January 21, 2015

Neighbourhood Games

I was reading a post by one of my very favourite blogger friends, Lucille over at Useful or Beautiful, when I was struck with an idea for a little post of my own. She was writing about all the shoes she wore when she was a child growing up in England. She mentioned a pair of fabric party shoes that became worn out in one wearing due to the energetic nature of the party games: Squeak Piggy Squeak, Blind Man's Bluff, Oranges and Lemons, Musical Chairs and Musical Statues. I am old enough, and Anglified enough, to be familiar with a couple of the games she mentions playing in childhood. I am not going to write about my girlhood shoes, which, besides one pair of super-trendy white canvas Nike runners with the blue swoosh and my first pair of platform sandals, were unremarkable. I am going to write about the games we played in my neighbourhood because, friends, those were some very good times.

My neighbourhood on Silica Street was a lot like many other neighbourhoods in the world at that time in the century, I am sure; it was full of families. On a good night we could have fifteen kids playing outside after supper. The only reason to stay inside on a non-rainy night was a case of the flu or too much homework. The other kids we played with on those nights did not have to be necessarily approved of/interviewed by our parents. We did not even have to like each other all that much. The games we played demanded numbers to be successful and fun, and numbers we could provide simply by showing up. The sheer joy and enthusiasm we had for the games was generally enough to carry us through any personal conflicts with other kids.

In summer we played Hide and Seek or Sardines. In Hide and Seek, boundaries for hiding were agreed upon and one person who was 'it' counted to fifty before beginning to seek for the rest of us. The boundaries included anywhere within our block, including the alley. In Sardines, only one person hid somewhere within the boundaries and everyone else separated to look for them after counting to fifty. The hiding spot had to be large enough to accommodate each 'finder' who would join the 'hider' once he/she was found. We would be packed into the hiding space like sardines in a can, trying not to make any noise whatsoever, and the last person to find the 'hider' was 'it'. We also played a game called War, which involved painting a chalk circle on the street and planning various manouvers to take over portions of the circle. When fewer of us were available to play we relied upon Four Square, Hop Scotch and various skipping games. On summer days we played in the shady public wooded area on the north side of our street. We built treeforts which were taken down by the city only to be rebuilt by us at the first opportunity. During the fall we collected glossy brown horse chestnuts from the same wooded area and kept them in paper bags. Someone among us convinced her dad to drill holes in her chestnuts so she could make a necklace, but other than that, chestnuts were greatly averse to being made into things. We often threw them at each other instead, used them for made-up games, or when some of us were really bad, we threw them at passing cars from up in the canopy of the trees that overhung the street.

In winter, when the snow fell fast and deep the city closed Cedar Street, which was so steep drivers had to put their cars in the lowest gear to make the descent. Then, word would spread quickly and we would all jump into our snowsuits, boots, mittens and touques, grab our Crazy Carpets and go. Cedar Street was long and if we did not bail off our Crazy Carpets after the first long block we would have to climb up an extra-long way. By the end of the night, discarded, snow encrusted mittens and touques littered the sides of the street while we, red cheeked, hot and sweaty, climbed up the hill to race back down once more before we were called in by our parents to get ready for bed. When we got older we went further afield for tobogganing. Queen Elizabeth Park and Trafalgar Junior High had grassy slopes on which to sail down into the sports fields. The golf course way up at the top of town provided perfect tubing - people, including my elder teenaged siblings, drove up there with inner tubes and made wide tracks on the rolling slopes that seemed to go on for miles in the moonlight.

While my own children enjoyed playing outside daily with other children when they were small and we lived in a small resort community with other like-minded families, it took a little while before they found children to play with in our own neighbourhood in the town we currently live in. While we did see children riding bikes around our neighbourhood and were heartened when we saw groups playing road hockey or basketball in the park up the street, we could not help but wonder why our neighbourhood was not teeming with kids playing games of all sorts outside together. My children, however, played outside our house all the time and soon attracted a few others from the neighbourhood to play road hockey, ride around on bikes and skateboards, and play various games as well. Now that my children are grown, I still wonder, when I am out and about why I do not see more children out playing - school and organized sports are not the only places to learn social skills and fair play. A few years ago our neighbourhood school built a hill in the center of the fields and also more recently installed brand new playground equipment thanks to a large donation from NHL hockey players Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Sedin twins have set up a fund to encourage families in small communities to play and exercise more. The hill and equipment both get a fair bit of use from young neighbourhood families, which is encouraging. Various movements, such as Bring Back Play, encouraging healthy, unscheduled play for kids are happening in Canada as well. We forty-somethings know what our nation's kids are missing in modern life and are trying to reinstate some kind of desire in families to get outside and play on a regular basis.

A friend of my sister's recently posted a photo on Facebook of their high school senior band enjoying a summer picnic at someone's lakeshore property some time around 1980. The photo included about twenty students. Not one teenager in the group lacked the appearance of great health and physical fitness. In fact, they looked like a bunch of young movie stars or professional athletes by today's standards. Unlike the kids of today, they had no Starbucks White Chocolate Mochas, Tim Horton's Ice Capps or Monster Energy Drinks to pile on empty calories back then. A sedentary lifestyle was unusual for a teenager and engaging in some risk-taking behaviours like cliff-jumping was the norm - at least where I grew up. Parents are fed so much fear these days about what 'could' happen to our children we are afraid to let them out of our sight. I am not saying it is easy for me to let my thirteen year old waif of a daughter walk downtown by herself, or ride her bike to the swimming pool alone. I have been fed the same fears for her safety, but I make myself let her go because she is learning to trust her instincts, to discover her own boundaries and get some exercise in the process. As a forty-something mom who values the outdoorsy, independent childhood of my own generation and the good seeds it sowed for a healthy adulthood, mentally, emotionally and physically, I owe her that much.

This is not my sister's band class. It is the cast of Freaks and Geeks, a
show my kids and I have watched and enjoyed. It is set in the 1980's and honestly
represents high school at that time, and to some extent modern times, with uncanny accuracy. 


  1. This is a test. This is only a test ;)

  2. Well this post brings bag some nice memories! Your childhood sounds a lot like mine here, as far as games around the neighborhood, and hours and hours spent playing outside. Kids today aren't typically as active or independent. It bothers me that active play has to be so organized.

    1. None of us are quite as 'free' as we used to be. Such is the modern world! I appreciate the advancements in technology and how the world seems smaller because of it, but it has also brought many problems with it.

  3. I'm having great difficulty commenting from my ipad which I fear is giving up the ghost I will try again when I get back to my proper computer so this is only a test too! But what a great childhood you had with so much freedom to play with your peers. We hardly see any children out on the street where I live.

    1. I think it has been a challenge to post comments on this one. I heard that from a friend who tried. Thanks for leaving one anyway. Blogger must have had some glitches.
      I grew up in a small mountain town with lots of parks and everything within walking distance. That may have had a lot to do with the amount of freedom we had to roam :)

  4. Yes, the outdoors was truly a playground and like you, we found ways to let it entertain us. I cringed a little when I thought of how dangerous some of that play was, but... we survived it!
    Like you, I'm trying to give my kids independence, but I'm always saying. "Text me when you get there." :) My 16 year old works and drives quite a distance. I can tell that I am relaxing more because I forget to look for the text that says she got there.
    You have quite a journal going on your blog. Years from now, your kids will appreciate all the stories, if they don't already.

    1. Oh yes, I'm sure I survived some rather precarious situations...
      A friend who scrapbooks faithfully told me that my blog is like a word scrapbook for my kids. I thought that was a good way of looking at it, since I don't do the scrapbooking thing!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!