Reintroducing Traditional Childhood Games

The value of skinned knees and other life lessons


Published:

Photo courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

There’s a shallow spot in the Eno River with a small rapid, a sandbar and a wide stretch of water that never gets over 3 feet deep. As the weather gets warmer, I often walk there with my dog and remember never-ending summer days I spent with my sons teaching them to swim, building dams in the rapids and racing stick boats through the channels of the rocks. Most of all, this will always be known as the place of the Monster House.

Across the river is an old cabin maintained by the North Carolina State Parks service. The doors and windows are gone, but it is otherwise well-maintained. A monster lives there. If you are touching the wall on the front porch you are safe — but if you venture into the house, or off the porch, the monster can catch you. If he catches you, you become the monster.

We played this simple game with tireless delight. To this day, just the mention of the Monster House brings smiles to our faces, and I occasionally take a picture of the house and send it to my boys, who now live far away. This, of course, is one variation of the traditional game of “tag” that fills many a childhood. All over the world children play the same games — slight variations to the rules, and maybe a different focal point — but otherwise identical.


Teaching Traditions

For the past 15 years I have had the pleasure of teaching workshops on traditional games to children and parents both here and in Asia. It seems strange somehow that games once passed from child to child for hundreds of years need to be taught. Yet, this is the case as TV, computers, smartphones and T-ball leagues have pushed these gems to the brink of extinction. Still, the games persist. “Peekaboo” will never perish. The phrase, “I’m going to catch you!” will always bring joy and laughter to a 3-year-old.

A few years ago I was in Shanghai when I noticed two 3-year-old children chasing each other around a field. They were laughing so hard they almost fell over, and when one did catch the other, they tumbled on top of each other like little puppies. A few months later I was in a park in upstate New York and saw the same thing: Three young girls chasing each other back and forth between two trees that served as bases. When I saw this, I wished I could still experience the uninhibited joy I saw in them.

Luckily, I still get to play these games with children, and I get to watch adults experience the joy of traditional games as I teach them. During these workshops, adults become like children again. I’ve seen Chinese military officers skipping around a circle holding hands and singing, “Go In and Out the Windows,” howling with laughter. I’ve watched “too cool” teens giggle with delight trying to figure out who is hiding the “Key to the Castle” in their hands. Kids who don’t think of themselves as athletic sprint away from a wolf, or spin and twist to avoid the dreaded sea serpent.


Metaphors of Life

These games resonate deeply in us and I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like a good game. But why? “It’s just a game,” we say to console a child who may have been on the losing end. But it wasn’t “just a game” for me when I was that age. It was life.

Maybe that’s why these games have always been played — they are pictures, metaphors of life in forms children can understand. Dogs play to learn how to be dogs; lions play to learn how to be lions. Maybe, just maybe, traditional games teach children the skills they need to become successful humans.

Having played these games for many years I can guarantee two things will eventually happen: injuries and arguments. Injuries teach us to be careful and aware of our surroundings. They teach us self-control. They teach us to be respectful of others. Injuries allow us to experience healing; to understand that what hurts now won’t hurt forever. Skinned elbows heal. So do broken hearts. Arguments teach us social skills, emotional control and conflict resolution. The arguments almost always concern agreed-upon rules, which someone is deemed to have violated. They are about not respecting boundaries, either of another player’s personal space or of the game.

Now, reflect on many of the issues we face today. We deal with people who are too easily offended or overreactive, who aren’t respectful of other people and social boundaries, and who are overwhelmed by small setbacks. We all will experience heartbreak and disappointment. Have we learned the process of healing and recovering? Have we endured the experiences in childhood that teach us to learn from our mistakes? These lessons, I believe, are the greatest gifts of these traditional games.


