Following my recent post about traditional playground games, by chance I came across this wonderful collection from the British Library. For a play enthusiast like me, it equates to giving my kids free rein with the pick n’ mix.
The collection includes over 100 video and audio clips of children’s play, articles and video about the history of play and how it translates to modern times and teaching resources for KS1 and 2 (elementary age).
The Playtimes website is part of a wider research project entitled Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age. The project sought to preserve play traditions and investigate how these types of play continue to be used in the modern age. The project digitised the Opie collection of games and songs created in the late 1960’s through to the early 1980’s, capturing the games and songs of children across the UK. The majority of the recordings were made by Iona Opie as she travelled the country recording in playgrounds and schools, estates and parks. These visits were often unplanned and Iona described how she would simply wind down her car window and ‘follow the sound of children playing’. The project also carried out a two-year study of children’s playground culture today.
Many of the videos are narrated by Michael Rosen and others are animations created by schoolchildren.
I’m fascinated by traditional games and their rhythmic quality so I have ordered Opie’s books of rhymes and games and some of her research findings to learn more. What a treasure trove!
Four years ago, all of our worldly goods were packed onto a container to make the journey to our new home in the US. We wouldn’t see them again for 10 weeks.
The children packed a small case each with colouring pencils, paper, a few books and a cuddly toy. They were without any other toys for the whole of the summer.
This was an amazing opportunity to be creative with things around the house. We decorated pistachio nut shells, made pictures with coffee filters, built a mud kitchen and hosted our own Children’s Olympics. In some ways I wished it could be like this all of the time and once the toys arrived I was selective about what I unpacked.
The most popular activity however, was learning playground games from my childhood. I explained how I didn’t have equipment or toys in my school playground, when I was a child. We played our own games, which we would also play in the street at home. I am very conscious that if we don’t pass games down to our children they may be lost forever and I’m glad that our lack of toys gave me an opportunity to resurrect them.
There has been concern for some time that children no longer play outside. The good old Seattle or British weather doesn’t help. Couple this with the constant lure of TV and electronic media and it can be hard to get kids outdoors. Teaching them a new game was a great way to get my children outdoors and they often ask me to teach them more. I really must make a point of doing that now that they are a little older.
One of my play sessions for pre-schoolers involved teaching them simple games, like What’s the time Mr Wolf?, Please Mr Crocodile and the Bean Game. I was surprised at how many were new to local families. After seeing how much my children enjoyed traditional games I was intrigued to see if any other parents remembered games from their childhood, most didn’t.
We played some of the more popular games; hopscotch on the driveway, skipping rhymes, What’s the time Mr Wolf but also some less well known games.
This was my kids’ favourite.
One child is it and stands at one end of the garden (as kids we used to play it in the road and run to the other side of the street).
They call out a category to the other players on the other side of the garden such as animals or colours.
Each player quietly chooses something from that category and a nominated player calls them out – let’s say dog, pig and cow.
The player who is it chooses one, e.g. ’dog’ and the player who is‘ dog ‘races them across to the other side and back.
The first player back to their place shouts ‘polo’ and is it the next time.
One child is it and the other children stand at the opposite side of the playground.
The person who is it chooses a red letter and tells the players what it is.
She then calls out a letter – the players take one step for each time that letter occurs in their name.
The first player to get to the caller is it the next time.
If the caller calls the red letter, she chases all the players back to the start, if one is caught then they are it.
The person who is it stands with their back to the other players.
The other players stand on the opposite side of the garden and edge closer to the person who is it.
The person who is it turns around at intervals.
The players freeze when she turns around. If they are caught moving they go back to the start.
If anyone reaches the other side, they touch the person who is it, on the back and shout ice-cream, she then chases the players and if anyone is caught they are it.
Please Mr Crocodile
One player is the crocodile. The other players stand on the opposite side and recite
Please Mr Crocodile May we cross the water, to see the queen’s daughter, who fell in the water, 100 years ago. Which colour must we wear?
The crocodile chooses a colour and any children wearing that colour have to run to the other side without being caught by the crocodile.
If they are caught, they become the crocodile.
I’m sure that there are many other playground games that I have forgotten over time. Many of them will be unique to British childhood so perhaps I should write them in a book to preserve a piece of British heritage for my children.
If we can’t remember the rules to our childhood games then they are in danger of being lost forever. I’d love you to share any games you can remember and if there are any lunch supervisors out there perhaps you could make it a mission to bring traditional games back to the playground.
I have a list of games I’m going to teach to my kids this spring particularly mob, and elastics (we got the elastic from Ikea recently) now that they are old enough to play.
