7 Old School Things Kids Should Still Do

Wondering how raising kids now is different than it was in the past? And want to know what research says about how kids were raised in the “old days?” Check out this list of 7 old school things kids should still do (and a few that they DEFINITELY shouldn’t!)

Okay, so we’re not ones to romanticize the past- there was a whoooooole lot wrong with the way Americans parents did things in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, to be SURE.

However- not everything about old school parenting was bad.

In fact, there are many old school things that kids should still do, according to the experts.

It turns out, a lot of the freedom we had at kids (and a lot of the problems, too) were actually REALLY good for us developmentally.

So if you, like us, were wondering if there are some old school things kids should still do, we’ve compiled everything the experts have to say about raising kids like it’s 1982, all in one place.

kids playing outside; text: old school things kids should do

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Old School Things Kids Shouldn’t Do Anymore

Okay, friends, let’s just get this out of the way- use your best judgment here. We know not everything about the past was ideal.

A few old school things kids shouldn’t do anymore:

  • Stop using carseats at age 3
  • Sleep on their stomachs as babies
  • Be around people who smoke
  • Avoid medical care when kids are sick are hurt
  • Child labor
  • Watching themselves from a very early age
  • Not using seatbelts
  • Etc.

Not everything about the past was good, to be sure. Some things are just plain old safety issues, and those are non-negotiable things that should never make a comeback.

Old School Things Kids SHOULD Do

Over the years, kids have increasingly lost a little freedom, and a whole lot of “wild.” And as we’ve said, there are plenty of old school things that kids shouldn’t do.

kid climbing a tree

But there ARE some things about the past that were really good for kids, and we’d like to see some of them come back.

Walk Around Barefoot

As a kid, I remember whole summers spent walking around on blazing hot asphalt, stubbing my toes, and even- gasp!- stepping on bees. And yeah, I got hurt a bit.

kid walking barefoot

But, what my mom probably didn’t know, was that she was also doing me a HUGE developmental favor.

According to this Washington Post article, kids who walk around barefoot have better balance, have morealigned foot and leg muscles, and have better proprioceptive and sensory integration.

child barefoot in the mud

So even though they might get a few more scrapes and calluses, they will also have tons of health and developmental benefits by skipping on the shoes.

Play in the Dirt

Let’s face it- what mom actually LIKES messes? But as much as we hate muddy messes, our kids love them even more. 

There was a time when an afternoon well spent wasn’t used for extracurricular activities, but was instead used for digging and scratching away at a pile of dirt. Mud pies, monster trucks, and pails and shovels dominated a child’s play. 

kids playing in dirt

Not only is dirt a super fun sensory play activity, but there are actually health benefits to those mud pies, too.

child with dirty hands

Kids who have frequent, repeated exposure to dirt develop stronger immune systems. Science has shown that kids who have more exposure to germs have less asthma, eczema, and allergies overall. (Source)

Get Bored

We’ve trained our kids pretty well that we are in charge of the entertainment around here. We take them to swim lessons, karate, and arrange playdates on a regular basis.

And we mean well. We want our kids to develop socially, physically, and academically, so we do our best to give them a head start.

kids looking bored

But there’s a magic to being bored. According to the BBC, kids develop a unique creativity that can only come when they’re left to their own devices for a long amount of time.

Do they need to be bored all the time? Of course not. But a little boredom goes a long way to developing self-sufficient, creative kids who can entertain themselves when the need arises. 

Sensory Experimentation

Kindergarten teachers are increasingly finding that kids come to them with less fine motor, gross motor, and sensory skills that in years past.

toddler on merry go round

And with early education being more academic and less about play, it is on parents more than ever to give their kids the play-based experiences they need.

empty swing at playground

Kids need to play with messy things, they need to learn with their senses, and they need swings on the playground.  We want them to be safe, but more importantly, we want them to be well.

Get Hurt

Once at the playground, I mentioned to another mom that I wanted my kids to skin their knees once in a while.

She said to me, “well I know you don’t WANT them to skin their knees, but I know what you mean.” But you know what? I DO want them to skin their knees.

child with skinned knee

Am I sad when my kids get hurt? Of course. But I’m also grateful for the risk-taking practice, resiliency, and patience kids get from getting hurt (a little).

child with hurt knee

And if we want to raise kids with grit, we need them to get hurt a little bit. If nothing else, it will help them learn that they can get back up again.

Play with Neighborhood Kids

I don’t know about your neighborhood, but I just really don’t see kids out and about in the neighborhood as much as I remember from when I was a kid.

neighborhood kids playing

Many of my fondest memories are from running around with a wild pack of neighborhood kids, riding bikes, playing at the creek, and creating elaborate games and pretend scenarios.

neighborhood families playing

And research supports it. Kids benefit from the brief interactions, mixed aged groupings, and negotiation practice that comes along with running around with neighborhood friends.

Fail Sometimes

Look, I get how tempting it is to bubble wrap our babies. But Bulldozer parents (the kind who knock down any obstacle in their path) are making kids’ lives a little TOO easy, and depriving them of valuable lifeskills.

sad kid

Failure teaches kids things that we could never do on our own. Kids learn resiliency, empathy, grit, and frustration tolerance through failure.

And believe it or not, kids who fail more often actually have LESS anxiety in the long run than kids who are used to getting things right all the time.

Drink From the Hose

Okay, hear me out- I know that the hose has lots of chemicals and the water can get super heated and we know it’s just not good for them anymore. So I don’t mean that they actually need to drink from the hose.

kid drinking from a hose

But as modern parents, we too often rush into to solve our kids’ problems.

In the “olden days,” kids didn’t just drink from the hose because their parents told them to. It was more of a “my mom locked me out of the house and I’m dying of thirst” kind of situation.

Again, not ideal.

girl drinking from the hose

But what WAS good about this was that kids had a definitive problem (they were thirsty) and they had to find a solution (drink from the hose).

Kids had more opportunities to be resourceful, and as a result, learned to find creative ways to meet their needs. The solutions weren’t always ideal (which frankly, isn’t a bad thing), as kids learned that sometimes you have to just take what you can get. 

happy kids

So no, drinking from a hose isn’t a necessary part of childhood. But the problem solving skills they learned in the process? Those are absolutely vital to raising a competent adult.


So no, let’s not bring EVERYTHING back from the past. But there are definitely some things that kids still need to do in order to develop into resilient, brave, resourceful little problem solvers.

So let those little toes out, send them onto the merry go round, and watch them learn and grow in whole new ways.

What old school things do YOU think kids should still do? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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