, swinging them around several times, and letting go. The position the person lands in is the position of the statue (which means that the person basically needs to freeze like that for the remainder of the game). Before the statue maker swings the person around, they ask the statue person if they want 'salt' (slow), 'pepper' (fast), or 'red hot pepper' (extremely fast).
After all the statues have been 'formed', the buyer(s) enter. The statue maker then has to try and sell the statues to the buyers, usually by explaining their interpretation of the statue and bargaining for a good price. In some games, each buyer has a set amount of money to spend, in others they simply each buy one statue.
Then the game starts over again with the positions rotated - often the first statue to be purchased will get to be the statue maker for the next game.
As the statue maker presents each statue to the buyer, he taps them on the head. At this signal, the statue person does some kind of repetitive movement (ie, a 'ballerina statue' might do spins or jumps, or a 'dog statue' might roll over). The statue stops when the statue maker taps them on the head again.
In some games, the statue maker decides to 'destroy' the unpurchased statues at the end of the game, which basically involves pushing them over so that they will 'break' on the ground.
Due to its mildly violent nature, this game is best played on a relatively soft surface, like grass.
For this, you need one decent frisbee and a relatively flat piece of land. There are two teams, and the least on each team you can have is two, unless you plan on catching what you throw. Each team has a 'goal' area and the point of the game is to get the frisbee into your goal area.
At the start of the game, teams start opposite their goal area and a member of one team throws the frisbee towards the middle. Both teams can then rush in and whoever gets to it first/catches it can start play, which involves simply passing the frisbee back and forth among the team to try to make it to the goal area. After this there are a few rules. First, the person who has the frisbee cannot move more than three steps without passing it. Second, they also may not hold onto it for more than ten seconds. Breaking of these rules means that the other team gets the frisbee. When passing the frisbee, the other team may intercept by either catching or moving it in any way so that the other team cannot catch it and that means that they can now play the frisbee. Also, if a frisbee is dropped (or in essence, not caught) it automatically switches teams. Once one team gets their frisbee to their goal area, they now have a point. The teams move to their respective ends of the field and the team which did not get the last point gets to throw in the frisbee. This goes on until everyone is too exhausted to play any longer.
My favourite memory of this game is me body-slamming my non-boyfriend when we were on separate teams and going for the frisbee at the same time. Fun, fun, fun!
There are two versions of this game. The first is when a ball is passed between a circle of people until the ball is dropped. A countdown begins from ten to zero with the last person to have touched the ball at zero being a rotten egg. Each person has three 'lives' and is out when these are gone. The winner being the last one in.
I broke my friend's finger playing this game, we were the last two in and I threw the ball and it hit her hand. Ooops...
The second variation is the one played more often. Someone is 'It' and the other players (two or more) stand a distance away from the person who is 'It' (we'll call him Bob). Bob chooses a category (names, places, cars etc) and the other players then select a name or place for each of them and one for Bob.
These are then told to Bob and he would shout out one of these while throwing the ball into the air. The corresponding person to the name then tries to catch the ball and shouts 'Stop!'. Everyone else runs like mad to get away from the person who is catching the ball. Bob has to run a bit, and then check that it isn't his 'name' being called out.
Once the ball is caught, everyone stops. The person with the ball then takes three steps and throws the ball at another player. If the other player is not hit, then the thrower is on. If the other player is hit, then that player is on. It sounds more complicated than it is but it is tonnes of fun nonetheless.
Kick the Can
This was similar to hide and seek, but on a bigger and generally longer scale. If you were caught, you had to race the person back to the can. If you kicked it before them, then you released all the people that had already been caught.
We called this '45-and-in'. Whoever was 'It' had to count to 45 at the post (or can as you say) and everyone else had to hide. When found, you had to run to the post and try and beat whoever was 'It' to it. If you did then you were safe from being 'It' next time.
