In the summertime I could spend hours playing Jacks. And when I talk Jacks, I must talk Grandma Pearl. My Grandma Pearl taught me many things, including how to knit, BUT as a child, I was most impressed with her Jack playing expertise. This old lady was a Jack playing wizard! When she pulled out her little bag of Jacks, she was 10 years old, sprawled out on the floor, flinging the ball, and picking up Jacks at break neck speed. Impressive. When I first started playing, I was all thumbs and felt terribly clumsy. But, Grandma was patient. She gave me tips, gave me more than my fair share of "start overs", and was willing to bend the rules on more than one occasion. 

But her patience paid off. Before long, I could play Jacks with the best of them. I even became a rival to Grandma Pearl, although I never surpassed her Jack playing prowess. For years, in the summertime I never went anywhere without my jacks and jump rope. Yesterday, Fairy spent the night. It was great fun giving her her first Jacks' lesson. When she was leaving this morning, she said, "Gammy, I think I need to borrow these." Borrow indeed. I will be ordering more Jacks this afternoon!

A few suggestions for teaching Jacks to children. Most Jack sets come with 10 – 15 jacks. When children are first learning the game, use only 5 or 6 jacks until they have mastered the technique. Using less jacks makes the game go faster and it is easier to hold less jacks in small hands. 

Jacks is a game of skill and requires a certain level of fine motor skills. If your child is becoming frustrated with the game, put it away and try again in 6 months. Fairy was trying to pick up the jacks and catch the ball without success. She is 6 years old. I thought maybe I should stow them away until next year, but she wanted to keep trying. So, I removed the metal jacks and I had her practice throwing the ball up, letting it bounce once, then catching just the ball. When she was doing that consistently, I had her throw the ball up, and slap the floor before she caught the ball. Although she is still chasing down the ball frequently, she is pleased with her progress. When she gets comfortable, we will start adding the jacks. Trust me, even adults will need to go through a learning process, but, it is worth it. Jacks is a great game to play with friends or alone. It is inexpensive, needs little space to play, and is an easy take-along game. Enjoy!

BTW… this evening I will be announcing a fun In the Good Old Summertime giveaway. Check back later 🙂

These are the rules and variations as I learned them from Grandma Pearl.
1 small rubber ball
10 – 15 jacks
Jacks should be played on a hard, smooth surface like a floor or a table.

Note: When playing with small children, you can play with a smaller number, like 5, to make the game go faster and so they can easily hold all the jacks in their hand.

Safety: The jacks and ball present a choke hazard. Keep them out of reach of children under 3.

Determining Who Goes First
To determine who goes first, place the stack of jacks on the back of your hand. Throw the jacks into the air. When the jacks are off your hand, flip your hand over, and try to catch as many jacks as you can in the same hand that threw the jacks. The person that catches the most jacks goes first and the play continues clockwise.

A player fouls and loses their turn if:
the player does not catch the ball after it bounces once
the ball bounces more than once
if the player drops a jack or the ball
if the player picks up the incorrect number of jacks
if the player touches any jacks other than the one(s) they are picking up
When a player commits a foul, they have "fouled out" and they lose their turn to the next person. When it is their turn again, they must continue at the level they fouled out on.

Throw your 12 jacks on a table or floor. NOTE: It's easiest to collect the jacks if you throw them so the jacks fit in a 12" circle. If the jacks are too far apart, it makes picking them up harder. If two jacks are directly on top of one another, you may use the "kisses rule", which allows you to pick up the two stack jacks called "kissing cousins", and drop them again. This is only permissible if the jacks are directly on top of one another, not if they are simply close and next to one another.

To begin play, the ball is thrown into the air. While it is in the air, pick up 1 jack in the same hand you threw the ball with, and catch the ball in the same hand after it bounces on the table or floor once.

You may now transfer the jack you just picked up to your other hand, and continue picking up the remainder of jacks, one at a time.

Twosies, Threesies, etc.
After a player has successfully completed a level picking up one jack at a time, play continues in the same manner, only this time the player must pick up 2 jacks at a time, which is called twosies. When a player has successfully completed the level picking up 2 jacks at a time, he moves on to 3 at a time, or threesies.

The game goes on progressively adding 1 jack at each level, until the first player reaches the level where they successfully pick up all the jacks at one time. The have won this round of jacks. 

