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The Pocket Guide to Games

“Go outside and PLAY!”, my mother said this to me almost every day growing up. I said I didn’t know what to do and she said she didn’t care. As long as I was playing – outside. Now I get it; she needed 5 minutes alone. I needed to be outside, to be a kid, to do what kids do outside. Sometimes that was wondering what to do, because even the more inventive kids got stumped once in a while. Here’s where “The Pocket Guide to Games” by Bart King would have come in super handy.


The author’s introduction is a story of his own experience inventing variations of games in his “gaming laboratory”. It also is a wonderful look into the history of an inspiring woman. That woman, Jessie Hubbel Bancroft, in 1909 wrote a book called, “Games for the Playground, Home, School and Gym”. A feat for a woman in that time, it is also noteworthy that this woman, who was a “sickly” child, became a strong advocate for physical activity for boys AND girls. Another accomplishment for her time, when it was considered unladylike for females to be physically active. I could go on, but please, just read the introduction because it is so interesting. Some of the games included in this guide come from Ms. Bancroft’s book as well as other sources.

Broken into four chapters, the book covers Active Games, Quiet Games, Contests, Feats and Tussles and Beanbag and Ball Games. I wondered if there were no children involved in the “quiet game” chapter-because where there are children, there generally isn’t quiet. But the introduction to the chapter states that the games are not silent, just void of vigorous activity and require little space to be played. Also, reading the glossary, I found a further break down of the games by age, number of players and type. Really a good addition to the basic alphabetical listing. Yes, you may make fun of me for actually reading the glossary.

Diving into some of the games I found the game of “Rounders”. This game has been around for hundreds of years and helped to shape the games of cricket and baseball. Very confusing to me, but I also noticed that there was a detailed Q&A for quirkier situations should the need arise. Included in the description and rules of some of the games is a diagram for set up and placement of bases, people and spacing. Great help for those of us who don’t do well with just written directions. I know I became confused with some of the rules for various games, but like most games, it’s much easier to understand when you actually play.


Another game that I thought was brilliant was “Human Arcade”. Basically take the shooting gallery from any carnival where the targets pop up and zip back and forth and bring it home. The book recommends using a wide doorway with plenty of room on either side and maybe piling pillows around the doorway to pad it. I suppose Mom wouldn’t approve of scuffs and dings in the wall; oh we’re using balls in this at home version, just to be clear! The chosen “target” can dive, run, crawl or choose any other form of motion to get across the doorway opening with out getting hit. The replacement can be chosen in any number of ways: person who hit the target first, let the target choose , person who hits the most, etc. As I read the description of this game I thought, “Man! Why didn’t I think of this growing up?” What a blast it sounds like. Though the mom in me cringes just a little, I ignore her because I had a brother and wow, beaning him with balls would have been GREAT!

Along with some games I’ve never heard of (like “Smuggling the Geg” where players are split into two teams, Custom Agents and Smugglers. All the “smugglers” hide and one holds the “geg” or treasure and the Custom Agents have to capture the correct smuggler who has the geg.), there are many versions of classics like tag and hide and seek. This was something I really thought was smart, because sometimes plain old tag got boring. Cartoon tag or flashlight tag (which we called “Ghost in the Graveyard) was much more interesting. Also, a warning of PR, for “potentially rough” next to the game title can alert the players to the possibility of injury. This is a great idea to reduce tears from a fun game gone aggressive. I’m sure there will be some rough and tumble kids out there who actually go through the book looking for the bright red stamp of (potential) Mom dis-approval. That isn’t why I thought it was a great idea, but whatever reason you prefer is up to you.


A great resource for gym teachers, camp counselors, daycare workers and frazzled parents everywhere; this guide invites kids to put down the remote or joystick (did I just date myself?) and for parents to kick the kids outside! Build stamina, learn sportsmanship, coordination, and teamwork skills. Oh yeah, and all that fresh air just might make the kids sleep great tonight! This pocket guide is a serious value at about $10 and includes around 90 games. So go out and get this guide-then; go outside and PLAY!

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