If there was ever a time where playing in dirt was the norm, it was during elementary school recess. For kids, recess was a block of pure bliss where academic responsibilities were tucked into creaky desks and forgotten, and where jungle gyms and swing sets could become castles and rocket ships with the right amount of imagination. It was also the only time in history where choosing what game to play was the only serious decision one ever had to make. Luckily, there were plenty of options.
I don’t know why but when I was a kid, everyone else seemed to be a lot more violent. (I blame all the mothers that sent their kids to school in overalls against their will. Nothing brews embarrassment and anger like 90s clothing.) One game, called Wall Ball, acted as a nice little outlet for these emotions. It also occasionally turned recess into an amateur version of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Wall Ball involved a group of kids (prisoners) lined up shoulder-to-shoulder against a brick wall and a leader (prison guard) with a red rubber kickball. The point of the game for the leader was to channel his or her inner Hulk and launch the ball at the line of kids as hard as physically possible. The point of the game for the wall-huggers was to AVOID DEATH by dodging the incoming asteroid and letting it hit the wall behind them instead, hence the name of the game. The ultimate goal is to hit or try not to be hit. Put simply, Wall Ball is The Hunger Games of recess activities. Think about that.
Hide and Sneak Tag
Was regular hide and seek too boring? It sure seems that way. Hide and sneak tag threw two very distinct spins onto the regular version we all know and love by adding the fear of getting caught. In hide and seek for example, a child will hide in a cupboard and listen in glee as the hunter walks right past their hiding spot and enters the next room. In hide and sneak, instead of silently celebrating in the closet, the child must instead wait for the searcher to move out of sight just long enough for the child to switch location. And if the child gets caught mid-switch, that’s where the tag element comes in. This was always a great game for everyone except the searcher, who would constantly get stuck searching an entire house and finding no one because everyone had moved to spots he or she had already checked.
Tell me children aren’t part animal and I’ll show you Red Rover. When it comes to recess shenanigans, Red Rover is right up there with kickball. Red rover, red rover, send AMY right over. Talk about a battle call. Hearing your name inserted into this taunting tune often led to anxiety as you charged to the other side. Red rover, red rover, send… Another person waits for their death in that split-second moment of silence tense enough to be mistaken for a reality show finale. And the winner is… Hearing your name can be a double-edged sword. On the bright side, you were worthy enough to be called over by the other team. On the dark side, it means you will have to charge across the empty space like some ferocious wild creature into a solid wall of limbs in hopes of breaking through. How you look at it really comes down to whether you value popularity over physical well-being. Your choice.
Nothing was more fun in elementary school than running around the playground dressed as a ghost chasing that one kid who didn’t bring in cookies for his birthday. Kidding. That only happened once. No, Pac Man did not involve literal ghosts and chomping cheese rolls roaming around theblacktop. Instead, Pac Man was played on the painted lines of basketball courts and involved some kids deemed “ghosts” chasing those deemed “Pac Men” along these boundaries. Deviating from the cement balance beams was forbidden and resulted in immediate rejection from the game or transformation into a “wall” on the court used to block oncoming Pac Men from passing through. While there were no floating fruits to act as added motivation, Pac Man was still undoubtedly a childhood classic.
As much as I try to deny it, we’re not kids anymore. There is no such thing as recess, a 30-minute period where your only problem is choosing which ball game to play. Now, there are 15-minute lunch breaks and morning commutes filled with cranky city dwellers or worse, morning people. Now, recess has been replaced by recessions and responsibilities cannot be stuffed into desks. Now, the swing sets and jungle gyms are just swing sets and jungle gyms and the only thing left to do is sit back and remember the time when playing in dirt was not only accepted, but welcomed.