It was party time again recently and this time my six-year-old chose a Minion theme. On arrival they were given a Minion hat made from a builders hat with a pair of cardboard goggles attached.
Minions love bananas, so they had to be on the menu. My eight-year-old decorated each banana to look like a Minion.
My six-year-old did the same with the cheese sticks.
I found Minion shaped fruit snacks and we had a selection of fruits and snacks.
It was all topped off with a Minion beach party cake.
Whilst we were waiting for guests to arrive, I printed colouring sheets for the children. My daughter had requested cookie decorating, so we decorated mandolins ( a perfect shape for a minion) with blue and yellow icing, black icing to add detail and edible eyes to make a Minion cookie.
I laid out pictures of Minions and gave each child a piece of yellow and blue polymer clay to make Minions. They added black and white for the eyes. I love how they turned out and that they were all so different.
Pin the hat on the Minion
This was a pre-bought game and acted as a good time filler while I laid out the food.
Pass the parcel
A Minion themed gift was wrapped and then covered in multiple layers. The parcel is passed around a circle to music and each time the music stops a layer is unwrapped. In previous parcels we had an activity to complete in each layer but this time I simple placed a lollipop in each layer. The person to unwrap the last layer, gets to keep the gift.
A variation of musical chairs. Lay out the same number of laminated pictures of bananas on the floor as there are children. The children dance and move around the room and one banana is taken away. When the music stops everyone runs to collect a banana and the child left without one is out (but gets a treat as consolation). The last child left in wins a prize.
Balance a banana on your head and walk to the other side of the room. Complete it successfully and win a prize. This was a big favourite. We ran out of time for more games but below are a few more banana games you may like to try.
Race to peel a banana wearing a pair of gloves
Hide bananas for a banana themed treasure hunt.
Stick pictures of bananas to a blow up palm tree and hold it high. Jump up and pick as many bananas as you can in a given time frame.
My daughter wanted a cat party for her eighth birthday. I hosted a dog themed party for a friend’s daughter a few months ago, so we re-used some of the ideas and added a few new ones.
For their arrival, each child had a pair of cat ears and my eldest drew noses and whiskers on their faces.
The food was simple. My daughter asked if they could have tuna fish sandwiches and I cooked a pizza cut into triangles to look like a mouse. We had cheese triangles with slices of cheese string for mouse ears and tails and strawberries with strawberry lace tails. My daughter baked cat shaped cookies and cupcakes with paw prints made from M&M’s and Minstrels (British chocolates that are bigger than M&M’s). Goldfish and other snacks completed the ensemble.
Plain, black plates were decorated with cat ears and faces and whiskers drawn on black paper cups.
One of the parent’s commented that it was the calmest party they had ever seen, as the group of mostly girls settled down to crafts.
First they coloured in wooden cat masks from Michaels, which gave us time to wait for everyone to arrive.
Once everybody had arrived, we made cat faces with polymer clay. At the dog party we made dog faces into necklaces but this time I decided to turn them into fridge magnets by attaching magnetic tape.
Finally we made pipe cleaner cats. The pipe cleaner was coiled around a finger, leaving a piece for the tail. Pom pom heads were attached and ears and faces added.
The first game was a magnetic fishing game. I made a fishing rod with a magnet attached and cardboard fish, labelled with numbers and a paperclip attached. Each guest caught a fish and then were handed a package with a corresponding number. Inside the package was a cuddly cat and a certificate for them to adopt the cat and take it home.
Pass the Parcel
Pass the parcel is a traditional British party game and one of my kids favourites. A gift is wrapped in multiple layers and passed around a circle. When the music stops the child holding the parcel unwraps one layer. Inside each layer was a cat themed action that the children had to perform, if they performed it correctly they received a treat. The child who unwraps the final layer wins the gift.
Musical Cat Beds
Following the same rules as musical chairs but using cushions as cat beds. When the music stopped, the children had to find a cat bed to sit on. Each time one cushion was removed. When a chid was out, I let them choose a sweet from the bag and the winner chose a larger prize from our goody bag.
We played this game at the dog party and it was a big success, so decided to use it again. Two bowls with a small amount of chocolate cereal are placed side by side (the cereal looks like pet food). Two children race each other to see who can finish the cereal first, by only using their mouths. The winner received a prize from the goody bag and the runner-up a sweet treat.
The second silly race, was to push a ball of wool/yarn across the floor to the finish line, using their nose. Some children worked out very quickly that if they gave it a significant nudge, it would roll a long way.