Connecting With Humanity

There is one more thing: connection. Every traditional game is about connection. That is what “tag” is — a connection. More than the joy of playing “Monster” with my sons, it created a deep bond we will share forever. What young children want and need most of all is connection with the people who love them. This is the foundation of who they are, and sets the base from which they will venture out into the world. That’s where my boys are now, and I am proud they are finding their way. I miss them dearly. We will rarely have time to play “Monster” anymore so I’m really glad I took the time to play it when they were small.

I remember, also, when they were young that the struggles of parenting seemed endless. There were times my wife and I were frazzled by the demands of guiding our sons through various challenges. I know now that it’s not endless. By age 14 or so they want to be with their friends. By 18 they are off to college — and then they are off into the world.

So play a game when you can. All it takes is a little space, a base, a few rules and some characters to make it exciting — wolves, foxes, pirates and, of course, monsters.


20 Traditional Games to Play With Kids

  1. Tag
  2. Freeze Tag
  3. Hide-and-Seek
  4. Capture the Flag
  5. Red Light, Green Light
  6. Mother May I?
  7. Simon Says
  8. Kick the Can
  9. Hopscotch
  10. Marco Polo
  11. Red Rover
  12. Blind Man’s Bluff
  13. Heads Up, Seven Up
  14. Musical Chairs
  15. Telephone
  16. Parachute
  17. Hand-Clap Games
  18. Double Dutch Jump Rope
  19. Jacks
  20. Marbles

Need help remembering the rules? Check out “30 Classic Outdoor Games for Kids.”

Source: wired.com


Whitney MacDonald lives in Hillsborough with his wife, Amy, and works nationally and internationally as an educational consultant. He runs workshops on topics ranging from traditional games to parenting, rites of passage for teens and conflict resolution. Learn more at creatingmen.com.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Weekend Family Fun Across the Triangle

Dec. 13-15: Astronomy Series, CAM Sensory Saturday, Geocaching 101 and Sewing Scrunchies

Dec. 9-12: Flix4kidz, Walk with a Naturalist, Holiday Hijinx and Full Moon Exploration

Dec. 9-12: Flix4kidz, Walk with a Naturalist, Holiday Hijinx and Full Moon Exploration

Program Helps Students Avoid Scams

The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina presents Scambusters game to a Wake Forest High School class.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

December 2019

Wear your favorite holiday attire and dine with Santa Claus. Enjoy a delicious brunch, stories and crafts, and take pictures with the jolly man from the North Pole. 

Cost: $10/child. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
Joyner Park Community Center
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Telephone: 919-676-6368
Website »

More information

See dancers and a guitarist from Flamenco Carolina perform a Spanish style of music and dance.

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Ebeneezer Scrooge was visited by three spirits, but what about the next Christmas? With heartwarming excitement, discover how the Cratchit family has fared in the year that has passed since old...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

The Durham Medical Orchestra performs with special guest Joseph Alessi, principal trombone, New York Philharmonic.

Cost: Free

Where:
Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University
1336 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

As a Christmas gift to our community and surrounding area, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church delivers the true Christmas story in a stirring virtual “walk” through Bethlehem to the stable...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
12605 Capital Blvd
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Sponsor: Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
Telephone: 919-556-7777
Contact Name: Meghan Reynolds
Website »

More information

Fun for the entire family, enjoy this wonderful, witty retelling of a classic fairy-tale. With a score consisting of well-known pop songs, follow Snow White and her Seven Dwarves as they try to...

Cost: $10-$60/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Contact Name: Blake Jones
Website »

More information

The choir presents its 49th performance on Handel's "Messiah."

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The first day of winter is right around the corner! Help us welcome the season by making a snow globe to take home. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all ages (adult...

Cost: For all ages (adult accompaniment required for all children); FREE. Registration

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850

More information

Children will enjoy this wonderful book written by John Denver reminding us not to forget about the wildlife this holiday season. We will make a craft then take a walk to look for our wildlife...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join RTOOT as it performs the music of great Italian composers as well as beloved Christmas classics. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $9/adult, $3 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Dan the Animal Man brings some of his animals from his vast collection to entertain all ages. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Help find candy canes hidden in Bond Park before the Grinch turns them green. Ages 6-12. Registration required online. Choose course #127871. 

