The games we played... from the 60s to the present day

Playground games are as much fun today as they were generations ago. Here’s some of the old favourites
The games we played... from the 60s to the present day
playing marbles stock shot

FOR generations of children, lunchtime and playground games have been an essential part of an exciting school day.

Early games didn’t require any equipmen, then Yo-yo’s, Crazy Bones, Tazos, and Tamagotchis came along.

With the thousands of apps kids are downloading these days on their smart devices, it’s important to encourage enough playtime outdoors to build strong social skills and make sure kids are getting enough exercise. Games played in the playground are rich in learning and development opportunities and satisfy children’s social and competitive needs.

Hopscotch is as relevant now as it was back in the 17th century when it first emerged.
Hopscotch is as relevant now as it was back in the 17th century when it first emerged.

Nicola Butler, Chair of Play England, says: “Traditional playground games are vital for children’s health, wellbeing and development. Playing these games allows children to learn about friendships (falling out, making up, negotiating and resolving disputes, making the game fun and fair) but most importantly being involved in these games makes children happy.”

Down the decades, many games have been passed through generations, from year group to year group. Here are a reminder of many of them, compiled by TTS Group.

Skipping is still popular, having taken off in the 1960s
Skipping is still popular, having taken off in the 1960s

1960s Playground Games

Skipping/jump rope: Skipping has stood the test of time, and is still popular today. It is a collaborative activity involving children jumping over a rope swung under their feet and over their heads.

Hopscotch: This long-standing game dates back to the late 17th century. It can be played individually or as part of a group. It is a popular playground game in which children toss a small object into a pattern of rectangles outlined on the ground and then hop or jump through the spaces to retrieve the object. The game often maintains children’s interest through additions of rhymes as they hop, or by concentrating their hand-eye coordination on aiming the object at a particular number.

It or tag: A game that could involve large groups of children and last for hours! One child is picked to be ‘It’ and runs after the other children trying to catch and tag them. The tagged person would then become It and the chasing game continued.

Conkers: Autumn conkers are always exciting finds for children and have endless possibilities. In this instance, children would gather the shiny brown horse chestnuts that had fallen from the trees, make a hole through them and thread a string. In pairs, children take turns to hold up their conker while the other child hits it with theirs. The conker which remains in best shape becomes the winner and the prized possession.

Children can also experiment, and become scientists, as they think of ways in which they can make their conker stronger, by soaking it in vinegar or even, with the help of an adult, bake it in the oven!

Jacks, Dibs or Fives: Played with a range of treasures which children can gather (stones, bones, seeds, filled cloth bags, counters). Children take turns in throwing five or more counters, into the air with one hand and aiming to catch them either in the palm or the back of that same hand. Those caught count for the player, and those that missed, count against.

Yo-Yos: Although a 1960s craze, Yo-Yos have made regular reappearances down the decades. They now incorporate ball bearings and transaxles, allowing the Yo-Yo to ‘sleep’, making tricks such as ‘rock the baby’ possible.

Kids playing Red Rover.
Kids playing Red Rover.

1970s Playground Games

Marbles: These were an appealing collectable as children engaged in two different games: the simple friendly type whereby your marble collection can be showed off and the more serious competitive type whereby your marble collection was up for grabs.

Red Rover: This is an adrenaline-charged game. Players are divided into two lines facing each other, holding hands and spread out, with enough distance for a running start between the lines. The first team beckons a person on the second team by calling, ‘Red Rover, Red Rover, send ___ right over!’

The named child must run at full force towards one of the gaps in the opposing line, trying to break through a pair of clasped hands. If the player gets through, they return to the original line. If they fail, they must join the line they couldn’t break. The other team now calls for someone to run right over and do the same. The game continues until one team has absorbed all the players.

Clackers: Clackers are two plastic spheres suspended on string. The name derives from the ‘clacking’ sound made when the balls hit each other whilst being swung up and down.

The aim of clackers is to get exactly the right up and down hand motion to get the balls to knock together.

Sardines: This is a version of hide and seek in which, initially, only one person hides and all of the others look. Those who find the hidden player join them in hiding. This continues until all of the children squeezed up together are found by the last player.

