KICK THE CAN–What childhood games teach us about ourselves

What does hopscotch remind you of?
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Kick the Can. Hide and Seek. Cowboys and Indians. Red Light, Green Light. Mother, May I…

I used to hate the game Kick the Can. When my brothers and sisters and neighborhood friends were squealing with delight, because they, once again, had managed to kick the can without being seen, I was hiding behind the bushes wondering when I dared make a run for it.

I preferred the game of Sardines to Hide and Seek. In Hide and Seek you try to find the person who is hiding. In Sardines when you find the person who is hiding, you hide with them, and stay with them until everyone has found the one who hid.

Cowboys and Indians…In my neighborhood the boys rarely wanted to be the Cowboys or the Indians, they wanted to be the Indian squaws. This is true. The girls would put feathers in their hair and bandanas around their necks and the boys would wrap bathroom towels around their small heads. Wars never lasted too long.

I wasn’t much good at Red Light, Green Light. I was always caught running forward when the light turned red. And Mother May I? Let me just say that that particular game always played favorites depending on who the mother was.

Ever played Red Rover?

I once worked at an elementary school that actually banned the game from recess. “Too many broken arms,” the principal said. Perhaps that’s why they don’t play dodge ball at the same school either.

Until today, I’d never given the games I played as a child much thought. Ok, other than, “that was a great game,” or “I sure had a lot of energy then.” But today it hit me that if Benjamin Hoff could write “The Dao of Pooh,” and explain Taoism, and Caroll Spinney could share with us “The Wisdom of Big Bird: Lessons from a Life in Feathers,” that there might be something to the games we played as children.

Eleanor Farjeon, a children’s writer born in the early 1880’s once said, “The events of childhood do not pass but repeat themselves like seasons of the year.”

If Eleanor is correct, (and I believe she is) the events of our lives, including the games we played as children, can teach us a little about who we are now—maybe even a lot.


(Reflect on these questions. Write down your answers)

Kick the Can—Are you a go getter or a fence sitter?

Hide and Seek—do you prefer hiding or seeking? Would you enjoy Sardines over hide and seek? Are you worried that you will be the last one to find the hider? Would you rather huddle with others who have already found the hider, hoping you don’t come in last? How much do you want to be first? Do you want to be found?

Cowboys and Indians—what part would you choose? Neither? Why?

Red Light, Green Light—do you speed through yellow lights? Are you always trying to get the extra edge in life, or are you content to wait your turn or live in reflection?

Red Rover—have you ever been the last one picked?

Mother May I?—Are you often jealous when you feel someone gets more than you? What if that person is in your family or extended family?

Capture the Flag—how good are you at working in teams? When a friend is in trouble, what do you do?

Duck, Duck, Goose—how often have you felt like a goose in life? No matter what you do, you’re going around in circles, trying to get someone else to take your place. No one can, you know. Four Square creates similar results only in the opposite way, as do Marbles. How may marbles have you tried to knock out of your life without losing your own?

Hopscotch—have you ever failed? Landed in an improper square? Or line? Lost your balance and had to start over? Then you have played hopscotch.

Tag—have you ever chased a dream and never been able to catch up? You’ve heard of the butterfly. Sometimes the best thing we can do is sit down and wait—until our minds and hearts open for its arrival.