My grandparents had a large concrete pad behind their house that was routinely marred by chalk from the last snow to the first snow. Hopscotch and foursquare lines in white chalk, lines that had to be redrawn a couple of times per day because they were smudged and erased as the balls and stones missed the square targets and hit the lines.
There were games all over the yard. The croquet set appeared in the side yard in June; a baseball diamond appeared between the old homestead and the icehouse; the horseshoe pit was reconstructed behind the chicken coop and workshop; and the tire swing, home of championship tire rodeo, was replaced with a new rope and a new tire. The yard was set for play, a large area designed to encourage all of us to disappear outside for the majority of the day. In addition to the organized areas, one of the small cabins behind the main house had a room of toys: blocks, cars, stilts, stick horses–toys meant to keep us out from under foot and keep the kitchen and parlor free of daily childhood debris. I doubt any of us saw the place as anything other than magical, except during those times when our grandmother would gather all of us in one place to hand out the gardening tools: push lawn mowers, grass rakes, garden clippers. The upkeep of the yard was our daily tradeoff for the freedom created by large expanses of grass, fruit trees, willows, bunch grass, and sage. Even now, nearly 50 years later, kickballs always remind me of the all too short Montana summers.
Street Play Resources (Collections)
- Street Games (Streetplay.com). An absolutely wonderful site, full of all sorts of stuff. Find the instructions for both the familiar and the unfamiliar games from childhood, including Skully, Stoopball, Cricket, Boxball, Bocce, Hit the Stick, Marbles, and lots more.
The Streetplay.com site is another in a long line of Wikis.
Hopscotch. Hopscotch has always been associate with a chalked outline on pavement and a marker (most of the times…a rock). There are a variety of designs you can use, although the version we have here is based on the one most often found on schoolyard playgrounds. No one really knows who invented hopscotch, or precisely when it was invented. The first reference to the game called in “scotch-hoppers” and has been popular since at least the 17th century in the UK. That said, there are variations on the theme all over the world, including India, Russia, and Brazil. The Chinese variation dates back to at least 2000 BC, proving that great games stick around. The Romans get credit for its invention as well, although it seems they was used as military training exercise in ancient Britian.
Hopscotch Resources (including rules, designs, and interesting trivia)
- Hopscotch (Wikipedia). Includes some of the more popular designs and rules.
- How to Play Hopscotch (with some cool variations and video instructions). (Wiki-How)
Playground Balls (aka kickballs)
You can thank the Mayans for the idea of a rubber ball, and Charles Goodrich for figuring out how rubber worked. Playground balls do not have a single inventor, no one person you can point to and blame or praise for the ball used in a wide variety of games.
Kickball was invented in 1917 by Nicholas C. Suess, the parks playground supervisor for Cincinnati, Ohio. The game was designed to teach elementary aged kids baseball. Whether it was entirely successful as a precursor to T-ball, it has taken on a life and a history of its own, including adult kickball leagues.
Kickball Resources (including the rules and interesting trivia)
- H.S. DeGroat (1922). “Kickball.” In Mind and Body. Volume 27. Pgs. 205-207.
Four Square is a fairly recent game in the grand scheme of things. It was invented in 1964 and has the advantage of being fairly inexpensive to set up and play. The only piece of equipment needed, beyond the quartered square painted or chalked on the pavement, is a playground ball. Unlike some of the other games that use playground balls, it is not particularly aggressive (although the adult version belies this notion). Four square does teach kids social skills, manual dexterity, and strategy.
Four Square Resources
- Four Square (Wikipedia, including basic outline of rules).
- Four Square Game Rules. Kidsworld.com Their directions are fairly clear and they have some interesting variations on the theme.
- Official Rules of Four Square. Squarefour.org. This is where it gets serious. As with other “children’s games,” Four Square had developed as an adult game as well, including league play and its own organization.
Dodgeball. One of the distinct advantages to being the smallest person in the class, at least in grade school, was that most kids threw the ball well over my head. Dodgeball is one of those games that everyone used to learn during the cold season when activities are limited to the gym or the cafeteria. Like many other children’s games, there isn’t a known inventor. Throwing things and dodging things have long been part of the culture (although not everything folks were dodging are as friendly as our turtle playground ball). In recent years, dodgeball has moved beyond the elementary school and has become increasingly popular with adults. Note: Two rules of thumb. 1) While dodgeball can be great fun (at least if you are an adult and playing of your own free will), you probably shouldn’t play with children under the age of 9 (the balls are softer than, say, baseballs, but they really aren’t designed to be thrown at small children.). 2) Dodgeball is, and probably always has been, a very aggressive sport, evidenced by the fact that it was perfected as a war game in both ancient Rome and China. Because it is an elimination game (deliberately knocking folks out of the game), it encourages kids to “pick off” the easy targets first–kids who are not aggressive, not paying attention, or who don’t like balls being thrown at them. Indeed, one of the chief criticism of dodgeball is that it is a game that encourages, at least on some level, bullying. On the other hand, it is also a game that teaches a lot of skills, including throwing, catching, dodging, jumping, hand-eye coordination and so on.