(Really) Old-Fashioned Fun

By Lenore Skenazy

June 14, 2018 4 min read

What's as old as summer?

These games. The good ones. Do your kids know them?

—Hopscotch. If you were a Roman soldier, you would have hated hopscotch. That's because the game began as a grueling exercise. Soldiers in full armor had to run or hop or somehow make it across 100-foot hopscotch grids, the same way football players have to hop through all those tires.

But to kids, it looked like fun — at least if you only had to hop through 10 squares. Back in the day, the word at the top would be "London" because that's where Rome's famous 400-mile road led. (You'd think it would have led to Rome, but no.)

The word "hopscotch" itself comes from "hopping," of course, and "scotch," which is a bastardization of "scratch." Kids would scratch the lines on the ground.

Send the kids out with some chalk. They'll find a stone. Roman soldiers optional.

—Jacks. Jacks go back to ancient Greece. You can see pictures of the game on urns (if you look really hard). Back then, however, no one had balls.

Well, I mean, no one had a bouncy ball. Or jacks, per se. Instead, they had the knuckle, wrist and ankle bones of sheep, so the early name of the game was "knucklebones." Kids would toss these into the air and have to catch them in their palms or on the backs of their hands or some other way that made it hard and hence fun.

When rubber finally made its way to Europe in the 1700s, the first bouncing balls were introduced, and these made their way into the games. But for centuries before that, kids played jacks with whatever they had on hand (literally — har har), including apricot seeds in Egypt and little bags of rice or sand in China.

And by the way, "jacks" is short for "jackstones," which came from "chackstones," which came from chucking stones — throwing them.

—Capture the flag. This one is depressing. The game is just too glaringly modeled on war — and not just war exercises a la hopscotch. In a real war — in the Civil War, as a matter of fact — you'd come upon your enemies and shoot or stomp or bayonet them, all in the service of capturing their flag. At the end of the skirmish, what mattered most, absurdly enough, was not how many people died but who'd captured the other team's, er, the other side's flag.

I realize I haven't watched nearly enough Ken Burns or I'd have known that. But it wasn't till reading up on this particular game that I learned that the soldiers stuck trying to keep their flag from falling into the enemy's clutches were called "color guards" — for guarding their side's colors. I'd thought color guards were just a Boy Scout thing.

Anyway, the game is played just like war, but without the bayonets.

—Kickball. Sit down. Here's a shocker. Kickball was invented not in ancient someplace but in Cincinnati in... 1917! Unlike baseball and even jacks, which require good hand-eye coordination, kickball features a giant ball rolling right toward you, for goodness' sake. It's like being a human bowling pin. Because it was so much easier than any game ever, gym teachers pounced on it, and by the 1920s, it was already a PE staple. Today it's still alive and — well, you know.

So here's the deal. Kids love their video games, phones and tablets. But a study often quoted by Peter Gray, author of a basic textbook on psychology used at Harvard and beyond, found that 86 percent of kids prefer playing outside to computer play.

Summer's here. Send 'em out.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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