When Duck Duck Goose Is More Than A Game. My Recess Observations.

I can see the finish line. It is almost here. The last day of school – which means.. in our house we are midway through the last week of school…which means early June is the new late December.  I’m exhausted. If you have school aged kids, I know you feel me. If you have a baby or a soon to be baby, tuck this pearl of wisdom away for a later date – getting much done during the last week of school is quite the challenge. I’ll sum it up for you this way…Field Day x2, Multicultural Day (including my 84 year old awesome grandmother), teacher treats and cards, packing extra snacks, and towels, and sunscreen for outdoor fun, and managing lots of pieces of paper because one of our family’s feet are still in “school mode” and one in “summer mode.”  The straddle between the two seasons results in schedule adjustments for school, church, childcare, sports etc. Nap anyone?

With the end of the year festivities, I have spent quiet a few hours in the trenches with Kindergarten – 4th grade children this week (BLESS YOU dear teachers!). Volunteering at 2 recess periods and 2 field days has given me a unique look into what the average child’s play looks like after they leave my familiar world of infancy and toddlerhood.

My heart has been a bit broken by what I’ve observed. I have to say, it is one thing to talk to anyone who will listen until we are blue in the face about how play is changing and how the changes are affecting kids. It’s another thing to observe it.  Let me first be clear in saying I’m not talking about ALL kids, but about a startling trend I noticed. Ready for it? Kids don’t know how to play! Seems impossible, right? I mean, PLAY and CHILDREN go together like peanut butter and jelly. But I saw it with my own eyes.

Example #1: Kindergarten recess. Once every 30 seconds an adorable cutie patootie would walk, dragging their feet behind them towards me complaining of various ailments.

My back hurts.

My stomach hurts.

My finger hurts.

My nose hurts.

I hit my head.

He pushed me and I’m bleeding (no blood noticed).

I hit my chin. On the water fountain. Yesterday.

Recess is about 25 minutes. I bet I heard a similar complaint from at least 40 kids (some kids 2-3 times). All wanted to go to the nurse. So I went with one of them to observe because surely she must be handing out full candy bars. But no! She was not. Just a bandaid (if needed – which was only 1 kid) and occasionally some ice. I’d take them back to the playground and resume my people watching (or in this case kid watching) post, and would notice. They did nothing when they returned. No engaging with friends. No running. No hide and seek. No tag. No “playing house.” I wanted to scream, “Here Ye, Little people, 40% of our schools don’t give kids this beautiful opportunity you have in front of you. 25 minutes! With sunshine! And friends! And a fabulous playground! And balls! And jump ropes! And green grass! And YOUR CHOICE to do WHATEVER YOU WANT! GO PLAY!”

Next example Field Day. 2 different schools. Similar concept. Classes rotate between stations of games and activities. For Field Day #1,  I was leading a super fun game called “Drip, Drip, Splash,” a gloriously fun version of Duck, Duck, Goose, where the “it” person drips a full sponge on their classmates heads until they choose someone to drench with the water.  All was good until some one was drenched and then they didn’t know what to do. “Run!” we 30-40 year old adults yelled. “Where?” They questioned. Really? I’d say ~40% did not know how to play Duck, Duck, Goose.

Field Day #2. Similar situation with the game being a relay race. Otherwise known as “huh?” to 2nd and 3rd graders. We literally had to walk through the steps of tagging the next person in line and explaining that one line was racing another. At one point I looked at a teacher with exasperation and said, “they don’t know relay races.” She responded, “they don’t know how to play WITH EACH OTHER. They know how to play video games. And so when we put them on the playground, they often try to act out their video games, which often results in them getting in trouble for being violent. Or just standing around unsure of what to do.”

Free Play is a child’s opportunity to make their own decisions, create the rules, set the limits, and express themselves. It provides practice for personal communication, negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution. It is the only opportunity that many of our overly scheduled children have to release pent up emotions and to regulate their sensory systems. It keeps their bodies fit and builds bone density. It is the best teacher of incidental learning. Simply put – it really is the JOB of children. Yes, PLAYING prepares little people to one day become big people.

Some of our little people aren’t prepared to do their job. The consequences are far greater than not knowing a familiar game or activity.   They can be life changing.