Kick the Can in Norway
Hah! We use that one in Norwaytoo! Except here is it called 'Boksen Gå r' which in English means something like 'The Can Walks'
But here the person who was looking after the others had to count to 100, and if he had problems finding them, he could call out 'Wave a little' and the person who was hiding near had to make a sound (maybe of a bird). And when he saw someone he had to yell out '(name), 1-2-3 caught' before he could run.
Stuck in the Mud
Again, the more people the better. One person starts off as 'It'. When they catch someone, the person who was caught has to stop moving. Now, this person has to stay like that until another person who is still free crawls under their legs. When everyone is stuck, whoever was 'It', now isn't, and the last person to be caught is.
There are a couple of variations on 'Stuck in the Mud'. One or more (usually more) people were 'It'. Anyone they managed to touch had to, variously, stick their arms out and keep them there, or stand with their feet wide apart (the 'variously' depends on who said what the rules were). Anyone who hadn't yet been tagged could un-tag someone by ducking under their arms or crawling between their legs, whichever was appropriate.
Snake in the Grass
Snake in the Grass is where whoever was the dreaded 'It' would, instead of running around, have to crawl everywhere on their belly. All the other players would start by touching the snake with one hand, and would proceed to run away very quickly when the snake shouted 'Snake in the grass!' Every time someone got tagged by the snake, they too would become a snake until there was an entire field of writhing, hissing snakes. This definitely requires smaller boundaries than a regular game of tag since human snakes can't go very far, very fast.
Fans of B-grade horror movies may want to play The Blob, where whoever is 'It' is now the Blob (what a concept, eh?). When someone is tagged, they hold hands with the Blob, so there are now two people galloping around the field. Once the Blob is sufficiently big (usually three or four people), it can take out people by surrounding them, then absorbing them into the ever-growing chain of bodies.
Catch the Dragon's Tail
An excellent game is Catch The Dragon's Tail. Everyone forms a line and puts their hands on the hips of the person in front of them. The person at the head of the line is the head of the dragon, trying to catch the tail. The person at the front knows where they're going, the person at the back has a good idea of where they're going, but the people in the middle... well... once the head catches the tail, the head becomes the tail and someone else gets a chance to lead the chase. Any more than about eight people in a dragon gets interesting very very quickly. For more than that, an interesting twist is to split into two or more dragons trying to catch each other's tails.
This game requires a small ball and a group of at least three or four people (the more people the better). Players stand in a circle with their feet apart to form a bridge between their legs for the ball to role through. Your left foot should be parallel and in contact with the right foot of the person standing next to you.
A nominated person bounces the ball in the middle of the circle and chants one of the letters in 'Kingy' (in order) per bounce. After 'y', the person drops the ball and watches to see whose legs it rolls under. All the players then run round the playground until the person whose legs the ball rolled through picks up the ball and shouts 'stop'. All other players then have to stand still.
The nominated person then spells out the letters of Kingy and takes a big stride per letter. When they reach 'y' they have to stop and throw the ball (not hard and below the face) at a player, who is not allowed to move. If the ball hits a player, they become Kingy and the other players run again until they have the ball. Again the person takes strides to the letters of Kingy and throws the ball at another player.
Tactics include taking strides which will take you closest to another player to increase the chances of a person being hit.
Sardines is different to hide and seek because one person hides and the rest seek. When you've found the first person to hide you have to hide with them. The last person to find everyone else loses. It's better with a larger group.
To play this, you'll need a baseball backstop - metal, three-sided - and a soccer ball. You'll also need at least two people to play with no real upper limit. Two people play at a time, with the rest lining up behind the backstop. The ball is placed on the ground and kicked at the backstop by one of the players. Once the ball has bounced off the backstop, the other person gets one kick to make it hit the backstop again. Play continues like this until one person misses the backstop, either by going too wide or by kicking short, or until the ball has been kicked over the top of the backstop. If the ball misses the backstop, the person who kicked the ball is out, goes to the end of the line, and the next person comes in to play against the champion. If a player kicks the ball over the backstop, that is an automatic win and the other person goes to the end of the line and another player comes in. Play continues until you're called in to get back to class, or until everyone decides to quit, with the 'winner' being the one who stayed in the longest.
