How to Play Mother, May I?

The back of a little boy standing in a playground.
The back of a little boy standing in a playground. (Image: altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Mother, May I is an action game for kids. Although it's traditionally an outdoor game, you can also play it indoors at parties if you have a small group or a lot of space. Players must politely ask if they can move forward to reach the leader, or "Mother." The child who is "Mother" either has to direct moves to prevent players getting too close or has to hope that players forget to be polite.

Organize the Group

Pick one child to be leader, or "Mother." If you're playing with boys, they may prefer to be called "Father" or "Captain." This leader stands at one end of the playing space or room – typically, he has his back to the rest of the players but can face them if you prefer. The players stand in a line at the other end of the space or room. You want enough distance to make the game last more than a few moves but not so much that players can’t hear instructions or get bored if the game takes too long.

Playing the Game

Players take turns asking “Mother” if they can take an action to move forward. For example, they may ask if they can take so many baby steps, giant strides, bunny hops or frog jumps. They must preface any request with the words "Mother, may I?" -- for example, a player might say "Mother, may I take three giant strides?" Depending on your rules, "Mother" can allow, deny or modify requests. If players forget to say "Mother, may I?" at the beginning of their questions, they go back to the beginning and start over. The winner is the child who reaches "Mother" first -- she then becomes "Mother" for the next game.

The Role of "Mother"

The role of "Mother" depends on which game rules the group wants to play. In one version, "Mother" always gives permission for players to make requested moves, as long as they remember to ask correctly. Alternatively, he may allow some requests and not others, or may modify actions. For example, if a player asks to take two bunny hops, "Mother" could say no or tell the player to take three giant steps backwards instead. Some versions of the game give control to "Mother" who tells each player which action to take. They must then say "Mother, may I?" before doing what they're told. Again, if they don't say these words, they start over.

Mother, May We

Kids can also play a team version of the game, Mother, May We. Here, the group decides on the question and asks it. “Mother” has to try to reduce the number of players who advance by setting conditions to keep some in place. For example, if the group asks "Mother, may we take three steps forward?," she might answer "Yes, you may if you're wearing shorts" or "Yes, you may if you have brown eyes." This version works best if "Mother" faces away from the group.

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