Lawn games put a fresh spin on summer

Posted May 31, 2012, at 3:58 p.m.

Could kick the can kick the bucket? Paul Tukey is certainly worried.

Tukey, who lives in North Kingstown, R.I., has wondered if old-fashioned lawn games could fall casualty to this uber-computerized age — biting the dust like payphones, film cameras and, for the younger set, emails (they text instead). That’s why he wrote, with actress Victoria Rowell, “Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games” (Storey, $14.95), to get kids of all ages to put down the handhelds and go outside to have fun, the low-tech way.

“We didn’t want to relegate lawn games to memory,” said Tukey, author of “The Organic Lawn Care Manual” and national spokesman for SafeLawns.org, which promotes environmentally safe yard care and gardening. “Let kids play on the lawn instead of just looking at the lawn.”

With school ending and summer vacations beginning, is there a more enticing offer than playing on the lawn? “Tag, Toss & Run” offers a variety of options. There are how-to’s for such well-known games as kick the can, flag football and badminton, and games that may be less familiar, such as crab soccer and molkky, a Finnish game where players try to knock down pins.

City folks aren’t ignored either. The book features five games for the pavement, including hopscotch, tic-tac-toss and stoopball.

Tukey said the book aims to get families outside. Playing indoors — some parents have asked him for a book of such games — won’t do.

“I find that such a tragedy. Indoors is just not the same,” he said. Outdoor games offer many teachable moments, including an appreciation of nature, he added.

Of course, yard games aren’t just for kids. Grown-ups — young singles, active retirees, anyone — can use play to break the social ice or give guests something to do besides nibble and sip.

Tukey has been busy teaching and playing lawn games across the country with people of all generations. Of all the games one can play, he said follow the leader is perhaps the most universally doable. Anyone can play it anywhere and no special equipment is needed. There doesn’t even have to be a winner unless you choose to play a variation of the game, some of which are described in the book.

“And they’re getting exercise without even realizing it,” Tukey said. That’s important to him. “Kids don’t want to work out, they don’t want to exercise. Let’s go play outside and they forget they’re exercising.”

How to be a sport

Sportsmanship counts, whether one is captaining a yacht, playing half back on the high school soccer team or playing capture the flag in the backyard.

“At the bottom of it, it’s all about relationships,” said Peter Post, a director of The Emily Post Institute, a family business promoting etiquette based in Burlington, Vt. “Sportsmanship builds relationships with your competitors, sportsmanship is one way to interact with people and have a good time. If you are a poor sport, you may not get invited back.”

Post includes a chapter on sportsmanship in the new edition of his book, “Essential Manners for Men: What to Do, When to Do It, and Why.” He said there’s nothing wrong with competition and wanting to win but that doesn’t mean putting down the other players or being rude. It’s like the difference between cheering or jeering in the stands, he said.

Ironically, all that technology we rely on so much in our lives may intrude even on the lawn. Post said the “electronic wall” that can envelope one when using various social media applications can lead us to say and do things we wouldn’t do in person. That could possibly lead to a “slip” out in the yard.

“Emulate the behavior you would expect from others,” Post said. “If someone else is putting down a player doesn’t mean you need to. Maybe you will be able to compliment the player.”

Post said a poor sport on a field of well-mannered players should feel foolish and correct the behavior. If not, the host may need to step in for a private word, he said.

“You can win in a way that you appreciate your opponent or you can win in a way that you put them down,” Post added. “There’s a line that gets crossed and you don’t want to play anymore.”

Follow the leader

From “Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games” by Paul Tukey and Victoria Rowell

Premise: “Players follow the actions of the designated leader, no matter how silly.”

Playing area: “Flat surface free of tripping hazards … because players will have their eyes focused on the leader rather than the ground.”

Equipment: Active imagination

Ages: 4 and up

Players: 3 or more

Why play? The game “teaches attention skills and expands horizons for children and creates social breakthroughs and bonds for adults; mostly, however, it just seems to make people laugh,” Tukey and Rowell write.

What to do: “It’s all up to the leader. If he or she flails hands wildly, then everyone else in line follows suit. If the leader squeals like a pig, the rest of the group is obliged to do likewise. … The possibilities are endless.”

Other game resources

Here are some websites with ideas for outdoor play:

Tossinggames.com bills itself as the world’s largest tossing games forum — think horseshoes, beanbag and more.

“10 Fun, Wild DIY Backyard Games” from Popular Mechanics has rules for “kan jam,” “straightjacket softball,” and “crazy croquet.” Popularmechanics.com (type “backyard games” in the search field).

“Play! Seven Backyard Games and Activities” from the Kaboose website. Suggestions range from scavenger hunts to how many bugs can you spot (don’t pick them up!) to hosting a mini-Olympics. Health.kaboose.com (type “backyard games” in the search field).

“Adult Yard Games & Activities” from Livestrong.com offers brief introductions to croquet, horseshoes, lawn darts and more. Livestrong.com (type “adult yard games” in the search field).

©2012 the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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