One of the best tactics, although tricky, is to bounce the ball off one of the poles, as the backstop should be made out of several support poles filled with a sort of mesh-thing to stop the theoretical baseball (which, of course, is what the backstop is really there for). A good, strong hit off a pole, especially the ones on the end, really sends the ball away from the backstop, making the other person's kick that much more difficult. Another good tactic is to not to try to kick the ball on the bounce, while trying to make the ball bouncy for your opponent, as that is much more difficult and it is harder to get good lift (as kickball players will attest to). It never hurts to try and clear the top of the backstop as well, as that ends the game much more quickly and drops your chance of being defeated. The toe is generally of more use in this game than in soccer, as the toe will give more lift to the ball than the side of the foot, plus the chances of breaking part of your foot are pretty low.
This game got banned after a while due to violent gits like myself (I was only seven or eight).
Two team captains were picked and teams were picked by them in the following order of importance: mates, people who were good and then the poor nerds who always got picked last (no mates or just rubbish and weedy).
Teams could vary, but about six in each team was a good number. No equipment was needed - except maybe a new school uniform after the game. Each team formed a chain - holding hands (or wrists for extra strength and less loss of machismo) and face each other about ten feet apart. One member of a team would then run at the opposing chain and attempt to burst through it. If they failed, they joined the opposing chain. If they burst through they rejoined their original chain. The game was won by the team that managed to claim all members of the opposing team.
Simple really. The violence came in the attempt to break through. My own personal best technique (which worked rather well) was to run flat out at them, then at the last minute, jump at their linked hands raising my knees to hit them at the join. This was rather effective but one tended to also land on your knees and scuff holes into your trousers.
This was a football game and so required a football. Also some bags and coats to mark out a small area could be useful if there were no clearly marked areas around. The idea was to kick (or head or chest...) the ball around while keeping the ball in the marked out area. If the ball hit you last before it went out, you were out of the game. The winner was the one left at the end. Sounds easy? Well, the standard tactic to get someone out was to blast the ball at their body as hard as you could so it ricocheted off them and went out. This could backfire if you missed or they were really good at football and could control it and do the same to you. Also you could well end up getting beaten up if you hit the wrong person in this manner - especially if it got their face. This was a fun game.
This game was played enthusiastically by my fellow elementary schoolmates way back in the 1960s and '70s. If played on grass, White Horse; if played on playground (asphalt), Black Tom.
One kid is 'It', usually someone fast and bold. The rest of the kids line up behind an arbitrary line. When the 'It' person yells White Horse, or Black Tom, depending on the playing surface, all the kids must cross the playing area and reach the other side to another arbitrary line. The object for them is to cross without being tagged by the 'It' kid. If they're caught, they now join in as taggers and try to tag players in the next round. Those who made it across now line up again, and when they hear White Horse, they dart across back to the original line. This cycle repeats itself as this is a game of attrition. As more kids are caught, the probability of being caught increases. Of course, the slowpokes get caught first, and the fleet survive. But as the number of kids patrolling no-man's land increases, it becomes harder for even the fastest players to cross successfully. Now cunning and deceptiveness become important.
Whoever is the last caught crossing, now becomes 'It', and the game begins again. The game ends when recess ends, and the teacher calls the kids for the fourth or fifth time to get the hell in now or they'll never live to see Mommy or Daddy again.
With the curtailing of recess in American schools, this game will likely disappear from the planet.