Want to do something wonderful as a parent with your child this summer? Teach them to play. Model games. Encourage choices. Go outside..with them..but encourage them in leading and decision making. You don’t have to spend all day outside being some sort of magical camp counselor. But choose a few of your favorite childhood games and activities and share with them..because you are sharing more than that game..you are sharing the ability to learn and develop in the most appropriate way possible.

We’ll get you started! My daughter’s gym teacher did such a wonderful job with fun outdoor games – many of them water related – that I took the list home with me to save for the “I’m bored” complaints I know I’ll soon hear (Thank you Mrs. Beard). I may even take the list to the beach with us.  Regardless of your child’s age, you can adapt these to include hours of fun and learning! Enjoy! Now “GO PLAY!”

Ice Cube Melt: Done as a relay race. Children are divided into two teams. First person grabs and ice cube from a bucket and rubs it between his/her hands until it melts or they can’t stand it any more and they choose to pass to the next friend in line. If the ice cube is dropped – the team starts over. First team to go through all members wins!

Over, Under, Over, Under: Another relay race with two teams. First person in each line grabs a wet sponge from the bucket and children alternate passing the sponge over their head and under their legs to the person behind them until it gets to the end of the line. Last person in line then heads to the front and starts again. First team to have each child finish a turn wins!


dor sponge
over under

Beach Ball Drop: Relay again! This time children place a small beach ball between their knees and waddle across the yard to drop it in a box. They then pick it up and run back to hand to the next friend in line. First team done wins!


Noodle War: Think fencing with a big pool noodle. Children can only tap feet and legs and the first person to hit the other person’s foot is the winner!

bella noodle

Land or Sea: A relay race where a child must pick a water balloon from a bucket and run across the yard and sit on it in a chair until it pops! They then run back to the line to tag the next child. The first team to finish wins!

Catch the Fish: One child turns around backwards and throws water balloon “fish” over their head while their partner catches them in a small fishing net. Could be done as a relay or as a contest to count which partner team catches the most fish!

SOS Relay: Relay race where students take turns running with a cup to a bucket across the yard and filling the cup with water. The child then holds the cup (which can have small holes in it!) over their head and runs back to the starting point to dump the water into the bucket.  Each child has a turn until one team fills up their bucket and is declared the winner!

Bait the Fish: Relay Race where children scoop a golf ball from a pool and balance it on a spoon while walking/running to a turn around point and dropping it back into the pool when returning. First team to have everyone complete a turn wins! If the “fish” drops, the player must start over.


Drip, Drip, Splash: See explanation above. Just like Duck Duck Goose but with a dripping sponge over each head until the person chosen to be “it” is drenched!



Ahoy Matey: Can be done as a relay or with partners. One person sits in a chair with a 2 Liter bottle on their head. The other runs with a soaked sponge and wrings it out over the bottle (getting some water into the bottle and alot of water on their partner’s head!). Players then switch positions. Game will continue until one bottle is filled!

Beach Ball Carry – Children partner and play a relay race “carrying” a ball across the yard and back using anything BUT their hands.

beach ball


What was your favorite childhood game? What did you learn from playing it?

Believe play is THE best way to learn from the very start? Get your copy of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me today!


2 replies
  1. Margaret@YTherapySource
    Margaret@YTherapySource says:

    I, too, have witnessed the same complaints and lack of play in children. It is lack of experience but also lack of competitive play. They are being raised in a society of everyone has to win. So relay races means someone will lose so many schools just avoid that situation. So ridiculous because that is not reality. Life can be rough and kids need to learn early that you don’t win at everything and that it is okay.
    I loved running bases as a child (and yes we were allowed to peg people with the ball). Also, loved any chasing game in the dark on summer nights.
    Fortunately, my children do get to experience this but mostly because we have a big family (so always kids to play outdoors with), we go camping a lot (lots of kids there) and when friends come over I send them all outdoors.
    Here are few games that my children love:
    Outdoor Survivor: http://growingplay.blogspot.com/2012/04/game-of-outdoor-survival.html
    Running Bases: http://growingplay.blogspot.com/2012/07/running-bases-game.html
    Geocaching: http://www.growingplay.blogspot.com/2012/03/i-love-geocaching.html
    Outdoor Imagination Games: http://www.growingplay.blogspot.com/2012/03/outdoor-imagination-games.html

  2. christine
    christine says:

    So encouraging. Thank you. And so true. Children do not know how to play with one another. I am a granny of 58 and a teacher . We need to teach our parents how to pay with their children. Keep up the good work. Shalom.


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