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17 Retro Games You Loved and Your Grandkids Will, Too

Share your favorite childhood pastimes to help keep grandchildren active

By Donna Freedman

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Family playing outdoor games
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(This article appeared previously on

Remember those hours of jumping rope, shooting marbles and one-footing it through a hopscotch grid? Today’s grandkids are a lot less likely to experience these pastimes. In fact, they’re less likely to do much of anything that doesn’t involve electronics. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), our grandchildren are four times less active than we were as kids.

Some other troubling stats:

  • The average child gets more than seven hours of “screen time” daily. (The AAP recommends one to two hours.)
  • Just one in three U.S. children is physically active every day.
  • One of every three U.S. kids is overweight or obese.

What’s a grandparent to do? Play! Get your grandkids up and moving by teaching them some of these 17 pastimes from your childhood.

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Hopscotch (and variations)

Partake in hopscotch if your joints are up for jumping, that is. Draw the squares in the dirt or use sidewalk chalk to create that iconic design. You could also opt for a bell-shaped grid and play "Campana," an Italian version. Draw a snail and you’ll be playing "Escargot," as French children call it. The rules for these and other international hopscotch variations are available as a PDF from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Incidentally: Hopscotch was once a soldier’s pastime. Early Roman soldiers were required to don full armor and hop through 100-foot-long grids of squares to build agility and strength. Playtime with your grandkids just became a history lesson!

Jumping rope
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Jumping Rope

If it’s just you and a single grandchild, you can either take turns or skip simultaneously, facing each other. And if you’ve got two or more kids with you that day? Get a longer rope and show off some of your old playground moves, which should return after a little practice.

The ultimate show-stopper? If some of your childhood pals still live in the area, get together for some old-school jumping. Bonus points if you still remember how to do double dutch. This activity needs jump-rope rhymes, of course. Games Kids Play has an archive of almost four dozen.

Note: If your doctor approves of this pastime you’ll be doing your own body a favor as well — jumping rope is considered both an aerobic and a weight-bearing exercise.

Flying a kite
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Plastic kites are fairly inexpensive at discount and drug stores. If there’s a dollar store in your town, start there. However, you can double the fun by making your own. Pinterest has a ton of kite-making tips. Use the Sunday funnies or plain paper that your grandchild has decorated, and scope out the dollar store for kite string.

Tip: Run a good-sized stick through the cardboard tube holding the string. It’s much easier for small hands to hold, and if your grandchild gets excited enough to drop it, the stick’s weight should keep the kite from flying off.

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Pops and Grounders (a.k.a. flies and grounders)

This can be played with just you and a single grand or with multiple kids. Younger children might do better with a wiffle ball and bat, but older kids will probably want to show off their Little League skills.

To play: Pitch to the batter, who’s allowed to keep hitting until someone has fielded three pop-flies or six ground balls. It’s a great way to teach hand-eye coordination, and it keeps fielders on their toes as they run to scoop up a rolling ball or to position themselves under a fly. Eventually everyone gets a turn at bat and there’s no pressure to win or lose. It’s all about fun.

Oh, and try this old riddle on your grandkids:
What has 18 legs and catches flies? A baseball team!

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Other Ball Games

Baseball isn't the only way to go:

Four Square: Draw your numbered squares in the dirt or with chalk on the pavement. Get a rubber ball. (Anyone remember when this was called a "Spaldeen"?) Follow official rules from If you like, give the person in Square One the option of adding a rule like, "You have to say the name of the person you’re hitting to," or "Use both hands to hit the ball."

Monkey in the Middle: Also known as "Keep Away" or, in Great Britain, "Piggy in the Middle." Two players pass a ball back and forth, trying to get it past the kids standing between them. Depending on the age of the players, you could bounce the ball or roll it.

Kickball: Like baseball, but with less equipment and fewer chances for mishaps. It's a good game for picnics or family reunions, or to start up at a park with other kids, so you’ll have enough for teams.

Olly olly oxen free
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Olly Olly Oxen Free!

Give kids plenty of time to hide, and provide warnings like "Ready or not, here I come!" or "Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready holler 'I'!" Some hide-and-seek variations:

Chain: As each player is found, he or she must join hands with "it." When the chain becomes more than a few players long, trying to walk (or run!) to find others is a lot of fun.

Amoeba: It’s like Chain, except that hand-holders must form a circle. Trying to walk that way causes great hilarity.

Sardines: In this version only "it" hides. As each player finds this person, she has to hide along with "it." Soon it becomes impossible to hide completely — or to hide your giggles.

Another tip: Don’t be too good at finding your grands. Little kids love putting one over on their elders.

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Ground Games

Sometimes you have to get down and dirty — as in, sitting or kneeling on the floor, sidewalk or grass.

Marbles: Shooters, taws and alleys — though the terminology has changed, the game has been around since 4000 B.C. has basic rules plus 16 variations.

Jacks: The old bounce-and-scoop is a fun way to sharpen hand-eye coordination. Most sets contain 10 jacks but young kids might do better with four or five. As skills improve, add new ways to retrieve jacks. Find options at Fun Games Kids Play.

Duck Duck Goose: Preschoolers may lose sight of the objective — to catch you before you sit down — so be prepared to keep running.

Ring Around the Rosy: This is a game that even the youngest toddlers enjoy. Who doesn’t love an excuse to fall down? Bonus: All that side-to-side stepping will help recent walkers improve their footwork.

Playing tag
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You’re It!

Nothing like tag to get the blood pumping. Play in the backyard or in a park — better to tumble onto grass than hardwood floors. Once kids get the hang of it, try:

Freeze tag: Any child you touch is "frozen" until another is able to "thaw" him so he can start running again. Given the popularity of Frozen, you could call this "Elsa and Anna tag."

Storybook tag: A frozen person has to thaw himself by shouting out the name of a character from one of the stories you’ve read together. Here’s the tough part: A name can be used only once.

Flashlight tag: This hybrid of hide-and-seek and tag starts at dusk. Count to 20 while kids hide in the yard, then turn on your flashlight and search. Kids must get to "base" while you try to tag them with the flashlight beam. First kid to get lit up becomes "it."

Incidentally, tag is great for toddlers because they’re just getting good at running. But don’t catch that 2-year-old right away. Keep him or her running to burn off energy. They might even take a nap later — and so might you.



Donna Freedman Former newspaper journalist Donna Freedman is a freelancer living in Anchorage, Alaska. She has written for MSN Money, Money Talks News and many other publications and websites. Read More
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