the power of rule-making

Last year, on one particularly cold winter day, I got tired of telling the Bee to hurry up on the way to school, and I invented a game called “Who’s in Front?”. The game mostly consists of me growling, “I’m gonna get in front!” while the Bee giggles and runs ahead of me. When we turn the corner to the street her school is on, she likes to hide behind various trees. Under no circumstances am I to look for her. I am, however, allowed to say, “where’s the Bee? I’ve lost her. Oh no!” (This last is a rule of the Bee’s creation.)

Then she comes running up, giggling, and hides all over again.

It’s great fun for her, and it means I don’t have to spend a half an hour walking the four blocks to school in the freezing cold. We’ve played it on and off during the fall, but somehow, it’s less compelling on a warm day.

Yesterday, the Bee invented her own walk-to-school game–“don’t step on any leaves.” At first, she told me I was allowed to step on small leaves, because my feet are so much bigger than hers (jeez, thanks for pointing that out, btw). Today the rules changed, and I had to jump over the smallest leaf too. I made a point of asking for several clarifications–are acorns okay? what about sticks?–because I know that she likes to make up rules.

It got me thinking about all those games in childhood that we play, just to have the power of rule-making. Kids spend so much of their lives listening to the rules of their parents, the rules of school–is getting to make up the rules for a game with an adult that much more fun?

What games did you make up when you were a kid? How many elaborate rule variations were there? Did you just make up games with other kids, or did your parents let you make up rules for them, too?

November 18, 2005. thoughtful parenting.


  1. Christie replied:


    I did that don’t step on the crack game. I was a professional at it too, hehe.

    I could walk normally and never touch a crack. We rode our bikes and tried to not step on cracks either

  2. The Scarlett replied:

    There was a game we played in my brother’s room. His bed was a big ‘iceblock’ and we had to jump to other ‘iceblocks’ (dressers, desks, deskchairs, back to bed) without touching the floor which was posing as ‘frozen sea.’ In between, there was a lot of elaborate roll-playing … it was very Master and Commander. Of course, if our mother called up to us to us, “What are you doing?” we would respond, “Nothing.”

    Good times.

  3. Moonface replied:

    Hey I do the race you to (destination) game too when I am in a hurry. Works so much better than asking to hurry up, doesnt it?

    As for games from childhood, where do you want me to start? 🙂 Many of them were variations of “catch” with rules varying depending on who was playing, where we were playing, and who was making the rules. Ahhh… miss those days!

  4. Suzanne replied:

    I can’t recall making up rules on my own while playing childhood games, but I did like to take existing games and play them differently. For example, do you remember the game Stay Alive? It consisted of a grid on which you placed marbles, and you had to pull levers to sink your opponent’s marbles.

    Anyway, I used to take all the marbles, place them in the lid of the box, and play roller derby with them. I would decide ahead of time which color I wanted to be the winner, and then I’d force the other color marbles out of the box.

    Gee, do you think I had some issues with unexpressed aggression, perhaps?

  5. chip replied:

    and I thought my kids were the only ones who walked as slowly as they could on the way to school in the morning. It’s funny because I ended up coming up with something like that to hurry them along too, since direct complaining and urging them to move faster does not work.

    As for rules, my son and his friends used to play these very elaborate games where over an hour was spent devising the rules and then they played maybe for half an hour. I think the point of the game was really more about coming up with the complex, elaborate and intricate rules. Sort of explains why they loved Pokeman and now YuGiOh card and card games.

  6. landismom replied:

    Chip, yeah, I love living in walking distance to her school. It’s on the days that she wants to look at every nut, rock and stick on the ground that I wish she just got on a bus like other kids!

  7. Comfort Addict replied:

    My childhood is a very vague memory. I think that we played a lot of tag and hide and seek. I do remember making up strange rules for Monopoly and Risk with my friend across the street. However, I think that they revealed more about our socialization in what his older brother called the golden ghetto than the creativity that you describe.

    I love this post, though. I think that it’s very important for children to learn how to make rules; it lays the foundation for leadership later in life.

  8. safety patrol « Bumblebee Sweet Potato replied:

    […] Bee to school every day, when he was still in daycare. Reminds me how she would tell me things, and make up games, and generally just have private time with mom. I’ve struggled, with both my kids as […]

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