My colleagues and I were discussing children’s games and playground equipment and activities yesterday because of the news coverage of Caddo’s new playground equipment, generously donated recently by a grandparent. We all agreed that children’s games are a bit “dull” these days, compared to our own childhood activities. Even though both of the other kindergarten teachers are young enough to be my daughters, playgrounds have changed tremendously even since their time at school. And my playground time was in the dark ages! Lol
I haven’t seen a child play marbles or jacks in twenty years. In fact, most of my students cannot identify or explain either game. On the J page of an older phonics lesson there is a “jack” and I always have to explain to my class what it is.
Jacks have been played for hundreds of years, first with small stones, then with other objects until the standard six-tipped metal jack was devised. Of course now the games pieces are available in plastic, but I’m not sure who plays with them. And it’s a shame, because jacks were always great for hand-eye coordination. I spent many a happy hour sitting on the ground with friends and playing "double bounces," "pigs in the pen," "over the fence," "eggs in the basket" "flying Dutchman," and "around the world”.
I didn’t play marbles much. That was the boy’s game and there were often heated competitions both at school and at our house after school. Boys collected marbles, trades marbles, and coveted marbles that were known to be great “shooters”.
As I got older and it wasn’t “cool” to sit on the ground at recess, I began to play hopscotch. I excelled at throwing a little chain into the square to mark my spot. I wasn’t bad at hopping either in my younger thinner days. And hopscotch is a little better known and even played by some school children today. It seems to be more popular at eastern schools or city schools where there is still blacktop and cement.
The aforementioned games, and jump rope, another popular activity of my childhood, required one of two things that hardly exist on playgrounds anymore: dirt or blacktop. For safety reasons most playgrounds are now grass or a “safety surface”- rubber matting, pebbles, mulch, or sand. And because of the expense of safety surfaces, especially the rubber ones, they are used only under slides, swings, climbing equipment, etc. You don’t see vast expanses of flat surfacing, perfect for hopscotch, jump rope or other games, except on older playgrounds that have not been “improved”.
Safety issues have changed much of the playground. Some schools don’t even have swings anymore because they have been deemed the most dangerous item in the metal jungle. I understand some parks have been forced to remove them because insurance companies will no longer cover them. Yet, the swing is a like a baby toy when compared to some of the contraptions that used to exist. When I think back to the playground equipment of my youth it is a wonder that I am alive to type this!
Anyone remember the maypole? It was a tall metal pole with two to four long chains that extended from a revolving top. At the ends of the chains were metal loops. The object was to hold the loop and run, run, run until the thing was spinning so hard that it lifted you off the ground. Better with four players, especially if you could avoid hitting each other and getting tangled up.
How about the seesaw or teeter-totter? And I’m not talking about those wimpy things you see on swing sets. I’m talking about those great twelve footers that could lift you high enough off the ground to make you lose your lunch! I haven’t seen one of those in about thirty years. It was in an old public park where we stopped with the kids while on vacation.
Slides have also changed dramatically. There are height requirements and landing surface regulations and most are now plastic instead of metal to prevent burns.
I nearly lost part of my tongue once while playing on the “monkey bars”. Fell smack down to the pavement and gave it a good bite. Yes, I was back to give it another try the next week. Jungle gyms and monkey bars and pyramids and all sorts of metal climbing mazes were once standards on playgrounds.
So, too, were merry-go-rounds. Oh, I miss those most of all! Who doesn’t remember spinning round and round, faster and faster? Or hanging precariously off the edge, or standing up without holding on, or dragging one foot through water or mud, or letting your long hair glide along the dirt? And it was always great if you could get a bigger kid or an adult to push!
How many black eyes and sprained fingers did you get playing tether ball? I may hold the record! I finally stopped playing because I just wasn’t good at it. But it was a thrill to watch two good players.
You may recall that I attended more than a dozen schools as a child so I was privileged to use a variety of playgrounds. I recall one that had a huge green wooden wall used specifically for that most feared and dreaded game of all- dodge ball. I had a college professor who swore that if we ever let our students play dodge ball she would track us down! I’m not sure she ever explained what she would do to us, but she was “preaching to the choir” here. I hated dodge ball with a passion!
It was ironic that during free choice time yesterday my students also had a discussion of games. One of my boys mentioned getting a new game during spring break and casually asked if anyone else had a WII. Hands shot up all over the room and students eagerly chimed in with the games they had and their favorites and who played them at their house. Changing times indeed.
On the one hand I applaud our efforts to make playgrounds safer places for our children. Many children were injured and maimed and even killed by the old playground equipment. Much of it needed to be removed.
But sometimes on warm spring days I wonder what my students would do if we had a merry-go-round.
I think I would be tempted to join them in whirling round and round and round…
Take some time to play today…safely.