Decades ago, street games were common in big cities. Kids congregated on city stoops and in the narrow alleyways, armed with whatever supplies they had on-hand: broom handles, tin cans, and often a bouncy pink rubber ball called a Spaldeen. The oversized rubber ball, developed during the Great Depression, was the center of most of these street games for almost 40 years.
The Spaldeen was discontinued in 1979 as children began to leave the streets and the games of their childhood. But there is good news. One, the Spaldeen is back and readily available. Two, these old-time street games are as fun and exciting as they were 30 years ago, and they make a great activity on a warm summer evening. Teach them to your boys and encourage them to gather their friends for some good old-fashioned fun. As they do, they’ll be walking in the footsteps of history. Famous athletes like Jackie Robinson and Yogi Berra cut their young chops on these very same games.
KICK THE CAN
My father-in-law taught this to all the grandkids at a family reunion last year. It has become a family favorite both inside the house and out. This game can be played with kids of all ages. The only equipment required is an empty tin can and a large open area, preferably a hard surface so the can is able to travel farther.
HOW TO PLAY: The group picks a kicker, who kicks the can as far as possible. When the can is air born, the kicker begins to counting to 100 while the other players run and hide. When the kicker spots someone, he calls out their name and both the hider and the kicker race toward the can. If the kicker reaches the can first, the hider goes to a designated “jail”. The kicker then kicks the can and the game resumes. If the hider reaches the can first, he goes free and the game begins again. Hiders can leave their hiding spot to free prisoners by kicking the can. The game is finished when everyone has been jailed.
Punchball is essentially baseball played without a bat, pitcher, or catcher. The only equipment required is a bouncy ball like a Spaldeen, or a tennis ball if that is not available. Bases can be manhole covers, sticks, rocks, or any other elements found lying in the street.
HOW TO PLAY: The “batter” pitches to himself by throwing the ball up or bouncing it on the ground. He then punches the ball into the outfield using his fist. Thereafter, the game follows the rules of baseball, except there is no stealing or bunting allowed.
A traditional form of “pile-on,” this game has been around for centuries. A painting by Pieter Brueghel from 1560 titled “Children’s Games” shows children playing Buck Buck, or Johny-on-a-Pony, as it is sometimes called.
HOW TO PLAY: A player either leans forward, his hands braced against a wall or against his thighs, with his head down. Another player runs and jumps on his back and, holding up one or more fingers, shouts, “Bucket buck, buckety buck/how many fingers do I hold up?” If the “buck” guesses the correct number, the player jumps off and the bender becomes the jumper.
In another variation, a line of benders bend over, holding the person in front by the waist. A group of jumpers tries to jump on the benders, each time asking how many fingers? If they guess incorrectly, another jumper is added until the benders collapse under the weight.
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What favorite street games did you play as a kid? I wish I had known about these games as a child. However, some of my best memories were playing Ghost in the Graveyard in the open field behind our home.