By - 'The English Rose.'
Over here in the UK, we have just seen the end of yet another school half-term holiday, and seeing all the children outside playing in the (rare) sunshine, made me think about children’s games through the ages. I bet you all have your own favourites and might have been told by older relatives about others that have long gone out of fashion. I’d love to know which of these games you played?
You know, when I think about it, I didn’t have a favourite game really, I was too busy riding horses to play many games! I did the usual skipping rope games and things like hopscotch, and tag (tig, or tick? depends where you come from I guess) which I am sure you also have over there, but I remember my parents and grandparents telling me a little about some of the games they used to play ‘in the olden days’ so I thought I’d take a quick look at some of them, some don’t seem to have changed much for centuries. I don’t mean the ‘organized games’ that we did in school though, just those we played with our best friends, often out on the cobbled streets!
Of course one of the simplest, and one you could play with a group or on your own, was hopscotch, all you needed was a piece of chalk or chalky stone to draw out the grid on the hard surface of the sidewalk, (or even on the road, before the car became such a menace!) and you could hop, skip and jump for hours on end, and we often did, no such thing as technology back then! There were many regional variations on the patterns that were used for drawing the hopscotch grid and some of them were quite complex. Here are a few of them.
Of course if you were a boy, you probably played football or cricket and left hopscotch and skipping to the girls, along with hula hoops and clapping games. My, we were sexist even then! One game where the boys and girls often got together though was ‘Kiss-catch’ where one person was ‘it’ and chased their friends until they caught them, then demanded a kiss before letting them go, when the one who forfeited the kiss then became ‘it’. Of course boys always caught girls and vice versa.
Clapping games have been popular for centuries, one called ‘Pat-a-Cake’ was apparently actually documented in 1698. There are more clapping games than you can imagine, and I expect every country has its own versions.
In Britain, the earliest reference to rope skipping games was only in the 18th century. There are many kinds of skipping games, some played by an individual with their own rope and many others played by groups with long ropes. In later years, this was developed further with the invention of elastic. Children would fasten elastic bands together into a long rope and create many different stretchy/jumpy games!
Marbles have been around for centuries, in fact they were known in Ancient Egypt and Rome and they are still surprisingly popular, they can be made of anything, including glass, ceramic, or clay, there were even some made of real marble, although it is believed that the original ‘marbles’ were actually nuts. Look at this lovely selection.
Jacks or Five-stones are ancient in origin, probably from Greece again as there are mentions of similar games in ‘the Odyssey,’ the jacks or stones were originally the knuckle bones of sheep which were eventually developed into the 6 pointed metal ‘toy’ we know today.
The predecessor to the spinning top, a Whip and Top consisted of a cylinder type object, the Top, with a pointed bottom, and a stick with a string or piece of leather tied to the end, the Whip. A child would set the top to spinning by wrapping the string around the tall shape at the top of the top and giving the stick a pull. This would make the top spin at a high rate of speed. The child would keep the top spinning by whipping it on the sides with the string or leather strap. Hence the name.
Talking of string, I never did master the art of creating the ‘Cats Cradle,’ it was a complete mystery to me how such complex and wonderful shapes could be created from just one piece of ordinary string, I’m sure it was magic string, every time I tried, I ended up with a heap of complex and wonderful knots instead!
The humble yo-yo,(simply a long string sandwiched between two wooden discs) which, in the hands of the right person can be made to do some incredible tricks, was actually invented in Ancient Greece, there are examples of this wooden or terracotta toy in the Greek Archaeological Museum in Athens. Greece even holds a National Yo-yo day on the 6th June every year!
‘Conkers’ is played using the seeds from the Horse Chestnut tree, after collecting enough of the large, shiny, hard fruits, holes are drilled through them and strings threaded through and knotted at the other side. Then two players take it in turns to let their conker dangle at arm’s length, while the other person tries to hit and break the conker using their own. When one conker breaks another it gains a point. The hardest conker will win, and some people will go to all sorts of lengths to ensure they have a hard conker, including keeping the seeds from the previous year, or pickling them, or painting them with clear nail varnish! There are various rules according to the part of the world your conker tree grows in.
Some of the most fun games needed no special equipment at all, just a group of willing children, such as ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ where one person turns his back on the group and the others call out ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ Wolf calls out a time and the others take that many steps towards him, then stop dead. Wolf turns round and if he sees anyone moving, they are out. If wolf calls out ‘Dinner Time!’ everyone runs away and the first one caught is then the Wolf. Silly, but great fun! My grandmother remembered playing this game when she was small.
Of course, there are so many children’s games, there just isn’t enough room here to go into any great detail, but I’ll leave it to you to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and perhaps to add some I might never have heard of?
Thank you for reading my post. Kiss-catch you all later!