“Mother May I” is a game that has been played for years. Although usually played as a children’s game, variations make it fun for teens and even adults. The game requires no preparation or equipment and is safe for small children (as young as three), as there is no bodily contact.

How to Play “Mother May I?”

  1. Choose someone to be the Mother. If you are playing with a very young group of children, have an adult play this part.
  2. Whoever is designated Mother stands at one end of the room and faces away from the Children, who line up on the other end of the room, close enough to hear and be heard by Mother.
  3. Children take turns asking, “Mother, may I ____?”
  4. If the answer is yes, the child is allowed to make whatever movement they requested.
  5. If the answer is no, the person playing mother makes an alternative suggestion, by saying, “No you may not do that, but you may _____.” The Mother uses this answer if children are reaching her too quickly.
  6. The children continue taking turns and the first one to reach the other end of the room wins and becomes the Mother.

Suggestions for making “Mother May I?” requests:

  • Take ____ steps forward
  • Take ____ giant steps forward (a small number)
  • Take ____ baby steps forward (a large number)
  • Take ____ umbrella steps forward
  • Hop forward like a frog ____ times
  • Run forward for ____ seconds
  • Crabwalk forward for ____ seconds
  • Take open-and-shut steps ____ times (jump forward with feet apart, then bring the feet together)
  • Do a lamppost (lie face down, stretch arms forward, and then bring your feet to the point reached by the fingertips)
  • Other suggestions are Scissor steps, jumping jack steps, karate steps, and jump steps.

Suggestions if Mother answers, “No, you may not, but you may ______:

  • Take fewer steps (Instead of granting permission for five steps, allow two).
  • Take ____ steps backward
  • Run backward for _____ seconds (Mother does the counting.)
  • Walk backwards _____ steps (Or until Mother says, “Stop!”)
  • Return to the starting line (Can be used in for players who are not observing the rules.)

“Mother May I?” Rules

  • If a request involves steps taken in a certain number of seconds, the Mother should count the number of seconds.
  • Players should remain quiet so that Mother is not aware who is asking the questions. If Mother knows the group well, players can attempt to disguise their voices.
  • Players can only ask for permission to do steps they are actually able to do.
  • Players must have adequate space to take whatever steps they request without injuring other players.
  • The Mother must not exclusively say either yes or no, but vary her responses.
  • The goal of the Mother is to bring everyone toward the finish line as equally as possible.

Variations

Mother May I Game

“Mother May I?” has a number of variations, some of which provide age or gender specific changes to make the game applicable for various group compositions.

If you are playing with a group of boys, “Father (or Captain) may I ____?” may be more appropriate. If you play “Captain May I?” the players are referred to as “Crewmembers.” The Captain and Crew version also works well with adults.

In one version of the game, Mother always gives permission for players to make requested moves, as long as they remember to ask correctly. If a player asks without saying, “Mother may I ____?”, the player must go back to the starting line.

Some versions give all the control to Mother, who tells the players what type of steps they must take and how many.

A team version of the game is called “Mother May We?” Teams decide on the request they will make of Mother. Mother controls the teams’ movements by placing conditions on the movement, such as, “Yes, you may if you have brown hair.” Whichever team has all their members reach Mother first wins.

“What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?”, and “Old Mrs. Fox, What Time is It?” both have different ways of stating the requests. The players chant in unison, “What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?” (“Old Mrs. Fox, what time is it?”). Mrs. Fox or Mr. Wolf respond with a time and the children move forward an equivalent number of steps. For example, if the request made and granted is 7 o’clock, the players move seven steps forward. Alternatively, if Mr. Wolf responds to the question by saying “Dinner Time!”, or Mrs. Fox says, “Midnight!”, they chase the children back towards the start. If a child is caught, he or she becomes the new Mrs. Fox or Mr. Wolf. This version also works with players making individual requests.

“Mother May I?” Tips

  • Players will be more successful if they are not greedy when they ask for step. Instead of asking for three giant steps, ask for 1 giant step on 1 turn and 20 baby steps on the next.
  • When it is your turn to play mother, remember to be kind, because eventually you will be a “child” asking permission of another Mother.
  • Be creative in and come up with new steps to increase the fun and excitement of the game.
  • Think about your strategy. Sometimes the winner of the game is the person who consistently makes reasonable requests granted by the Mother.

Although “Mother, May I?” is considered an action game for kids traditionally played outdoors, variations make this game fun indoors or in other places (a pool, in a park, etc.) and fun for every age. Try playing “Mother May I?” at your next party or get-together for a memorable time.

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