Traditional outdoor games: why do they matter?

Traditional Outdoor Games – are they still played? how have they evolved?
Great blog from Tim Gill.

Rethinking Childhood

3 children playing hopscotchA survey out today points to a decline in traditional outdoor games like hopscotch, marbles and conkers. You may have heard me talking about the findings on Radio 5 live this morning (from 53’30” in), supporting the call for a ‘rough and tumble play’ campaign. Mourning the loss of such games makes a nice summer season story. But does it really matter? Isn’t the attempt to revive interest in these games just shallow nostalgia? Is it even adults’ business to get involved? After all, these games have traditionally been passed down through the generations by children themselves, with little or no adult input.

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3 Responses to “Traditional outdoor games: why do they matter?”
  1. stevenchown says:

    There always seems to be a nostalgic air to this conversation. A sense of lost childhood. In 1969 the Opie’s, quoted by Tim Gill, said ‘the belief that traditional games are dying out is itself traditional, it was received opinion even when those who now regret the passing of the games were vigourously playing them’. Yes, for many children there are increasing restrictions on their opportunities to play out, particularly for hours on end. But in some areas children still play out and still play many of the games their parents would recognise. The Opie’s themselves said games diminished and grew in popularity for all sorts of reasons. But the key is that it is the children, not adults who pass games on by word of mouth and invent new games. Earlier in the summer when I was in Leeds I saw four 11/12 year old boys playing ‘kerbie’; last week in Scotland by Loch Lomand I saw three children aged about 6 or 7 starting a game they called ‘Olympics’ – we need another player they agreed ‘you can’t play Olympics without Gold, Silver, Bronze and a loser..we have to find a loser!’ and off they ran…Sometimes we think these games are disappearing because we can’t see them, or is it because we don’t know how to look. Like Michael Follett I have visited numerous schools where I have been told children don’t play like they used to, yet seen games of chase, catch and daring games go unnoticed. Michael is right in that having the right conditions – the time, space and opportunity is important for children to evolve their own games – it’s not for adults to ‘breathe new life’ into traditional games. But to recognise them when they see, them and create the conditions in which they flourish. This means more time playing out on their own, with friends rather than being chaperoned or instructed by adults. In making that happen we all have a responsibility – to mitigate or reduce the impact of traffic, to create spaces, not just playgrounds, where children can play, to understand a little more, and interfere a little less.

  2. opalcic says:

    I spend lots of time doing observations in school playgrounds for schools doing OPAL. It interests me that schools vary so much in how skilled the children are at play. At one lots of children get hurt, at another hardly any, some are dominated by football and others have a myriad of invented games. It stands to reason I suppose, that as play is a biological drive that is acted out in social, cultural and physical encounters, then variations in exposure to people, traditions and environments will give rise to variations in play. I think the biological drive to play must be the same in all children; maybe its what we do as adults to consistently suppresses this drive by denial of opportunity and lack of the simple conditions for play that are important.

    I tried a quite a large project promoting traditional games in schools a few years ago and it just didn’t have any lasting impact. I now believe this was the case because so many of the other conditions needed for play to flourish were not present in the schools.

    Children in the past knew lots of traditional games because they had more time, more freedom, more boredom, had access to a greater range of environments, knew a bigger range of other children and were able to take more risks. Children having a rich play culture of traditional games is possibly a symptom of a childhood which supports play, and the teaching of traditional games is in my experience a bit of a red herring.
    Michael Follett Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)

  3. Tim Gill says:

    Thanks for the reblog Cath!

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