Survival Games from the Past to Teach Your Child Now

Tag! You are IT !

WONDER WOMAN #72 March 1993, D.C. Comics, written by William Messner-Loebs

Have you ever watched a nature show and saw wolf cubs jumping at each other, nibbling on each other’s ears, or chasing each other? We humans call that playing. To the wolves, it is training for adult independence and survival.

I was a kid during the “kids can raise themselves” generation. Parents demanded you go outside and play and don’t come home until the streetlights come on. They may have bought you a ball, or a bike, beyond that, you were on your own for self-amusement. For hours on end we were out of touch with our parents and the world. If you got in trouble, you had to find a phone booth to call home, or in my case you knocked on a neighbor’s door. The only thing that dictated when you returned home was your stomach, or the coming of sunset.

Did parent’s worry about us? Or was it an out of sight, out of mind mentality? Or were they enjoying their alone and quiet time? All I know is that I had fun and my imagination grew. I tagged along with my older brothers most of the time to their annoyance and joined in wonderful adventures of homemade forts, rafts, endless games of “Combat”, sandlot baseball, catching pollywogs, frogs, etc. Then when I was a bit older, my friends and I formed roaming gangs spending time biking, swimming, chasing, and hiding. When alone I would crawl through field grass pressing it down to make pathways, then lay down and watch interesting bugs or clouds. Alone time: quiet time: thinking time.

At school, we played in the playground before classes started, after lunch, and when you had gym class. Teachers knew back then to let us run ourselves ragged, so we would not be antsy in the classroom. And the games we played were Keep-away, Tag, Dodge-ball, Hide and Go Seek, Redlight:Greenlight to name a few. These games now are banned on many playgrounds. We are told kids might get physically or emotionally hurt.

What happened between my childhood and our children’s childhood? I believe fear happened.

The media began blaring at us that our children will be kidnapped and tortured and we may never seen them again, and showed us those children who had vanished! “Have you seen this boy?” They told us they could be grabbed on the way to and from school. Or they could be grabbed from our backyards, or parks! DON’T LET THEM OUT OF YOUR SIGHT!!

Then they told us they could hurt themselves in playgrounds, and never recover, so don’t let them play those games or on that equipment!!! Or they may be picked last for a sandlot baseball team and be scarred for life, so we better have adults organize every sport they might want to play and make sure everyone gets to play and gets a trophy.

We worried they might not be smart enough as Susie down the road, so we better take away that free playtime and put them in pre-schools and make sure they can read before everyone else so we better pick out their books and make them read them over and over. And of course, now there is technology that is seductive and fun, so why go outside, or pick up that book, or toss a ball with a friend?

I could go on and on..I won’t. Let’s try and fix it. I say we can’t afford not to let our children play outdoor games. Why? Because like the wolf cub play, these games, and free roaming play, are important to your children’s survival. Turn off the TV, smartphone, computer, gaming system, and take your child outside for some Survival Training 101.

Let’s Begin:

Some of those games I mentioned earlier are generations old. Let’s take “Tag” for instance. How do you play Tag? Someone is IT and they have to chase after everyone trying to touch them, or TAG them so they will be the next IT. There are no teams. Just lots of running around. And the more the children play, the better they get at evasive maneuvers. Why is that important? Ask yourself this, will my child be able to out run a chasing predator (human or animal) that is hot on his or her heels? Can your child run very fast while rapidly changing directions AND contorting their body to avoid a reach or a stab? Will they know where to run to increase their chances of survival by using their surroundings?

To add more skills to the game, have them also play Freeze Tag. When the IT overtakes a player, they tag them and they have to “freeze in place”. Only another player can sneak up and un-freeze them by touching them. The game is over when IT becomes exhausted or everyone is frozen. Then a new IT is picked. The added skills are also for the child playing IT. In a regular game of Tag, this child will learn how to out maneuver someone trying to get away. That can be done by just being physically stronger or swifter, but it also includes a few mind games, like pretending to run in a different direction or acting tired. With Freeze Tag, IT needs to keep track of their frozen, chasing off those trying to help them, while trying to capture new ones. This is a skill that translates to defending someone who is helpless and can’t be moved.

