All Fun and Games

The summery weather these past couple of weeks has propelled the kids into early summer mode. Meals, artwork, and even schoolwork have been relegated outside, and any indoor activity has become increasingly hard to begin – let alone complete,

But it is all good – the fresh air and sun, outdoor play and laughter, even the weeding and watering of plants. We only get to enjoy it all maybe six months of each year, and the kids are bent on milking every minute of it!

DSC_0984crop-3PR - CopyOther than swim lessons, most of their extracurricular activity at the moment is unplanned and unscheduled, just as it was for us growing up back home – except then, we were able to do it year-round. We rode our bikes, climbed trees, and explored, just as our kids do today. But back then, what occupied our time the most were traditional Filipino street games (more links below).

Oh, the fun we had on our streets!

With just ourselves (about 2 dozen neighborhood kids in all) and maybe some sticks and rocks if needed, we could spend hours upon hours playing games, chasing each other, challenging one other.

We played the usual street games including piko, sipa, siyato, agawang base, and the like, but also a couple of new ones created by one of my sisters, like “Alligator” – where kids lined up on the curb on each side of the street and attempted to cross to the other side without being caught by the Alligator (“It”) in the water (street). “Apocalypse Now” (!), was a similar game with kids attempting to cross from one side of a big circle to the other while avoiding “It” who stayed on a line drawn across the middle.

Rattan balls and washer with plastic straw, used in sipa. (Courtesy of
Rattan balls and washer with plastic straw, used in sipa. (Courtesy of

But our all-time favorite was patintero – a two-team game of strategy and agility, with at least 3 members on each team. Using street markings as lines to step on, the “It” team tried to prevent the other team from passing through to the end of the “It” team’s lines and back again.

With teams devising new ways of outsmarting the other in every game, patintero could last the whole day, sometimes even well into the night during the summer, broken only by quickly chowed down dinners.

Even the smallest among us could join in our games as saling pusa – literally, “cat who joins”. The term refers to a young child unable to play a game properly but included anyway, sort of as a tagalong – a frequent occurrence then as most kids were part of large families.

Patintero (Courtesy of
Patintero (Courtesy of

One time we even challenged some “squatters” who were walking by to play patintero with us. Of course they too, knew the street game well, and were happy to accept the challenge.

Looking back, I see now how those seemingly childish games we engaged in day in and day out taught us indispensable life lessons – lessons that probably wouldn’t have held our attention in a lecture, yet have helped shape who we are today.

Left to ourselves for hours on end, we learned to love being outdoors, being together with friends, the exhilaration of exerting ourselves in vigorous physical activity, and the thrill of winning or even just trying to win.

We learned how to play well and to be daring – especially in team games, where the fate of the entire team rested on each member’s quick thinking and agility.

We learned good sportsmanship – how to work as a team, to be fair (or else be booted out of games), and to include even those who were too little to be useful at games. There were still sore losers at times, but knowing games would be played again soon probably made it somewhat easier to accept this fate.

Agawang base (courtesy of
Agawang base (courtesy of

We learned how to manage ourselves – deciding on games together, forming teams and agreeing on rules, refereeing ourselves, resolving conflicts and setting aside differences (at least for the moment) so that games could resume.

We learned to be creative – thinking out of the box to create new strategies for winning, and some of us even inventing new games!

We learned, too – without knowing it – how to accentuate our commonalities, and see beyond our differences. From an early age, we learned in all simplicity and with naturalness, through hours of daily interaction, how to deal with others of varying ages, skills, and personalities, and how to deal with the opposite sex as well in a safe and healthy environment.

Playing a game with “squatters” that one time taught us a lesson as well – though coming from different socioeconomic statuses, we all knew how to play the very same street game and how to play it well.

All of this we learned without  adult intervention – which for me, was the most important lesson of all. We learned how to have fun by ourselves in healthy play without depending on grown-ups or fancy toys and electronics. All we needed were some friends, a few props from nature, and our own imagination and skills.

With complete confidence in us, our parents gave us the freedom to play “alone” – free of their watchful eyes and wise suggestions – and in return, we learned how to make good use of this freedom, by being responsible, independent, innovative, and respectful of our friends.

And though the world has changed much since then – even back home – it is still my hope to give our kids similar experiences in their childhood, by giving them some freedom as well in outdoor play to organize or make up their own games, resolve conflicts on their own,  and just enjoy being outdoors with siblings and friends, under Mom and Dad’s watchful eyes, yes, but without our help – except perhaps as extra teammates for games.

Sungka (courtesy of
Sungka (courtesy of

Someday, when our kids are older, I hope to teach them and their friends how to play patintero.  It is a game with much fun and life lessons to offer, but best played with enough older kids and adults. For now, we’ll have fun with the simpler Filipino street games, and  – on rainy days – perhaps a game or two of sungka.

Tara na! Maglaro tayo!  Come on! Let’s play! 😉


Some links:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s