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RetroActive: Skip, Hop and You Don't Stop (Games We Played)

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


childhood games
Photo © Tom O'Leary

The Bottom Line

If you have fond memories of Kick the Can and Flashlight Tag, you'll love this new book by Tom O'Leary. It contains the rules for over a hundred classic childhood games, but it also will arouse recollections of a time when kids' play was largely unstructured, when they had to make up their own rules and solve their own disputes. Besides giving grandparents a blueprint for resurrecting these games with their own grandchildren, this book also may inspire us to step back and let the kids manage some of their game-playing on their own, the way we used to do.

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  • Fills a real need
  • Fun to read
  • Brings back memories for grandparents
  • Great ideas for fun with grandkids
  • Large font for easy reading


  • More information needed in some areas
  • Chapter divisions are arbitrary


  • High quality paperback
  • 172 pages
  • Published by BookSurge

Guide Review

The fun would begin on a Saturday morning or a weekday afternoon. Phone calls would result in small gatherings of kids playing games until those small groups coalesced into larger groups and the real fun began. Remembering his favorite childhood games, Tom O'Leary writes, ". . . play was our business. We took it seriously."

O'Leary is still taking it seriously. He walks us through the mechanics of choosing teams, thrashing out rules and selecting "it." Since the neighborhood was their playground, O'Leary and his friends were masters of improvisation. Household items became bases, boundary markers and goal posts. Because the neighborhood kids were the players, and they came in all ages and sizes, O'Leary and his friends were adept at utilizing modifications. Younger players got a head start or other advantage. In other words, kids had to be inventive, diplomatic and assertive before they could even begin to play a game.

Rules for playing over a hundred childhood games make up the bulk of O'Leary's book. The games are divided by their traditional venues. He begins with street games, but not before addressing safety concerns. Streets, he concedes, are more crowded than they used to be, but there are still many areas where games can be played safely in the street. He then describes punchball, cops and robbers, stickball, street hockey and other games traditionally played in the street.

Games traditionally played in courtyards include hopscotch, kickball, dodgeball, H-O-R-S-E and other games best played in a confined space. Red Rover, Capture the Flag and Steal the Bacon are included in traditional backyard games. Sidewalk games include marbles and Red Light, Green Light. For those inevitable rainy or snowy days, O'Leary includes games to be played on a porch or indoors, like musical chairs and Statues.

In most cases, O'Leary includes enough information to make the game feasible. Occasionally, as in his description of street hockey and soccer penalty shootout, the reader needs to be somewhat familiar with the game to understand the instructions.

O'Leary's use of chapters based on where the games are played is only partially successful. Hide and seek is an indoor game? We always played it outdoors. Marbles on the sidewalk? We always played in the dirt. Of course, a good index makes it possible to find games even if they are not located where you expected them to be.

Even though the games are not described and organized with precision, O'Leary deserves kudos for his efforts. After all, what he's really giving directions for is a return to an older style of play, where players learn to figure things out for themselves, along with making compromises, working as a team and adapting. And let's not forget what may be the most important skill of all: learning to laugh.

Tell about your favorite childhood games. You may also want to visit Tom O'Leary's website for more inspiration.

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