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Kick the Can Every Summer

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

Running games

Running games

Outdoor Game

Did you ever play Kick the Can as a child? It has many names including Kick the Block, Guard the Block, Can-Can, 40 40, Pom Pom, Tip the Can, Tin Can Copper, and Can Up Can Down. It is a fun outdoor children’s game somewhat related to tag, hide and seek, and capture the flag all rolled into one game. The number of players can be from three to a dozen or more. It is the game my siblings and I played all summer when I was growing up. All you need is a kickable object and a designated playing field. Apparently, the origin is unknown but goes back as far as the Great Depression at least.

Sometimes, real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles.

— Autism Spectrum Disorder, through my eyes.

As the sun goes down and shadows lengthen...

As the sun goes down and shadows lengthen...

The Playing Field

We marked out the patio as the place for the Can and the Jail. Around the house was a wide strip of lawn bordered by flower beds that we made our playing field. The kids would sneak up hiding behind trees and bushes and even behind flowers as they got closer to the patio where the light was they had to be stealthy. If I/It could run to the can and put one foot on it and call their name, they were caught. But if they could run up and kick it before I could put my foot on it, it was all over. I would have to go get the dinted can and replace it to start over catching people.

Neighbor boys come to play Kick the Can at dusk.

Neighbor boys come to play Kick the Can at dusk.


Every summer the burr-head boys from two houses away would walk to our house on the corner and get up a rousing game of Kick the Can. All you need is plenty of space to hide and an old coffee can sometimes with rocks in it for noise. For those who never were blessed enough to play the game, the rules were simple. One person was “It” and guarded the can while trying to “spy” the others’ hiding places. All you had to do to catch someone was call out that you see them with one foot on the can and they were caught. They had to wait in the “jail” until someone managed to sneak up and kick the can, freeing everyone to run and hide. Once the It person caught everyone, the first person caught was the next “It”. This game could go on for hours. Mom loved it because it got us out of the house during those long summer vacations from school.

When was the last time you saw neighbor children all playing together? Other than street hockey or basketball?

Me and my siblings after I got glasses.

Me and my siblings after I got glasses.

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.”

— Diane Ackerman

Entertainment of the 1960s

Mom didn’t appreciate us spending all day in front of the TV and would often order us out to get “fresh air” and exercise. This was one of the reasons she taught us the game of Kick the Can. Because it got so hot during the day, we loved playing at dusk when the evening was cooling down and we could play till bedtime.

My Astigmatism

Personally, I hated being “It.” Not because I was a poor sport but because I had the hardest time seeing my siblings and the neighbor boys. No one realized it until I was 13 but my vision was impaired and I couldn’t see clearly beyond 2 feet in front of me. I did manage to catch my siblings often by memorizing what colors they wore and by bending low to look for movement against the lights on the horizon. The hardest part was that we often played this game after dark and I almost always lost because someone could sneak up and kick the can before I saw them coming, freeing all the inmates in my “jail.”

The cat eye glasses are not too becoming!

The cat eye glasses are not too becoming!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

— George Bernard Shaw


At the age of 12, almost 13, my aunt discovered my vision problem and suggested my mom take me to an ophthalmologist. He said without glasses I was legally blind. I sure had no idea before that. When you can’t see things, you assume everyone has the same vision you do. The adults around me should have had a clue. For one, I squinted a lot. I found squinting put some things into better focus. For another thing, several teachers in different grades had noticed. I remember one, in particular, had placed the class in alphabetical order. As a Scott, I landed in the rear of the class. This same teacher had the habit of putting the homework assignment on the chalkboard (yes, that long ago when the boards were green and the chalk was white) each afternoon. For the longest time, she announced the homework assignment and I would immediately write it down. After several months, though, she assumed we were aware that she would put it on the board and it was our responsibility to read it and be aware. That next day she called for homework and I had none. She called me out in front of everyone asking for an explanation as to why I didn’t do my homework assignment. I said, “what homework assignment?” She said she had it written on the board. I told her there was nothing on the board. She frowned at me and said come here. So I got up and walked to the front of the room and like magic, the writing appeared on the board. “Oh,” I said dumbly. She must have been aware that I couldn’t see because she immediately changed my seating so I had a desk in the front of the room. Why didn’t she tell my mother about the problem?



Catching my siblings at Kick the Can was no longer a challenge, even after dark, once I got glasses. They were pretty disappointed that I could see so well and could find their hiding places from farther away. What is more, they had gotten used to just crouching down and holding still while I was looking in their direction. That’s how they had been able to sneak up on me so easily. They knew I couldn’t see them at a certain distance even if they were out in the open and not behind a tree or bush. What sneaky siblings.

Final Thoughts

Have you ever played Kick the Can? Did you know it by another name? What are some of your experiences with these stealthy hide-and-seek type games? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

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