Note: For levels where the jacks cannot be divided equally, you pick up the required amount of jacks, until there are not enough jacks to make up the required amount, then you pick up the remainder on your last throw. (For example: If you are played with 12 jacks and you are on fivesies, you would pick up 2 groups of five. There are now only 2 jacks left. You would then pick up the last 2 together.)

There are many variations to the game. Here are a few I played with Grandma Pearl.

Played like Classic Jacks except, when you pick up the jacks, you must tap then on the table once before you catch the ball. Sometimes we played that 2 or 3 taps were required before you caught the ball.

Played like Classic Jacks except the ball is not allowed to bounce before you catch it.

Played like Classic Jacks except the ball must bounce twice before you catch it.

Played like Classic Jacks except after you pick up the jacks, before you can catch the ball, you must circle the ball with the hand holding the jacks.

Played like Classic Jacks, but instead of picking up the designated number of jacks, you put the jacks, or pigs, in a pen. To do this, place your non throwing hand on the table, palm side down. Raise your palm off the table, while keeping your fingers on the table. This creates a space, that becomes the "pen". Then, instead of picking up the jacks, slide them into the "pen" without picking them up. 

Played like Classic Jacks, but instead of catching the ball in the hand with the jacks, you must transfer the jacks to your other hand before you catch the ball.

Did you play Jacks as a child? Do your children/grandchildren play Jacks now? Do you have any variations of the game to share? We'd love to hear from you 🙂



  1. Observation – rubber balls loose their “bounce” after being packed away for 20 years! After reading this, pulled out a childhood stash that included jacks. Rubber ball no longer bounces. Think it is time for a new set!

    1. Yes, rubber has a way of doing that. I've had some old elastic that literally disintegrated! What off on buying new jacks until you see our giveaway this evening 🙂 And good for you for keeping a stash of fun things 🙂

  2. Unfortunately, with a house full of little ones, I’m afraid my older kids sometimes lose out because I’m scared of choke hazards and the forgetfulness of the olders kids to pick up. I’ve not allowed thinks like jacks and marbles in the house, but it hardly seems fair. I remember playing jacks as a child with my mom. Loved it. May have to consider creating a baby free area where the older sibs can experience some of these games. Love this series. Always nice to have suggestions for summer fun.

  3. Thanks. MY sons got jacks in a party favor bag and we didn’t know any games. So far they have been twirling the jacks and throwing the balls at each other. I’m going to see if I can’t get them to actually use them in the right way, hehe.

  4. I’m loving your discussions on children’s games and summertime. These all bring back so many memories! Thank you! We used to love to spin the jacks and called them our “ballerinas”.

    Thanks for a walk down memory lane, so glad to know that the newest generation is being exposed to these timeless classics.

    Incidentally, I have your Wee Folks books and am so pleased with it! Haven’t made a wee person yet but just browsing through the book is fun and inspiring.

    1. We are so glad you are enjoying our stroll down memory lane. Although it has been fun collecting my memories, I am more committed to sharing these activities with another generation. I am not opposed to technology… I wouldn't be here if I was, and I think there are elements of it that are beneficial to children, but what was good in the past, should not be lost. There is room for them to co-exist!

      As far as the books you are referring to, they are not ours. We are Wee Folk ART. The books you are referring to were authored by the incredibly talented and lovely Sally Mavor at Wee Folk STUDIO. You can visit her at her studio http://www.weefolkstudio.com/  or become a regular at her highly interesting blog http://weefolk.wordpress.com/.

      "Wee folk" is a term that has been used for generations to refer to any number of small, mythical characters (and today I use it to refer to children 🙂 "Folk art" is a term used when referring to simple, primitive art work. Our name WEE FOLK ART combines our love of "wee folks" and "folk art", which I hope is reflected in our site and crafts.

      We didn't realize until after we established our name that it could be confusing. Anyway, I agree that she is a mega talent and I love everything she does 🙂

  5. I absolutely adored jax as a child. I would play them for hours on end. Even by myself! I might have to find some for my girls. Thanks for the great memory! 🙂

  6. My brother and I had a set of jacks as children. We were impatient waiting our turn so we invented a game. One person threw the ball up, and the other person had to pick up the jacks and catch the ball. We went back and forth as to who threw the ball and who caught. It seemed to work well for us.

  7. I loved playing Jacks so much as a child.
    We had hardwood floors, so it was easy to get a good bounce and a quick swipe to pick them up.
    One other memory..stepping on a lost jack barefooted, YIKES! They really hurt! Time to ask Mom where my jacks are!

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