How to Play Kick the Can

Olly Olly Oxen Free. If you have ever heard and wondered where that expression came from you have come to the right site.

This is how to play the children's game “Kick the Can”, including all the original rules and the original proclamations used.


The name of the game we young boys played back in the late 40's to early 50's, out in the New England countryside, was not “Hide and Go Seek”, it was “Kick the Can”.

This game with rules was handed down to us from the older boys in the neighborhood.


The main proclamation used was neither “Olly Olly Oxen Free” nor “Ally Ally Oxen Free”. They do not make sense. Over time the original proclamations became corrupted and the rules of the game were lost.


Part of the confusion in the many suggestions on the web are due to the fact that there are several proclamations in the game of “Kick the Can”. Then add children speaking too quickly, running words together and replacing unfamiliar words with familiar ones.


The main proclamation in the game is revealed in my effort but it will not make sense to you unless you understand how to play the game... Please enjoy how to play the game first.


How to play “Kick the Can”


We always played after sunset with minimum lighting and where there was a large open area with nearby buildings, trees, bushes and other places to hide behind. Tomboys were welcomed and the game was best played with 5 or more.... If you could run and reason, you could play.

Whoever became IT was selected by either “One Potato-Two Potato-etc”, or another system which I will not name.

IT then placed an empty tin can in the center of the open area which became “Home”. He also pointed out and described the imaginary “prison location” and the game “boundaries.” Then he closed his eyes and counted “out loud” from 1 to 100 while the free players hid... Then the search began.

Those hiding were not required to stay in one place and IT had to “name them” and one hand tag them.

Free players that were cornered, run down or otherwise tagged by IT were proclaimed “captured” and were directed to “go to prison” by IT.

Prisoners were allowed to aide in their escape from prison by communicating with and directing free players but only with hand signals.

If IT captured all the free players, the first captured became IT for the next game.

However, many times IT had a very long night because, at any time, any free player, could release any prisoners by first Kicking the Can and then proclaiming....

All Ye, All Ye, Out and Free”.




If this happened, IT had to retrieve and replace the tin can to the original spot and his quest for free players began all over again.


Remember that any free player can “Kick the Can” at any time. Sometimes just to give IT a hard time but this also releases anyone captured who is en rte, on their honor, to prison. This also leaves IT powerless until he returns the tin can to the “Home” spot.


The proclamation “All Ye, All Ye, Out and Free” makes no sense if playing Hide and Go Seek because there are no prisoners to set free. In Hide and Go Seek, you are either IT or you are not IT .. and two can play. There is no other place to use this proclamation except while playing “Kick the Can”.


Other proclamations in the game that only IT could proclaim were:


All Ye, All Ye, come home free”; which meant that IT had an announcement to make.


All Ye, All Ye, go home free”; which meant that the game was over because of time constraint, inclement weather, etc..


AND If a mother called for a player (e.g. Johnny) and IT heard the beckon, IT would proclaim “All Ye, All Ye, Johnny goes home free”.. but the game continued.


If IT was called home by his mother, the first captured became IT and if there were no prisoners you started from the beginning.


How “Old” is this game?

The game dates to when English speaking people used the word “Ye”, meaning “You”, as it does today for both singular and plural. Some Town Criers (today) use the words “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” and you still will hear similar words spoken by a Clerk of the Court or a Court Officer, in many of our Courts around the U.S.A..  And there is the Christmas Carol "O Come, All Ye Faithful".


The first “Tin Can” was patented in England in 1810. In 1813 the first commercial canning factory opened there producing 6 cans an hour. In 1846 they were producing 60 cans an hour.


It is now posted and I hereby hold All Ye “to your honor” that you will not take part to corrupt the proclamations and to remember and play the game by the rules.


March 29th 2009











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