Cost: $10/child

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Get into the holiday spirit by decorating cooking, making a craft and enjoying a holiday children's show.

Cost: Free

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

The Wake Forest Abilities Choir will present an evening of holiday music under the direction of director.

Cost: Free

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Celebrate pecans at the State Farmers Market.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us to learn about how Habitat for Humanity helps build houses, hear a Christmas tale and then build a graham cracker house of your own. Call to, 919-245-2532. Best for ages 4 and up with a...

Cost: free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Is there a man in the moon, and is the moon made of cheese? Sip on some hot cocoa and listen to some of the stories people have told about the moon and find out if there is truth to them. Then...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for everyone, and adult accompanime

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Discover family traditions from North Carolina and around the globe. Create art, enjoy free access to Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, and have a special visit with Santa.

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Art East Building and Museum Plaza
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Bundle up and enjoy an evening around the campfire learning about creatures of the night and listen to Native American tales about some of our favorite nocturnal animals. Roast marshmallows and go...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Kids ages 5-12 enjoy indoor activities while parents enjoy a night out. Register online. 

Cost: $30/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Wear white clothing and play games, tumble and dance. Enjoy pizza, drinks and more. Ages 5-10. Registration required online. Choose course #127487.

Cost: $18/child; $28 for two children per family

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Friday, December 13, 6:00pm, at both the Millbrook and Wake Forest Campuses. Put on your Christmas jammies, grab a blanket and come out for a  festive night to watch the classic animated...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crossroads Fellowship
2721 E Millbrook Road
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Fellowship
Telephone: 919-981-0222
Contact Name: Lorraine Entwisle
Website »

More information

Have some fun and make something great at the Clay studio (and parents can sneak away and grab a bite or do some shopping at Northgate Mall). Each kid will complete and paint a piece of pottery...

Cost: $18 per child per workshop

Where:
1058 West Club Blvd
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Telephone: 919-560-2726
Contact Name: Lauren Tannenbaum
Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Sing along with the band as they perform holiday favorites of Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Celebrate the love and joy that this season brings by creating art inspired by a Christmas tree. Register online. Choose course #126761.

Cost: $32/resident, $42/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

More information

Our Reindeer Romp is open to the entire community and our Girls on the Run families. So join us! Celebrate as nearly 1,000 girls reach their end-of-season goals – the finish line is only the...

Cost: $30 - $35

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheater
8003 Regency Pkwy
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Girls on the Run of the Triangle
Telephone: 919-401-6307
Contact Name: Jamie Botta
Website »

More information

Ages 5-12 make a picture frame for the holidays. Snack provided. Register online. 

Cost: $30/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Travel with us to Puerto Rico with books, games and arts and crafts!  Join the staff of ISLA (Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition) for a fun filled hour! Best for ages 3 and up with a...

Cost: Free Gratis

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

One ticket admits the entire family to decorate a special gingerbread house. Supplies provided. Workshops available at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Allergy-free workshop available at 11 a.m....

Cost: $40

Where:
Family Preschool
4907 Garrett Rd
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Family Preschool
Telephone: 919-402-1500
Contact Name: Sue Henson
Website »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Holiday Habitat Helpers Saturday, December 14, 2-3 Attract winter wildlife to your backyard by providing or improving their habitat.  Create simple outdoor decorations...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us as we watch for meteors during the Gemenids Meteor Shower. Local astronomers will help us observe these shooting stars and other phenomena in the night sky. As a bonus we may see or hear...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Favorite Christmas songs are presented in authentic Nashville country style with dazzling guitars and fiddles along with soaring harmonies. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $25/person

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

See the choir perform beloved Christmas songs with guest vocal group AVANTE. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay connected to what's going on for families in the Triangle by signing up for our FREE e-newsletters!

Subscribe

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.