Kiss, Cuddle and Torture
When I played it there were four of us, myself and my three then girlfriends (they don't call me Casanova for nothing - incidentally, the girls were all best friends and it would have been rude to devote all my time to just one - please note I was six when I played this game last). The girls would run shrieking round the play ground and, not being particularly fleet of foot at that age, I would employ one of my speedier friends to catch them. Upon being detained, the girl in question was brought to me and told to pick a number from one to three. Each of these would relate to a 'punishment'; a kiss, a cuddle or a torture which usually equated to a knee in the bum. Whichever number they picked was the punishment that was exacted. Somehow they always picked the 'kiss' option... sheesh!
It was effectively the same as playing 'It' except with odds stacked hugely in my favour!
Those were the days...
You divided yourselves into two teams (gangs) one lined up on one side of the playing area, and the others dotted themselves in the middle. Then the running team had to run across to the other side of the field (or whatever) avoiding being caught (rugby tackled to the ground, usually) and held on to. If you were caught, you were out and had to either sit at the side until the team were all out, or you had to join the catching team.
The one thing I do remember is ripped and filthy clothes, and lots of bruises and bleeding. And a very cross Mum.
I remember this one fondly! British Bulldogs, or 'BBD' as I recall it being called at one point, was always the playground game I enjoyed above all others, mainly because I was awful at football as a nipper... not that I'm much better now, but I like to kid myself.
The trick always seemed to be (as a 'runner') as low-profile as possible (ie to avoid the attention of the really speedy or agile catchers), and have a really good side-step. The variant I played involved a 'tag' system instead of rugby-tackling, and those caught joined the catchers so it got progressively harder. Because I was adjudged to be relatively insignificant, I usually managed to be one of the last ones running; the sense of camaraderie at this stage was great, as you slammed into the wall (we played on a stretch of concrete playground between two walls - when a runner touched the wall, he was 'home', but close calls were frequent and were the root cause of many fights) and turned, panting and sweating, to see who else had made it. Then, with your fellow survivors, you launched back out into the largest gap or most lumbering catcher, making a bid for the other side.
The Fish in the Red Sea (Norwegian British Bulldog)
There have to be at least three players. There are two parallel lines a distance from each other. Between them is the Shark. The Shark's task is to capture all the small fish. They are behind the line and all of them must get over the second line without getting captured.
All the little fishes must sing/call out this little verse (which is something like this translated):
The Fish in the Red Sea,
To which the Shark, facing away from the other players, answers something like 'Blue', and all the fish who have this colour on their clothing (anything from shoelaces to hat) can walk calmly over without being afraid of being attacked by the Shark, who has to run after them, and can only capture the ones who haven't got this colour on them. When the fish get over the second line, they are free, until you have to run over again.
When you are captured, you automatically become a shark. So you run back and forth, back and forth, until there is only one left. The last little fish has won. The first who was captured has to be the Shark in the next game.
I loved this game, even if I had to be the Shark very often. I know it is popular on very many schools and kindergartens through Norway. We quit this game when we were about ten years old. Never understood why.
Tiggy on High
You find a bit of the playground where there are several high places (steps, doorways, etc); one person is declared 'It' using ippy-dippy. Now everyone but the one who is 'It' goes onto a high place, and basically tries to change between high places without being tagged and made 'It', and after tagging avoiding being re-tagged before they can reach a high spot. It is really best if the high spaces are small, or well spaced, because this encourages more changing when the spaces get too full, or the person who is 'It' is distracted elsewhere by another runner.
We used to call this 'barley'; I have no idea why. It was generally understood that the high places were barley, meaning safe. Possibly 'barley' is t'up North variation (Lancashire, UK)
I grew up in Manchester, where it was called 'Tiggy off the ground'. Kids, eh - what imaginations!
This game involves two players, a football and a bit of road (cul-de-sac, or school car park road, in other words very quiet roads, and one lane wide). What happens is you throw the ball to try and make it bounce back to you off the curb, this scores a point, and you also get another throw. If it fails to bounce back to you your opponent gets a throw. The time limit is usually set by the players and can be anything.
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