Pictured: A telegraph out of cans and string makes a fun old fashioned and cheap toy.

I remember those long summer days growing up in Orangefield when it was so hot outside. Running into the house to cool off after playing hard outside was like going from a sauna into a freezer. It felt incredible when that cold air hit me in the face. These days most kids spend a lot of time playing video games and watching cartoons inside instead of getting sunshine and fresh air. Maybe if they knew more about some of the stuff kids used to do, they would play outside more.

My Mom knew the trick to getting kids outside and keeping them occupied was planning ahead. She always saved stuff like jelly jars for catching creatures, popsicle sticks for building birdhouses and making your own popsicles, paper bags for making masks and dixie cups and strings for telegraphs.

She kept all this stuff and much more in a huge plastic container we called the “craft box”.  All of these items came in handy for times when I would say, “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!”

Sometimes the smallest, most simple game or item could keep my siblings and me occupied for hours. When we were quite young, we played a game called Shadow Tag, where we would try to step on each other’s shadow. There was also the Feather Game, where we would all sit in a circle and release a small chicken feather into the air. The object was to keep the feather in the air by blowing up on it.

With very little guidance, my brothers and I were pretty adept at coming up with stuff to do. I know kids today are still very creative, if you can pry them away from the TV.  No summer ever passed without  a few days spent setting up and minding a good old fashioned lemonade stand. This took a little help from Mom or Dad, but really kept us occupied a good portion of the day.

Sometimes we would freeze a long sheet of ice two inches thick, overnight in a big baking pan. The next day, we would put a small towel over the ice and go ice sledding across the grass. It was fantastic.

Baseball and leapfrog were great fun in the sun, too. After this game, we usually ended up lying back in the grass looking for pictures in the clouds.

We rambled in the woods a lot, hiking along trails, picking berries and climbing young, skinny trees to ride to the ground. I liked collecting rocks and leaves and things I would bring home to make a nature collage with. Or I would get an empty pickle jar and make a terrarium. Sometimes I made nature inspired totem poles out of paper towel rolls or bird feeders by rolling pine cones in peanut butter then birdseed and hanging them from the trees.

We loved to make our own toys, too. My brother made some stilts and would walk around on them, towering over everyone. He made me some short ones out of big cans nailed onto the bottom of some short sticks.

Camping out in the back yard with a small tent or a playhouse made from big boxes was a favorite pass time. A simple outdoor picnic in the back yard with my favorite dolls, inside my newest outdoor cave was quite satisfactory. Making a sidewalk chalk mural or playing some old fashioned hopscotch was a favorite activity when friends were over. Also, a couple of hoolahoops would keep us busy for awhile.

Potato spoon races, where each runner balances a potato on the bowl of a long iced-tea spoon, then runs to a line and back without dropping it, were common events at my house, along with pillow fights, rubber band wars and water balloon fights. We also liked to chase each other with the broom in a game we called “Boshum in the booty”. We were a little bit wild, I think.

In the evenings, if my brothers and I could find some, it was always fun to catch a few fireflies in a jar and watch them light up. Or catch as many big frogs as we could put in a shoebox and then watch them all jump out under the street light.

Remember the game ‘Statues’ where one child grasps the hands of another and gently swings him around before depositing him ‘gently’ on the grass? We would see which one of us could freeze in the most ridiculous posture as we fell—with limbs askew, heads cocked and tongues hanging out. After all the players became “statues,” the swinger would decide who the most twisted winner was, and they got to be the next swinger. These old games are still great for kids looking for “new” stuff to do on those long, summer days.