Every year, on June 1, we celebrate Children's International Day in Romania and other European countries. This year's celebration reminded me of the fun and simple games my friends and I played when we were children, using nothing more than weeds that grew in our neighborhood.

When I was a child, life was so simple for kids. We played all day long, and not only with our toys - which weren't numerous - but also with plants. When playing with the doll-size "stove" and "dishes," all the leaves, flowers and berries we could find were "vegetables" that we "cooked" for our dolls. We all had our grandparents living nearby and they taught us about plants, so that we knew which were edible and which were poisonous. Our grandparents also taught us some fun games we could play with certain plants. They told us about how they used to play those games when they were children and didn't have any toys to play with.

Mouse barley spikeOne of the funniest games was "the mouse." Hordeum murinum (false barley or mouse barley), has been one of my favorite plants for this very reason. I used to play with its spike, which we called "the mouse". The "mouse" must be torn from the stem and set between your closed arms, near the wrist. Then the arms start moving, like scratching one to another, one back and one forth, which makes "the mouse" slide up to the elbow. It's such fun! I still play this game and I enjoy it every time.

Mouse barley spikelet in my hand Playing with the mouse

Common plantain with spikes

Ribwort plantainAnother fun game was "the rifle." and the plant we used for this game was Plantago lanceolata, or Ribwort plantain. It is from the same family as the common Plantago major. Both species of Plantago grow in fields, on the side of the road or in wastelands like weeds, and they are very well known for their use as medicinal herbs. As a child my mother treated me with Plantain syrup for my coughs and I know she always places a plantago leaf on her wounds to heal. Both species of plantain have similar flowers, looking like spikes or cones, but the "rifle" can be made only with the Ribwort plantain's cone-shaped bloom. Pick a flower with the longest possible stem, set it like you can see in the picture and "shoot." The move you make for "shooting" is similar to shooting with an arch, where the arrow is the plantains cone-shaped flower. Just keep the bent stem tight when you "shoot", push the bloom really hard and you'll see how the "arrow head" flies off the stem like bullet. Isn't it fun? You have to try it!

Lots of Ribwort plantain bloomRifle set for shooting!

Green foxtail

Setaria viridis also called Green foxtailThe next game was more like a teasing, not like a real game, but it meant a lot of running and laughing which we enjoyed very much. Many weeds grew in our neighborhood; some of which very similar, but we knew what to look for. Setaria is a genus of grasses from the Poaceae family. Its species, Setaria viridis, Setaria pumila and Setaria verticillata have very similar spikelets and can be easily confused. But we learned to tell the difference between them so we could find the particular one we played with. Setaria verticillata is also called bristly foxtail. Although all the foxtails have similar spikelets, bristly foxtail's spikelet is special because it has short bristles which help it hook onto animals' fur or people's clothes. Now you may be figuring out why we sought out this species: we loved to throw it on our friends' socks or clothes. Imagine how would that feel on someone's skin, even through their clothes or socks! On socks was better because the stinging from those bristles could be felt immediately. The one who felt a bristly foxtail on him was immediately trying to remove it, but it didn't go off so easy; some of the bristles were stuck to the cloth. This is when the running began, and it was fun!

Ladybug on a leaf Those are the childhood games I'd like to share with you today. But also this funny song my grandmother taught me to sing to ladybugs. Even today, whenever I see a ladybug on me, I gently take it to my forefinger and sing this little song to it:

"Ladybug, ladybug, fly to the glade,

And where you will fly, there I will marry."

Believe it or not, the ladybug always flies off when the song is finished. Wouldn't you like to try?

I could also tell you about how I used to tie a bumblebee with a thread and enjoy seeing him fly tethered to the string, but looking back, I don't find that to be fun anymore. Especially when I remember how many times I got stung by bees until I learned better! And we wouldn't encourage our children or grandchildren to do that to a bee, or to get stung, would we?