Duck Duck Goose: A group of people sit in a circle. The person who was ‘it’ would walk around the circle, tapping one person on the head while saying ‘duck’. They would choose a person to tap “Goose”, at this point, the ‘goose’ would jump up and chase the person who tapped them around the circle in the hope of catching them before the tagger takes their seat in their unoccupied space.

School children playing  What's the time Mr Wolf?
School children playing  What's the time Mr Wolf?

1980s Playground Games

Bulldog: This game is all about speed and tactics. One player starts as a ‘bulldog’ facing a number of children who need to run from one end of the playground to the other, with the idea of capturing someone who would become a fellow bulldog.

Stuck in the Mud: This is a version of tag in which the person that has been ‘tagged’ has to stand still until they could be ‘freed’ by another player crawling under their legs.

Twang/Elastics: It involves a piece of elastic being stretched out around the ankles of two people, while others would jump in and out of the elastic. Coordination is tested through faster rhymes combining difficult movements with speed.

What’s the time Mr. Wolf? The game begins with one child chosen to be Mr Wolf, and standing at one end of the playing area. The rest of the players stand in a line at the other end. Mr Wolf turns his back to commence the game. The players call out, ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ and Mr Wolf turns and answers with a time of choice, such as 3 o’ clock. And the group would take three steps forward. He then turns his back again while the children advance chanting ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ Mr Wolf gives another time, until the players come very close and he then responds ‘It’s dinner time!’ and he will chase the players back to the starting line, aiming to catch one, who then becomes the new Mr Wolf!

Football stickers: During the late 80’s and 90’s thousands of 9-11-year-olds, primarily boys, had one aim: to complete their sticker album. Playgrounds were filled with chants of “got, got, need” as children flicked through each other’s sticker cards during tradings.

Two people engaged in a game of thumb wars.
Two people engaged in a game of thumb wars.

1990’s Playground Games

Headers and Volleys: Playing with a football, you would only use one goal and there would be just one keeper. Everyone else would have to set each other up to score, either a header or a volley (volleys had to be scored from outside the 6-yard box). If you kicked the ball wide, or over, you automatically went in goal.

Pokemon Cards: Pokémon’s huge popularity originated from children’s interests of media and grew into the trading card phenomenon in playgrounds. Children would be practicing and extending their mental maths and problem-solving skills, the cards were most commonly used for trading.

Tamagotchi: Tamagotchi’s really hit the heights of popularity around 1997. Tamagotchi was a handheld digital pet that you ‘cared’ for by feeding, cleaning and playing with it. The main aim was to keep your pet alive, which placed a huge amount of responsibility upon children.

Slaps: Red hands, also known as hot hands, slapsies, slaps, or simply the hand slap game, is a game which can be played by two players.

One player extends their hands forward, roughly at arm’s length, with the palms down. The other player’s hands, also roughly at arm’s length, are placed, palms up, under the first player’s hands. The object of the game is for the second player to slap the back of the first player’s hands before the first player can pull them away. If the slapping player misses, the players swap roles and play again.

Thumb Wars: “One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war...” A game which, although rather simple, requires strength, problem-solving, establishing a plan, quick in the moment thinking as well as changing strategy. Two players interlocked their hands leaving their thumbs free and passing their thumbs over each other in time with this rhyme. Then follows a thumb battle to try and pin the other person’s thumb under yours for five seconds.

You can make lots of things, like bracelets with loom bands.
You can make lots of things, like bracelets with loom bands.

21st century Playground Games

Scoobies: Scoobies were colourful plastic string which children used for crafting into bracelets, charms and onto pens. This required concentration and developed children’s acquisition of mathematical concepts as they crafted with a variety of different complex knots.

Loom Bands: Similar to Scoobies, these open-ended Loom bands can be crafted into many different things such as bracelets, charms, necklaces and hair accessories.

Parkour: Parkour is probably one of the most active, fastest and certainly riskiest playground games.

It can be best described as a training discipline using movement, where people aim to get from one point to another in a complex environment, without equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible.

Parkour includes running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, and other movements as deemed most suitable for the situation.

Beyblades: Beyblade is a line of spinning top toys originally developed and manufactured by Takara Tomy, first released in Japan in July 1999, it soon made its way to the UK and Ireland. The main appeal for children was the customisation aspect of Beyblade, with interchangeable parts. Some children spun them in a plastic ‘arena’ to last longer, or knockout their opponent.

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