Kid running towards other kids shouting on playground.

14 Recess Games Today’s Kids May Never Experience

According to a report by the Association of Play Industries (API) the average eight year old has spent one full year sitting in front of a screen. All that screen time means kids are moving less than ever. Along with this, many schools have banned chase games like tag at recess. This means, like it or not, today's kids are making different memories as some of the playground games for their parents get banned or fade into the past.

Let's go back in time to relive some of the most memorable (and sometimes painful!) playground games. Do you remember playing these?

Steal The Bacon and Tag

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Steal the Bacon is a game where players dash into the middle when their number is called to try to steal an object (the “bacon”) before the other team gets it. Then, they have to make it back to their side without being tagged. According to my kids, steal the bacon is still used as a warm-up in P.E. classes. However, this and other forms of tag have been banned on some playgrounds. Safety, violence prevention, and potential lawsuits from parents are the main reasons schools have instituted restrictions.

Mercy

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Facing another kid, you’d join hands, lace your fingers together and then try to force each other’s hands back. The way to win? Make the other person say “Mercy” by applying enough painful pressure to their fingers and wrists before they do the same to you.

Wall Ball

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Players throw a rubber ball against a wall, and the ball can bounce only once before being caught by another player. Not too painful – but in some variations, players who miss the ball have to stand, hands on the wall, and let the players pelt them with the ball.

Kickball

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Kickball was a huge favorite at recess, but the emotional pain if you were picked last was rough. Kickball is similar to baseball but played with a rubber ball that is kicked instead of hit with a bat. It also definitely gave us our fair share of scraped knees and twisted ankles.

Crack the Whip

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Kids form a long chain, and then they try to crack the whip. A kid at one end of the chain runs forward until the kids at the other end ”crack.” Sort of. I mostly remember it as a lot of running, being yanked around and falling.

Four Square

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Played in a square grid, players bounce a ball back and forth among the squares, trying to eliminate other players by making them miss or hit the ball out of bounds. Games could get quite competitive; that ball came flying fast.

Tetherball

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Tetherball polls used to be a playground staple, but not any longer. This is a game where two players hit a ball attached to a rope, trying to wrap the rope around a pole in their direction. Who can forget the feeling of the ball smacking into your face when your best friend with the powerful arm got a good hit in?

 

Red Rover

Players stand in two lines facing each other and call a player from the opposite line to run over and try to break through the linked arms. If they break through, they take one of the players back to their team. My wrists hurt thinking of this one.

Dodgeball

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This game is no longer quite so popular and has, in fact, been banned in a lot of schools, given that it's a game built on hitting people with the ball to get them out.

Handclap Rhymes

Two young girls play hand clapping game
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No doubt if you played any of these traditional hand clap games, you probably still remember the rhymes. We'd get more and more intricate with our hand clapping patterns, taking pride in being able to go extremely fast through some rhymes. We also had some songs that got a huge circle of kids joining in, “Down by the banks of the Hanky Panky where the bullfrog jumps from bank to banky…”

Crashing on Slides

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I don’t think this had a name, but I remember sliding down the slide but staying sitting at the end on the flat part. Then another kid would slide down, bumping into you, trying to knock you off the end. This would continue with a line of kids, and when you got bumped off, you’d go get back in line to slide down again.

Bloody Knuckles

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Ah, yes, the fun game of punching someone else’s fist with your own fist. Ow.

Slaps

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One person puts their hands on top of the other's. The person on the bottom has to try and slap the person on top's hands before they pull them away. This somewhat harmless game sometimes became a recipe for sibling bickering that drove our parents nuts.

Parachute Games

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These huge parachutes were super popular for playground games in the 80s. Parachute games often involve kids sitting around the outside to ripple the parachute to pass balls around or float it up and gently let it fall while others run underneath. It was magical to run under the floating parachute. This is one playground game that hasn't totally gone out of style.

You can still find parachutes and silk scarves to get kids running, laughing, and playing outdoors.

Are Screens Replacing Some of These More Active Games?

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Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes. The API finds that children have never moved so little and points to substantial evidence that screens are a key reason. The number of hours kids are in front of screens has risen dramatically in the past decade.

We've made a scream-free screen time rules guide to help families set technology limits that encourage more balance between movement and screens.

Motivating Today's Kids to Get Outside and Play

A teen and two adults with a dog hiking together
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Parents and grandparents can do a lot to motivate kids to be active. Besides providing things like bikes and fun outdoor toys, simply modeling outdoor play yourself is huge.

One of the top motivators for kids is seeing the adults in their lives embracing physical activities. That could mean trying a new sport, taking a hike, or joining a gym. Sharing about your experiences and inviting the kids when you can is a great way to get everybody moving.

Author: Alissa Zorn

Title: Trauma-Informed Coach

Expertise: childhood emotional neglect, perfectionism, parenting, journaling, comics, doodling, coaching

Alissa Zorn is the founder of OverthoughtThis.com. She's a trauma-informed coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa has been featured on the Good Men Project, Wealth of Geeks, Motherly, MSN.com and more.