Last weekend, I was looking after a couple of neighbor kids while their folks went to the city. And by looking after, I mean nothing of the sort. They are the same ages as my older two, who are old enough to play outside without supervision. So I basically kicked everyone out of the house. Yes, I am a role model.
Anyway, I eventually found my way outside, and I noticed that the kids were all playing “Capture the Flag.” And later, they played “Manhunt” (which is a cross between Tag and Hide-and-Seek). And after that, they played “Wax Museum” which I’d never heard of, but looks like T’ai Chi.
I was struck by a couple things. First, not once did they ask me what they should do. I think that may be the result of very consistently answering that question with a chore like “Clean your room.” But regardless of the reason, I’m impressed that kids still know how to play without guidance. Second, everything they did was so organized. They played games with names. They all knew the rules. They agreed in advance if the rules needed to be adjusted for circumstances. They all participated. It was really weird.
When I was growing up on the commune (that’s a story for another post), there were a lot of kids and there was plenty of room to play outside. So that’s mostly what we did all summer. But other than shuffleboard, I don’t think we ever played games with rules. We would play a chasing game, but it wasn’t really tag. It was more, “Oh shit! Someone is chasing me!” We would climb the mulberry tree to eat our fill. We would wander off into the woods and explore.
We also watched a lot of television. Game shows mostly. My brother went through a phase where he watched “The Young and the Restless,” I think mostly because there were some curvy women on there he liked. At 4pm, just after Match Game was over, we would find an adult to supervise, and we’d go swimming in the pond (which we called the “Little Lake,” not to be confused with the “Big Lake” which was also a pond, but which we did not swim in for some reason).
I recall one summer (actually I recall that this happened every summer, but I doubt that’s true), my mother would deal with the “I’m bored! What can I do?” by having an activity every day. She would write this activity on a piece of paper late at night, put it in a small envelope, and stick it to the refrigerator with a magnet. The next day after breakfast, there would be a big reveal. My mother was a fucking genius. No matter what she wrote on there, it was exciting because of the reveal. “Pick up trash beside the road” is one that is seared into my memory for some reason. And we were thrilled! We all went out together, with trash bags, and walked up and down the road and picked up trash. Fucking evil genius.
We made silent movies. We had a Super-8 camera, so one of the older kids would write a script. We would each make signs with our lines on them. We would make costumes and wear makeup as needed, and shoot our feature. And later, when the film came back developed, the director would edit it, and put together the movie.
We would ride our bikes to the store (a couple miles away), into town (many miles away), or to a friend’s house. My parents never needed to drive us anywhere. If we had someplace we needed to be, we would bike there.
We were, in a nutshell, independent. Our parents were not responsible for our entertainment. We entertained ourselves. It’s a good way for kids to be, and judging from the independent play I watched last weekend, I think my kids are on their way to that same place.