Back in the Day… We Spent Hours Playing Outside

Back in the day kids used to spend hours playing outside. On Saturdays we often spent the entire day outside, coming in during daylight hours only to eat or pee. Sometimes not even for that since we lived in the country and both of those basic bodily functions could easily be done outside.

During the third season of the original Twilight Zone an episode titled, “Kick the Can” aired in 1962. This episode featured a bunch of old people living in what they used to call, a home for the aged. The main character was convinced that the fountain of youth was found by playing outside. If he acted young, he believed he would forever stay young.

The episode ends with those who were brave enough, venturing out in the middle of the night to play childhood games, never to be found again. They eternally turned into laughing, running children. I have no doubt there’s some truth in that old episode about spirited, childhood play.

Back in the day we rode bikes, dangled from trees, and ran through mud puddles barefoot. We developed callouses as thick as a rubber sole on our feet that enabled us to dash through stubbly fields, jump on pointy rocks, and run across hot pavement without flinching.

Besides using nature as our gymnasium, there were games to play like four square, hopscotch, and old-fashioned tag. If you wanted to spice things up, you’d play freeze tag or statue tag. Red rover was absolutely my favorite. I didn’t get to play it very often because you needed a lot of people who were willing to run full speed into each other.

We rode mini bikes on gravel roads without helmets. We rode bicycles barefoot, and, of course, without helmets. During my childhood helmets were for people who flew fighter jets and jumped out of airplanes, not for kids playing.

Whatever and however we played, it was almost always outside. Remaining inside, behind closed doors, was just too confining. Today, child experts call what we did fifty years ago “unstructured play” or “free-ranging.” We just called it playing outside.

Kids today don’t know how to use their imaginations. They’ve become a bunch of rolly pollies, soft in both body and brain. They sit in front of video games or computer and phone screens letting the machine do their thinking for them. I read an article about a kid who was asked in an interview what his favorite things to do outside were. He replied that he didn’t play outside because it was too boring. There was nothing there but trees, fence, weeds, and a “dumb swing set” he was too old for. I’ve got news for you kid, you’re never too old for a swing set.

There are several things you can do with your trusty swing set:

A) Swing jumping was always popular. You got yourself swinging as high and fast as possible and then jumped out. Whoever jumped the farthest won.

B) Twisting was another great pastime. We used to twist two swings together, with kids in each of the seats, of course. With a good push we’d start untwisting, swirling wildly and often bumping into the bars on the sides of the swing set. Twisting also provided participants with a drug-free buzz.

C) If you got tired of flying through the air and performing circus stunts you could always climb to the very top of the swing set and see what the neighbors were doing.

As for what can be done in, on, and around the trees, fence, and weeds, don’t even get me started. When we got older we still spent a lot of time outside, the mode of transportation just changed. Instead of taking the trusty bicycle or mini-bike to our favorite location, we finally had access to a larger moving vehicle known as the car. Once we had the car we often went to the same type of outdoor location, only further from home.

We would park along secluded river roads, wooded areas, or expansive fields. When my class had our senior “skip day” we went to the state park in the neighboring county.

Some may argue that when you’re in a car you’re no longer technically outside. I beg to differ. When you’ve got all four windows down and you’re doing 70 on a dirt or gravel back road it’s like a hurricane is flowing through the car.

Whether it’s kick the can, swing jumping, or riding in the car with a hurricane in the backseat, children, and adults, would all be better off if they spent more time playing outside, just like we did, back in the day.


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