Now lets look at Hide and Go Seek. With a great deal of practice, your child will learn the best ways to conceal her/his self in the event there is a home invasion, or he is in a threatening situation away from home. Parents shouldn’t pretend to not find the child. That won’t teach him anything. If you find your child easily, point out how you spotted him or how obvious a hiding place he/she picked. This will bring out the determination in them to try harder. Obviously you have to set some ground rules such as what unsafe places are off limits, and develop a code word to yell which means everyone come out of hiding now, but after that, let the learning begin.

Another game twist my Cub Scouts on camping trips loved was Flashlight Tag in an open field at night. It was a combination of Tag and Hide and Go Seek. Though I remember it mostly being all about giggling and surprise screams. (All right, I may have added to some of that by popping out of the dark,) It taught them how to use shadows and quietness to sneak up on someone, and to develop courage to turn out your flashlight and use your sense of hearing to detect someone nearby.

When your child gets older, the game gets a new name: Man Hunt.  This game uses the skills learned of how to hide and how to track in order to seek. Believe me, my sons were very good at this game. When I played along I always thought I did great, covering my tracks, staying quiet, until I was found in a short amount of time. I made sure I asked how they found me. This is important with every Hide and Go Seek game. My sons amazed me every time as they showed me the slightest clue they had picked up on, like something was moved, or I had matted down some weeds when I was crawling in and forget to try and reset them. I in turn would groan at how did I miss that?

Let us think about the other games in my list.

Red Light: Green Light” is all about quietly sneaking up on someone, and going completely still when they look your way. “Dodge-ball” is another great way to learn evasive maneuvers. And “Keep Away” will teach you to get back what is yours, or to keep what is yours away from someone else. Those are all survivor skills that need to be practiced.

The game “Capture the Flag” can teach them a great deal about working together. How is it played? Each team has a flag or item that the other team must capture away. It can be something that is carried, or hanging out of a pocket. Or it can be placed somewhere and defended. If it does get captured, the game is either over, or the game goes on for awhile as each side steals back their own item. You also designate a regeneration spot or “jail” on each side, which is equal distance from everyone’s starting points. When the game starts, not only must you get the flag, you can take out your opponents by “tagging” them. Depending on the rules set at the beginning, they either have to go back to the regeneration spot before they come back in the game, or they go to jail and have to wait till one of their teammates tags them back in.

A fun alternative to this we call “Capture the Crown/Treasure Chest.” The “knights/pirates” can make “castles/forts” out of found materials, or snow, where they can hide their “crown/loot”. See how this team game can be re-imagined over and over?

As you can guess, there is a great deal of skill and strategy that can be learned with “Capture the Flag”. Roles can be given to different teammates such as defenders of the flag or the jail or both. You have those who target the other teammates while another sneaks around back to try and get to the flag. I have always enjoyed watching this evolution within a team and join in the triumphant laughter when one or two of those sneaky ones announces they have the flag or crown. Once again, this is all about teaching survival skills in a fun way, it’s not just for kids!

Don’t forget winter! “Snowball Fort Battles” are fun and also great for learning team building. One can make a stash of snowballs once your snow fort is made, and all sorts of ways to sling them!

All these games mentioned are good for each child to learn. Don’t be worried if you think they sound aggressive. Competition and working hard to master a skill will build character and as I have said over and over, increase their survival skills. Your job is to teach them fair play, and to teach them to mentor their friends who have yet to master the skills. That will help them to build empathy, and caring, not to mention feeling good about themselves.

Children also need that alone exploration time to poke about and to daydream. Daydreams spark innovation. Only with quiet time will they weave creative stories in their heads, or create their own music!

The only thing holding them back from doing all of the above mentioned is your courage. As their parent you must have faith and step back. Slowly let out the rope of fear that binds them to you.

You don’t have to do it all at once. You can start by first teaching them the games and playing with them, or show them that favorite path in the woods or that wonderful meadow. Then you step back and observe. Now don’t interfere. Let them slip a bit, or argue with another child over rules. They need to learn to care for themselves and resolve conflicts. Slowly, as they show you they have learned how to care for themselves, you keep stepping back, further and further. When you do that, you will be helping them to become more independent, resilient and you will have more free time! We need to calm down and trust.

Let’s recap. How will the skills from these old fashion games teach your child in this day and age? Right off the bat, your child will be more physically fit. More importantly, they will calm your fears because now your child will have a much higher chance of surviving someone breaking into your home or their school, possible abduction, or let us hope it never happens, there is technology failure and chaos.  I’d say that is worth a few burned calories. But most of all…they will have fun!!

Atwood..who still likes to play!


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