There are many excellent games to play that involve no props or planning, but few are as much of a laugh as May I. Commonly known as the Mother May I Game, this fun and simple activity might be called Father May I, Teacher May I, or Captain May I in your area. However, by any name, this game is a great way to use excess energy while helping improve listening skills and reaction times. Like many simple games, this one is scalable for more players, uses no props or accessories, and is mainly enjoyed by young children, though you can certainly play at any age. What is the mother may I game, and how do you play? Read on to learn everything.
What is the Mother May I Game?
In Mother May I is a game where children (or adults) line up in a row facing one player, who is ‘it’ or “mother” in this case. The “Mother” turns around and calls on a player. The player then asks, “Mother May I,” and adds the name of a type of step and a specific number of steps to take. Mother says yes or no and then moves on to the next player. The first to tag ‘mother’ becomes the new ‘mother’ and gets to be ‘it’ for the next round.
How to Play Mother May I
Game Setup and Play
Setting up and playing the game Mother May I is very simple. All you need is a group of children or people and a wide open space for them to traverse. You can play indoors or outside. Mother May I is ideal for rainy days indoors when a group of kids still needs to get their energy out, but playing in the rain or cold isn’t an option.
Mother May I Rules
The rules to Mother May I are very simple:
- Choose the “Mother” and have them stand across the room or field from everyone else.
- Line up all other players in a neat row.
- The mother chooses a player at random. However, if you need to be fairer and prevent friends from always choosing one another, you can have the ‘mother’ call each child in order, so no one stands there too long or gets an advantage.
- As each player gets called, they ask, “Mother may I take (number) of (type of steps) forward?” For example, they may say, “Mother, May I take three giant leaps forward,” or “Mother, May I take five normal steps forward.”
- Mother says yes or no.
- If yes, the player proceeds toward the mother, trying to be the first to reach her. However, if she says no, or the player fails to ask, ‘mother may I,’ they return to the beginning.
- The first kid to tag ‘mother’ becomes the new ‘mother,’ and they are now in charge of the game.
Types of Mother May I Steps
The steps you take in your Mother May I game are up to you. Some groups use ‘small, medium, and large’ steps. Having some variation is important because it helps add an element of surprise for the mother, who can’t turn around until they get tagged. Below are a few examples of common ‘steps’ used in this game, but feel free to add your own.
- Small- Take a tiny step
- Medium- Take a standard step
- Large- Take a giant leaping step
- Giant Leaps- These are the biggest steps a player can take
- Umbrella- One finger on top of your head, and you spin as you walk
- Ballet Steps- A split-leap forward
- Froggy Steps- Hop like a frog from a crouched position
- Crab Steps- For crab steps, you sit on your bottom with your knees up and feet on the ground. Your hands go behind you on the floor, and you walk on your hands and feet sideways.
You can also use steps like running, jogging, or jumping. Adding or making up new steps can be a big part of the fun. For example, you could do ‘monster steps’ where you roar, ‘sneaky steps’ where you tiptoe, or ‘zombie steps’ where you shuffle. The only limit is your imagination.
Who Plays Mother May I
Mother May I is a game typically played by kids aged pre-K to around second or third grade. The simplicity of the game lends itself to easy learning. Moreover, this is a great way to teach valuable skills while using a lot of energy, even if you have limited space to play.
Why Play Mother May I
Mother May I is a skill-building game where children can learn a couple of valuable lessons.
First, self-control is essential here. Not only do you have to exercise patience and wait your turn, but you have to complete the steps in order and accept that you may not always get the desired outcome.
Secondly, it’s an excellent time to practice manners.
Variations of Mother May I
There is no set-in-stone rule for Mother May I, and different variations are used worldwide. You can play with more or less control for the players or mother, bigger or smaller groups, more steps, and other consequences. Below are several of the most common variations and one common mistake that isn’t the same game at all.
- Mother’s Choice- In Mother’s Choice, the ‘mother’ calls a player and tells them how many of which steps they can take, and the child responds with ‘Mother May I.’ However, most players find this variation more complicated than the original. You can also play a version where the mother chooses a child and either a number or type of step. Then the child asks the mother for permission to do a kind or number of steps to finish the move. Unnecessarily complicating the game is not a great idea for very young or beginning players.
- Everyone May- In this version, the mother calls on a child who asks, ‘Mother May We,’ and then chooses a type and number of steps. If the mother agrees, everyone rushes forward doing that type and number of steps. Everyone May is faster and more group-oriented rather than being about individual patience and observation skills.
- Giant Steps- Giant steps is the name of Mother May I in some places like the northeast coast of the USA.
- Name Change May I- Name Change May I is just an easy way to explain that you don’t always have to ask “Mother” for permission. The most straightforward variation of this game is to swap the name or title of the person who is usually called ‘mother’ without making any other changes. This can include variations like “Neighbor May I” or “Cousin May I,” or it can be a specific person’s name like “Fred May I.” The title is less important than the fun.
- Fancy Steps- You can add in any number of fancy steps that you make up as you go along. Having more terms for more types of movement can benefit children, especially the younger ones who are just learning to express themselves. However, the Umbrella Step is the most common ‘fancy step.’ For umbrella steps, you put one finger on top of your head and spin around.
- New Steps Only- This game variant requires every player to make up and perform a new type of step every time they move. New Steps tend to get silly as players struggle to come up with a ‘wiggle step,’ a ‘dance step,’ or other new and different forms of fun movement. \
- Backward May I- Backward May I is a game where the mother faces a line of players who all have their backs to her. The rules are almost the same, except the players walk backward to get to mother, and ‘she’ can see if they mess up and send them back to the start.
- Not A Variation- Mother May I almost shares a name with May I or Continental May I, which is a very different, more adult game involving cards. This version of rummy is not the children’s game of nearly the same name.
If you need a quick, simple game that anyone can learn but still presents a challenge, then Mother May I is ideal. You can play with as few as two players in a small room or dozens on a big open field. There’s a fun version of this game for any group, and you can easily modify the Mother May I game rules to create new challenges or include players who have trouble. Best of all, with no props, parts, or prizes, you don’t need anything except willing players to get started right away.