Red rover. Spud. Steal the bacon. Red light, green light, 1, 2, 3. Ring-a-levio.
These are the childhood games of past generations, when the art of play included more impromptu, neighborhood outdoor fun. Kids managed the games themselves when they went outside. “There really wasn’t a coach or a ref in any way. Without supervision or regulation, we could do the game and have a lot of fun,” says Don Sinkfield, 49, who grew up in Queens and now owns a private therapy practice in Valley Stream.
David Hendler, 51, sports director of Twin Oaks Day Camp in Freeport, says he remembers playing ring-a-levio over an entire block while growing up in Oceanside. Now parents are more aware of the possible dangers and don’t want kids wandering, he says. And outdoor games have to compete with the allure of online play. Still, the games are a lot of fun, Hendler says, and he incorporates some of them into the recreation curriculum at Twin Oaks.
Here’s how to play five nostalgic favorites.
Steal the bacon
“I want that bacon! I didn’t have lunch yet!” yells Ed Schaefer, 7, of Merrick when campers at Twin Oaks were divided into two teams to play. Each player is assigned a number, with a person on the opposite team sharing the same number. Teams line up facing each other, with the “bacon” — any object that players can easily grab — in the middle. A referee calls out a number, and those two players rush to the middle and try to earn a point by being the first to grab the object and return to their side without being tagged by the other team’s players. “I’m feeling I’m about to sweat for my first time,” says camper Rileigh Beckett, 8, of Uniondale. “I’m only hot, but I never sweat. We’re moving a lot, like running.”
Pictured: Sidnee Beller, 7, and Zachary Rios, 8, during a game of steal the bacon at Twin Oaks Day Camp in Freeport, July 17, 2018.
There are many variations of this game, but this is the basic idea. Players split into two teams. Each team has a designated area that is their jail. “This is like tag,” Hendler says. Each group tries to tag someone from the other team. When they succeed, that person goes to jail. The only way to get out of the jail is for another teammate to reach the jail and yell an agreed-upon phrase such as “Ring-a-levio 1, 2, 3.” The team that captures everyone else first wins. Ring-a-levio was a popular New York City neighborhood street game.
"The old-fashioned games are great," says Scott Reh, athletic director and director of physical education and health for the Mount Sinai School District. "Anyone of any size or shape can do it. It doesn't matter if you're the biggest or fastest or strongest."
Pictured: Aiden Walters-Kelly, 8, left, tries to get away from Vincent Savalli, 7, during a game of ring-a-levio at Twin Oaks Day Camp in Freeport, July 17, 2018.
Red light, green light 1,2,3
One player is the “traffic cop” and faces away from the starting line; the other players line up at the start. The traffic cop chants, “Red light, green light 1,2,3,” and everyone runs toward him. Then the traffic cop swings around and the runners have to freeze. If the traffic cop catches someone still moving, that person has to go back to the starting line. The game ends when the first person reaches the traffic cop. Then that person takes on the traffic cop role. “We’ll do red light, green light all the time,” says Janet Pollitt of Massapequa, who plays in the backyard with her children Kendall, 7, and Chase, 9, and even their grandparents. Pollitt says she likes that they experience a little bit of the childhood she lived. “All the good, old-fashioned fun,” she says.
This game requires a soft, dodgeball-type ball. Each player has a number between one and the total number of players in the game. One person is “it.” All players stand in a group, and the person who is "it" yells, “I declare war on the number ...” and throws the ball in the air and calls out a number. If the person whose number is called catches the ball, he throws it in the air again, yelling out a different number. If the person whose number is called doesn’t catch the ball, everyone runs until that person gains control of the ball and yells, "Spud!" Everyone freezes, and the person with the ball then tries to throw it and hit another player. If that player is hit, he or she gains a letter, beginning with S, and becomes "it." The first person who reaches SPUD loses. “I like Spud because I like catching balls,” says Noora Ibrahim, 7, of Merrick, who played for the first time recently at Twin Oaks. "I'm also good at freezing."
Teams line up across from each other and hold hands. Then, one team selects a player from the opposing team and chants “Red rover, red rover, let [chosen player’s name] come over.” That player has to run and break through the linked hands. If they fail, they join the opposing team. If they succeed, they return to the home team. The first team to collect all the players declares victory. “You’re not caught up with winning and losing, where there’s a scoreboard staring you in the face,” Paul Walia, 48, of Lake Grove, a former school psychologist in Nassau County, says of games such as red rover. “There’s less pressure and anxiety for children.”