Wicked Wednesday: Mother May I?

Edith here, on a month of five Wednesdays in May. Who played “Mother May I?” with neighborhood kids out on the front (or back) lawn? I did, for one. Remember? The “mother” faced the group and gave commands: Take two giant steps forward, or tiptoe five tiny steps, or any other kind of forward movement. The child or group of children have to do that, but first they have to ask “Mother May I?” If they don’t, they have to go back to the start. The goal is to reach Mother first and become the new one.


So let’s talk about other outdoor childhood games we played! Favorites? Not so favorites? In groups vs. individually?

Jessie: I loved Two Square. I had a knack for putting a spin on the ball and sending it out of the opposite square in such a way that it was really tough to reach it. I spent many happy recess hours playing it.

Barb: I saw my cousin last fall and she reminded me of the hours, and hours, and hours

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we spent playing jacks on our grandparents front porch in Sea Girt, New Jersey. I had forgotten all about it, but the minute she said it, I remembered the summer we all played jacks. My manual dexterity is horrendous, as my typing proves, so it was probably good exercise for me, but why was I attracted to it in the first place?

Liz:Β I loved hopscotch! I remember drawing the squares in everyone’s driveway – mine, my grandparents, friends’ houses. It was probably the only thing I played where I didn’t hurt myself. I also liked playing volleyball in my backyard – my father put up a net and left it there most of the summer so we could play whenever we wanted. I had fun with it until one day I sort of forgot it was there, and I was running through the yard and literally ran into it. I had a giant cut right across my nose for weeks. I wasn’t so fond of volleyball after that, and my new favorite outdoor game became reading…

Sherry: Red light, Green light — Statues — jacks — so many fun games. But a favorite of mine was an after dark game called Jailbreak. One person was it and everyone went to hide. If you got caught you had to sit on a designated front porch. While the person who was it tried to round everyone else up someone would sneak back to release the prisoners yelling jailbreak and the whole thing would start all over again.

Edith: Sherry reminds me of those summer evenings playing outside after dinner with the neighborhood kids until we got called in, sweaty and tired, for a bath and bed. We also had a tether ball in the back yard, with the pole in cement. I could whack that thing for hours. Wind it all the way up one way, let it unroll on its own and whack it the other way.Β  We also jump roped a lot with friends and sometimes used two ropes. Was that called Double Dutch? Oh, and roller skating in the patio and on the driveway, with the metal kind of skates that clipped onto your shoes and you tightened them with a hex key.

Julie: Sherry’s game sounds like it could be good fun at a mystery conference! I liked four square (must be like two square but with four people). I also enjoyed croquet. We made up our own rules, and had a course that wasn’t up to code, but it was always a ton of fun. But honestly, my favorite outdoor game was reading.

Readers: What were your favorite games to play outdoors? Have you taught them to the next generation, or the next?

48 Thoughts

  1. Jump rope! “Cinderella dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss her fellow. She kissed a snake by mistake, how many doctors will it take?” Also one about a banana split, but I can’t remember it.
    When I was very young, I had a street full of cousins for playmates, and we played hide and seek around the neighborhood. I also remember croquet when we went to visit my other grandmother. When we moved to the country, I only had my two brothers for playmates and my mother worked, so we were alone all day in the summer. We did everything we could think of using a ball, a stick, and bases. Not a game, but I remember riding my bike up and down the street for hours. It was great!

  2. Red Rover, Kick the Can, Jump rope, Hide and Seek, Tag,Roller skating –what fun. What a great bunch of friends. The games always seemed to include all the kids in the neighborhood–from five-year-olds to teens. And the softball games (the ball was a rolled up pair of socks wrapped in duct tape) usually included all the kids plus some of the dads! Thanks for the memories!

    1. Ours included all ages, too. There was one big boy who called me “small fry” – at the time my father had his own small cast iron frying pan for his scrambled eggs, and I always thought the boy was calling me small frying pan!

  3. Roller skating – yes, with a key, up and down the street, hopscotch, hide and seek – with the whole neighborhood…and of course reading!

  4. We made up a lot of our own games. For Birds, we sat on the low branches of trees and pretended we were building nests. In Monsters, every car that passed by on our street was a monster and we had to shriek and hide till it went past. We also acted out adventures borrowed from Robin Hood (a popular TV show in the 1950s) and Disney movies like Cinderella and Snow White.

    1. Great games. Two friends and I would sink low in the kiddie pool when planes went overhead because they might have been Russians and we were clearly spies.

  5. We played lots of Red Rover and Mother May I. We also played something called Freeze Tag where if you were tagged, you had to freeze in place until one of the other players ran past, tagged you and yelled “defrost.”

    We also played baseball on a cement playground with painted on bases. I have a scar on my elbow from sliding into home. Roller skating was my favorite, though. I still have my skate key!

    1. I remember Freeze Tag, but I think we played with different rules: one person would turn her (I went to a girls’ school) and everybody would advance, then the first person would spin around and everyone had to freeze. If you were caught moving, you were out.

  6. Skinned knees, skinned thighs from spinning out on my bike in the sand at the side of the road. But all those games and softball plus badminton . Freeze tag and Hide and Seek were favorites! I hope Joyce has her key framed with a picture or other mementos. That would be terrific!

    1. I did learn to follow my mother’s direction to wear tennies riding my bike, after I seriously tore off the tip of a big toe riding in flip flops!

    2. My skate key is in a big jar of stuff that we call our “what the hell is that” jar. Every once in awhile we dump it out and look over the items just for fun.

