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Three Outdoor Pilgrim Games

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Experience American History

Play these Pilgrim games with your kids before or after the Thanksgiving meal! Early Pilgrim records tell us that on the first Thanksgiving, around 90 Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribe joined around 50 Pilgrims for three days of celebration, which included outdoor games.

Around your house, you may find yourself running around outdoors on Thanksgiving too—maybe because you’re making room for turkey and gravy, or maybe because you ate a big plate of it and you’re stuffed!

Your family may already have special traditions such as football or pick-up basketball, but if you’re interested in adding a historic theme, we’ve got three traditional Pilgrim games that came from colonial times—but we think are still great fun today!

What You Need:

  • Small, straight stick between ¼” and ½” in diameter and 12-18” long
  • A sturdy piece of dry grass
  • A piece of twine -- about 14” long
  • Hula hoop
  • A straight stick, at least 1” thick and about 20” long.

What You Do:

  1. Catch the Ring: This game was played by Native Americans on the eastern seaboard, but was popular with Pilgrim kids as well! To play, you need to hike around a bit outdoors and find a small, straight stick between ¼” and ½” in diameter and 12-18” long. Then pick a sturdy piece of dry grass and twist it into a ring shape at least 2-3” in diameter (you can also use a metal ring if you have one--but do beware that your ancestors most likely didn't have such a luxury!). Cut a piece of twine about 14” long, attach one end to the end of your stick, and one end to the ring, like this:
  2. To play, toss the ring in the air, and quickly see if you can get your stick to go through it. How many times can you do this in one minute? In five?
  3. Hoops: In colonial days, this game was played with extra wagon wheel rims. We don’t expect you to have many of them lying around your house, but do you, or one of your friends and relatives, have a hula hoop or two? This is a great time to pull them out! To play this traditional game, find a straight stick, at least 1” thick and about 20” long. Hold the hula hoop upright on the ground, place the stick through it, and use the stick to roll the hoop. Who in your family can move it fastest and furthest? Beware: it’s harder than it looks!
  4. “Hop Frog”: This is a timeless game that your child may already know as “Leap Frog.” To play, one person crouches down in a ball, while the next one places his hands on his back and “hops” over. That second person then crouches down, and the first person “hops.” With willing family members, this makes an outstanding race: lay out a course, and have teams compete to reach the end, just by hopping!
  5. As you play and laugh, remember our Pilgrim ancestors, for whom Thanksgiving was a deeply spiritual time. Fully half of the people who traveled on the Mayflower did not survive the first year in the New World; for those who survived, life was still harsh. Still, Plymouth records show that children did play, and that folks appreciated being able to celebrate the communities they made--just as we do today!
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.

Updated on Nov 7, 2013
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