I drove past an elementary school the other day during morning recess and observed the children outside playing. They were mostly huddled in small groups like they were trying to keep warm.

I got thinking of my early years and the games we used to play in the snow during recess. “Fox and Geese” is one I remember. We would make a big circle, following each other through the snow. Inside of the circle we made six spokes, like a wheel, starting from the middle of the circle. We would make a smaller circle in the center to be the fox den. One person was chosen to be the fox and the rest of the players were the geese. The geese were around the rim of the circle or on the spokes. Someone would shout “Go” and the fox would take off, chasing the geese who had to stay on the spokes or the rim of the circle. When the fox tagged a goose, the goose became one with the fox and helped chase the geese. The more foxes chasing the geese the harder it was to not be caught. The winner of this game is the last goose not caught. That person then becomes the fox for the next game. A lot of running, screaming and laughing went on in this game. When the bell rang to end recess, we went inside, cold, wet, and ready to settle down to some serious learning once again.

Sometimes we would build snow forts, it would usually take us a full recess and noon hour to get one built. By the afternoon recess, we would be ready to have a snowball war. We would make snowballs as fast as we could and fire them off at the fort across from us. Again, a lot of shouting, laughing, and having fun. Those forts would still be there to use the next day, and sometimes they lasted as long as there was snow. When the bell rang we again would go back into the school room wet, cold and happy.

If the weather was extremely cold and we couldn’t go out, we would get our jacks out of our desks, go to a corner of our classroom, sit on the floor and play jacks. Both boys and girls played this game. It was a quieter game, but still competitive.

Another thing we enjoyed doing, but was dangerous, was “hooky bobbing.” We would go out to where cars were parked and if one started to leave, we would “hook” onto the back fender, holding on with our hands, and “foot ski” behind the car until we fell. If we got caught doing this it usually meant missing a recess or two. We all knew it was dangerous when we did it. If your parents found out you were doing it, the punishment could be worse than missing a recess or two. Yes, both girls and boys did this. Even though girls wore dresses to school then, we all had “snow pants” that we put on when we went outside, so we were able to participate in sports.

I don’t remember excluding anyone from our fun time at recess while in elementary school. I think the reason for that was everyone was needed. From snowball fights to playing Fox and Geese, the more participants on your team the better the chance of winning.

How times have changed!

Children seem to have a hard time “making up” games and entertainment. When they are outside, they are not moving around, which would keep them warm and happy. I’m not sure if any of those children I was watching that day had a cellphone, but the chance they did is probably 99 percent. We didn’t have TVs when I was in elementary school, let alone iPads or cellphones. Entertainment was up to us to make up and arrange. Yes, at school there were always teachers on duty outside with us who helped keep these types of games from becoming dangerous, but we all looked forward to recess and noon hour to be able to get out and have fun, not stand in a circle, shivering and talking on our cellphones.

I know we can’t go back to “the good old days,” and there are a lot of advantages to the technology that is available now. I do wish we could get our children outside to play more, but maybe we aren’t excited about doing things like that either. After all, we might be waiting for an important phone call or text! Are we setting the wrong example for our children?

Jean Schwieder is a writer who has spent her life involved in eastern Idaho agriculture. Her books, including past columns, are available by calling 208-522-8098 or by email at straddlin thefence@gmail.com.

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