Pass the flea
I found a glow in the dark bug to act as our flea. This was an adaptation of hot potato. The children pass the flea quickly around the circle to music. When the music stops, the child holding the flea is out. The last child left in, is the lucky cat not to catch fleas and wins a prize from the goodie bag.
The party was a great success – I think the birthday girl would agree.
This week one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Jerome Bruner, died at age 100. If you have studied psychology or education you will most likely have come across his teachings. It’s easy to forget what we have been taught once college days are over, so I have been reminding myself of his teachings and their importance to early childhood educators.
Bruner proposed the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is the action that an adult performs to assist the child in learning something that would otherwise be beyond them. Examples of scaffolding include modelling, making suggestions,or structuring learning into manageable parts. As the metaphor suggests, the scaffold supports the child as they build skills so that it can eventually be reduced and removed completely.
The following video illustrates a number of points about scaffolding. Notice how the amount of scaffolding from the adult is minimal or non-existent for the eldest child (aged eight). Some scaffolding is offered to the three-year old in the form of suggestion and answering questions but lots of scaffolding is required by the one-year old. The children themselves also offer scaffolding to each other, as they watch what the others do and try things for themselves.
2. Bruner believed that learning was an active process and that children could discover complex concepts at any age.
“Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child,” he wrote in “The Process of Education,” “providing attention is paid to the psychological development of the child.”
This concept heavily influenced the view of the capable child in the schools of Reggio Emilia. Bruner was a regular visitor to the schools even into his 90’s.
3. His work was fundamental in raising the profile of early education and his ideas contributed heavily to the development of Head Start.
4. Spiral curriculum
This method focuses on revisiting learned content at set intervals and re-teaching it at a more refined and difficult level. Eventually, learned content from one subject informs more in-depth discussion of content in another subject. Learning through play allows us the luxury of visiting concepts multiple times in different contexts.
Studies are not isolated but intrinsically linked with a common thread running through them all. Bruner believed that learners should go beyond the information given and understand the process in order to generate ideas of their own.
With over 70 years of research, this list only scratches the surface. I found this video useful for understanding his key contributions.
We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.
I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment. The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.
They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park. The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.
Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails. On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.
At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land) had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.
As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted. The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.
Leading towards the trail is another little guest.
Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?
This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.
We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.
Many years ago, straight from college and failing to find a teaching opportunity in my locality, I accepted a job leading a play scheme. This was a new concept at the time, the first after-school and holiday club in my town. I learned a lot. I learned that play doesn’t need to have an end product in mind, I learned the importance of open-ended materials and space, I learned how to work with parents and the huge responsibility of being in charge of somebody else’s child. Through play work I learned that I loved working with the youngest children in a play-based environment. I no longer looked for teaching posts with 7-11 year olds but volunteered at a local nursery school to learn the trade of being an early years teacher.
As a young aspiring teacher, I was never proud of my title – play worker. I was always sure to let people know that I was actually a qualified teacher, that I had been to university for four years and wasn’t just a child care worker. When I got my first teaching post, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Stuck in a classroom of five and six-year olds with nothing to play with apart from a pack of modelling clay, I was quickly disillusioned.
My next job, in a nursery was very different. I worked with a team of teachers and nursery nurses who bounced ideas off one other, who valued play, who cared that the kids were happy and were passionate that teaching was far more than imparting knowledge. I watched, I listened and I learned. One of my colleagues was wonderful with the children and the parents loved her but she didn’t have a single child-care qualification. I quickly learned that having a teaching qualification didn’t make me better than those less qualified ; we could all learn from one another and had our own contribution to make.
Teacher Tom’s post, I’m Not Sure That’s Teaching ,reminded me of this. Tom questions the meaning of the word teacher and whether or not those who follow the children’s interests, supporting them as they go, are teachers as most people perceive them.
Peter Moss describes Loris Malaguzzi’s role in the schools of Reggio Emilia, as an educational leader whose role was
Not to tell others what to do, not to lead a pliant following wherever he chose – it was to create and evolve an educational project in his city, but always in relation with others and in a spirit of participation and co-operation
I’m currently reading a selection of Loris Malaguzzi’s writings and speeches. The rise of the preschools in Reggio Emilia as a reaction to education built on pre-determined knowledge imparted bit by bit, seems to ring truer today than it ever has.
Labels are complicated and to this day I’m not really sure what I’d prefer to be called. A teacher? educator? play worker? early childhood professional? I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Perhaps that is why I often struggle for a title when people ask me what I do.
Most of the children I have worked with in my career have called me Rachel. Not teacher Rachel, Miss Rachel or Mrs McClary but simply Rachel. Perhaps titles don’t matter that much after all.