  7. All those mentioned were part of my childhood. Such sweet memories! Definitely roller skated – LOTS. I can remember the key ones and then they came out with sidewalk shoe skates which I wore out three pair. I can also remember going to the old wooden floor indoor skating ring and the special rounds of “dancing”. Loved teeter ball but for some reason I kept hitting the place where the ball was tied to the rope and ended up cracking a bone in my hand. However, never stopped me and kept right on playing. We rode bikes through obstacle courses we designed and the cards in the spokes. Did my share of jump rope too including ripping out an earring when the rope got too close. (Did I mention I was accident prone? LOL)

    There were always the “quiet” games – like the ones you took on vacation to keep you occupied when visiting dull relatives with no kids. There were jacks which I loved and you had to have your favorite ball to use. Mine was the inside of broke down golf ball. We also did pick up sticks, cards for solitary and go fish when I could get my brother to play.

    It was amazing how a little bit of nothing and imagination could keep us occupied for hours on in. Did you know that little wax paper rubbed on a slide would make it very slippery? πŸ™‚

    1. Cards in the spoke! I’d forgotten that. We’d also turn a bike upside down and make a “factory” – feeding grass into the mud guard and turning the pedal to make it go through. Plus lots of creating potions, playing school, and board games galore.

  8. I grew up in a city, so our play area was the street in front of our house. We would play kick ball and badminton and had a lot of fun, but we had to take frequent breaks to let an occasional car go by. With 72 kids in our immediate neighborhood (it was the 1960s), we always had lots of kids to join in.

  9. All of the above, especially roller skating, but it was the newly-invented hula hoop that kept us up past dark in our driveway one night. Lots of parents yelling from their front doors up and down the street. Sweet memories πŸ™‚

  10. We had a tetherball, too. Loved that game. My dad put one in for my birthday one year…poured cement in an old tire so it was portable. Being tall, I was great at it. I wasn’t really an outside person, I’d would much rather be inside reading. When I was outside, it was exploring the creek, playing in the sandbox, climbing trees, playing tag and hide and seek.

  11. We basically lived outside all summer — we’d leave the house after breakfast, eat lunch at whoever’s house we happened to be at lunchtime and then come home when our Mom called us for dinner. We would play hopscotch, red rover, SPUD, swinging statue, hide and seek, chase, pirate ship, kickball, badminton and so many more fun games, real and made up. We grew up in a great neighborhood with lots of kids our ages.

    1. Seems so many of us of a “certain age” did, Celia – and by that I am not implying you are anywhere near my certain age!

  12. Hide ‘n seek (especially after dark!), roller skating (both outdoors with the key and indoors at a rink), playing in and around the creek, bike riding. But what I remember most was a doctor in the neighborhood put in a small playground for his 10 kids and we were all welcome to use it anytime. The thing is, it was probably the most dangerous playground ever. There was a swinging “trapeze” that we did all kinds of daring, unsafe tricks on and other equipment that was designed to maim children. I don’t think anyone ever got hurt beyond a few scrapes and bruises. I’ve always wondered why that was. But we sure had fun!

  13. I really enjoyed Chinese Jump Rope! And then you could play Cat’s cradle with the same stretchy rope inside with a friend.

  14. I never liked Mother, May I. It always turned into a popularity contest. However, I loved jump rope, Chinese jump rope, hop scotch, and red light, green light.

    My favorite variation on Red Light, Green Light was one I learned at the roller skating rink – Simon Says Red Light Green Light. Yes, it combines the two games, so you can only go when Simon Says Green Light and you only have to stop is Simon Says Red Light. In the meantime, you have to do everything Simon Says even between him saying Red Light and Green Light. It was a blast!

  15. No outdoor games here. I never had enough friends to play anything, really. Most of my outdoor time was spent alone, hiding from the world, with my current book. πŸ™‚

    1. We make friends with the characters in our books, I think, Liz. Hope you weren’t lonely (I have a son who was perfectly happy being mostly alone).

  16. “Simon Says” was our “Mother May I” as kids. The leader give the directions, e.g. “Simon says take 2 steps forward.” And do a series of directions all starting “Simon says” and then throw in e.g. “Step sideways” — No Simon Says. If you followed the direction without the Simon says, back to the beginning. Jump rope and multiple “let’s pretend” games based on our current reading or TV watching. My mother used to say that after a rainy Saturday afternoon, she was sure she would scream if anyone said “let’s pretend” one more time. Thanks for bringing these memories.

    1. We also played Simon Says a lot. I love overhearing kids (mainly girls?) say “Let’s pretend…” and they’re off!

    1. Kite flying! On the beach for us, mainly. I don’t think I’ve ever played flag football – and wouldn’t dare, these days. ;^)

  17. Lots of kids on our block in those post-war years. Red Light, Green Light; Statues. Lots of cowboy games in those days of cap guns and Gunsmoke and Bonanza and Davy Crockett on those new tv’s. Lots of pinning a towel to our shoulders and becoming Superman. Some arguments about whether there were Supergirls. Of course there were! No surprise, I lived reading better than any of them. πŸ™‚

    1. i have an awesome picture of me in my fringed Davy Crockett costume, gun in hand – and my only brother was younger than me. ;^)

      1. I had a full cowgirl outfit complete with six-shooter when I was about 5. Loved it. Thanks for the memory.

  18. I could not remember the name of Freeze Tag, glad I read the other posts, lol. We played so much outside and most of it was all made up. I loved making the dogs soup in their water bowls with the wild berries and water, Would go flying on our swing set, the dogs would be my guides on treks through the dangerous woods (our backyard). We would walk to the creek and battle the lochness monster. Walk on the train tracks on our journey across the country. Oh so much fun!!

  19. We were trying to remember jumprope rhymes in aqua-aerobics yesterday. “24 robbers came knocking at my door” was one.
    Once, walking in my condo neighborhood, I saw a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk, walked back to it and hopped. From across the street a neighbor chuckled, “I didn’t think you’d be able to pass it up.” He was right. πŸ˜‰

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