10 Ways Kids Entertained Themselves 30 Years Ago


Kids these days have no clue how lucky they are… with so many toys, video games, TV shows they don’t even have to leave their rooms to have fun. When we were kids we had Saturday morning cartoons, not 24/7 networks devoted to them, so the rest of the week we had to come up with our own entertainment. We didn’t need Nintendo DSi to occupy our time… all we needed was our imaginations. We made up all kinds of games that were pretty fun and creative (although admittedly looking back some were a little dangerous). Here are 10 fun ways kids entertained themselves 30 years ago.


Kids didn’t need a baseball, gloves or any fancy equipment to enjoy their own version of America’s favorite pastime. Stickball usually involved a broom handle, a rubber spaldeen or tennis ball and make-shift bases like manhole covers.

Butts Up (aka Wall Ball)

It’s actually kind of obvious why no one really plays Butts Up anymore. Also called Fumble, Fireball, Wall Ball, or Red Bum, the game involves a tennis ball and a wall and a lot of aggression. If someone throws the ball and it hits the ground before it makes it to the wall or if someone fumbles the ball they get an out. Get four outs that spell “B-U-T-T” then you have to face the wall sticking your butt out until someone pegs you with the ball. Ouch.

Skully (aka Caps)

Skully, also known as skelly, skellzies, tops or caps, is a game that was especially popular in New York City from the 1950s through the 80s. A skully board, typically drawn on asphalt, consists of a large box with other boxes around the edges marked 1-12. In the center a 13 box is drawn with areas around it marked with skulls. Skully was played with bottle caps, but some kids weighed them down with clay or wax to get more distance. Starting off a player would flick their cap and try to land it in the box labeled 1. If successful they get to move on to 2, 3, 4 and so on. If a player misses their turn ends. However if a cap lands in a space around the 13th box they are trapped until another player hits their cap and frees them.

Mother May I

We can only imagine that Mother May I was invented as a conspiracy to teach kids manners. Children take turns asking the “mother” of the game if they can take so many steps forward, hoping to make it to the end of the race before the other children. The designated mother may say “Yes you may” or “No you may not but…” and make their own suggestions. Mother may suggest that you take giant steps, baby steps, frog leaps, crab walks or other moves… and of course you better do what mother says if you want to win.

Red Rover

It wasn’t uncommon during recess to hear “Red Rover, Red Rover send Jimmy right over” on the playground. Red Rover has a few less common nick names like Octopus Tag, Bullrush and Forcing the City Gates, depending on where you grew up. But the rules are the same… two teams line up holding hands and call a player from the other team over. That person then has to run through the line to try to break the chain. If they fail they join that team. If not, they can chose to bring a player back to their team. Sounds like good clean fun, but some schools have banned this activity due to “clotheslining” causing neck injuries.

Hot Hands (aka the Hand Slapping Game)

If you have an older sibling then you probably hate this game. One player puts their hands palm down hovering over another player’s hands so the hands are barely touching each other. The person whose hands are on the bottom has to try to slap the tops of the other players hands before they move them away. If the “slappee” can avoid being hit they switch places.

Four Square

Four Square was a great name because all you needed was chalk and at least 4 players. Four Squares were drawn on the ground and numbered and the object of the game is to move up to the highest ranking square. You move up by eliminating other players by getting them to hit the ball out of bounds on your serve. As each player is eliminated a new one can join the game at square 1.

Hot Lava (aka The Floor is Made of Lava)

Hot Lava is a game every kid seems to come to on their own as an excuse to jump all over their room. The idea is that the floor is made of lava so they have to run and jump from one piece of furniture to the next without touching the floor. It can also be played outside on a playground.

Red Light Green Light

Red Light Green Light is another “make it to the finish line” game that involves instruction. The person who is “it” yells out “Green Light” allowing players to move forward and “Red Light” forcing them to stop. Depending on who you play with you either have to skip a turn or start over if you’re caught moving during a “red light.”

Kick the Can

There’s probably dozens of variations or names, but kick the can is a classic kids game. A combination of tag, hide and go seek and capture the flag, kick the can has a player who is “it”, a jail and some kind of can or bucket. If a player is caught they have to go to “jail” but hope isn’t lost. If another player can make it to the can and knock it over everyone in jail is set free.

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  1. Yup,
    I recall doing all of those things except for Hot Lava and Four Square. Skully was short-lived on our block in Brooklyn, but we did play it for one summer.

  2. I grew up in Brooklyn as well. I’d buy wax bottles filled with juice from the ice cream truck when he came around (they had lips too) and would use the wax to fill the bottle caps afterward.

    We also played stoop ball. Throwing a ball at the stoop attempting to hit the corner of a step to send the ball flying into the street.

    Good times!


  3. Hot Lava, Four Square, Red Rover Stick Ball :). I remember playing all these games as a kid. It was always great fun, and i think still better than video games. We have broken many windows playing stick ball.

  4. All great games… I might add some others we played in the early 70’s:

    Freeze Tag – One person is “it” and runs around the yard tagging people who have to freeze in the position they are tagged in. They can be “unfrozen” by being touched by one of the “non-its”.

    TV Tag – another tag variant we played where you could avoid being “it” but dropping to the ground and blurting out a TV show name before being tagged. If you panicked or named a show already used, you became “it”.

    Capture the Flag – I grew up in a neighborhood where there we played games of CTF with 20 kids or so over two or three streets… each team creates a base in their territory where they put their flag (usually a shop rag or bandana). Some of the team protects the base and the other part searches for the enemy base. If you were tagged in enemy territory, you were kept in their base and had to be freed by a tag from a teammate. Games would last for hours.

    We also used to play much more dangerous games… with dirt clods and metal trashcan lids. It’s amazing that no one lost an eye or got sued.

  5. Yeah, the bottom line is that no one ever DID lose an eye or sue anybody. If you got hurt, you sucked it up and either never played again or you got back on the horse. Capture the Flag was the best of the best games, involving speed, strategy, and teamwork. As for stickball, that was mostly a New York game. We in the midwest used bats, of course. Kick the can was before my time, and I think another NY game. I grew up in the 60’s. Tetherball was always great, as was hopscotch, but that was mostl a girlie game. 4 Square was awesome, as was Red Rover, but only with guys. I was fast, so I always broke thru. We would never even DREAM of clotheslining somebody in the neck, though. That would’ve ended the game with dirty looks from all the kids at whoever perpetrated it.

  6. Oh, and my dad bought some awesome bean-shooter hard plastic straws and a bag of bean for the kids one time. Lasted for all of 15 minutes before I shot my dad in the ass (it HURT), then heard mom screaming at him that he was NUTS for giving them to the kids. All the bean shooters were taken from dad within 15 minutes. Best 15 minutes of my childhood. 😀

  7. Weird, I’m only 15, and I spent my childhood playing those games (Except for Skully). So much more fun that video games or T.V.! Makes me think of when I was small. It’s a shame they don’t play anymore. :/

  8. Growing up as a kid in El Paso during the late 60s and througout the 70s, we played a lot of the above mentioned games.

    Foursquare and Wallball were two of my favorites.

    It’s unforunate that today’s kids spend more time indoors playing video games or watching TV than they do playing outside, using their imagination, and playing with other kids. So many valuable life lessons (on how to behave as an adult) were learned on the playground. Kids today are truly missing out.

  9. Kids played (most of) these games a lot less than thirty years ago. I’m 23 and played most of them, and I still see kids now playing a lot of them.

  10. i’m tired of this old generation looking down on the new generation…when you guys were kids i’m sure you were still lucky enough to be able to do some of these things YOUR parents couldn’t do, and so on and so forth. it’s pointless and so played out at this point to bring up the whole “back in my day…” retort. not to mention, im 19 and played the majority of these games when i was younger. hell we played hot hands in the football locker room after practice, and kids my age still put together games of capture the flag.

  11. Oh man does this list bring back great memories! Growing up in queens in the 80s/90s we played almost all these games, and we lived on a dead end block so no cars hardly passed through so it was perfect!!
    Kick the can was amongst the MOST popular, butts up (or as we called it ‘suicide’), stickball, handball, catch-one-catch-all, manhunt, skully once in a while, etc were just what the kids did for fun almost EVERY day. We took milk crates and cut out the bottom and nailed them up on a fence and played basketball with that.

    And ALL the kids on the block played and it united us into this big happy family. We had alot of the older guys (5-10 years older than me) always looking out for us and they taught us and passed on all the games. And as a matter of fact even tho we’re all moved out we still keep in touch, have BBQs at each others houses in the summers, plan trips with each other, etc.
    I look on my old block now and nobody plays outside as much, NONE of the old games we used to play, none of that sense of fun simple community worth. No-one born after 1990 would even know what kick the can is. I blame video games and computers for ruining this, we had to be creative yet simple to come up with these games we played in our days. Nowadays they buy a $300 video game system and wiggle their fingers on a controller.

    All i gotta say is I’m so glad to have grown up in an era when all these street games were around.

  12. I’m 14 and I played most of these games when I was younger, since there wasn’t much of a choice. It’s such a shame children in developed countries are opting for less and less traditional ways of entertainment. Going outside and running around sure as hell beats any online experience. Not to mention it’s much healthier than the way kids entertain themselves now.

  13. I remember playing a lot of these, and I’m only 21. Red Rover and Red Light, Green Light were my favorites as a kid. (:

  14. @ YOUNG: Though kids still play some of these games now, it is usually limited to school recesses. Though the whole “back in day” comments are arbitrary to you, they really are not. When we were younger, we got kicked out of the house as much as possible. We were not allowed to hang out and watch TV (or like now, play video games/be on the computer) for hours at a time. We were allowed maybe an after school special show or Saturday morning cartoons. Most of our day light hours were spent outside. During the summer we played till way past dark (kick the can rocks at night). We didn’t have expensive toys or nerf guns etc, whatever manufactured toy are available now. What we had was whatever we could find. We spent hours with our friends, walking, playing, riding our bikes, climbing trees, making forts, getting home dirty and absolutely happy. You have to agree most kids when given the chance would rather sit in the house fixed onto whatever electronic device they have. It is understood times are a bit different. Both parents (if there are two) are at work, its not as safe etc. We from an older generation note this with sadness because most kids will not be able to have what we did. It was priceless.


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