Old games are more than child's play

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The Independent Online
THE BOYS and girls go out to play at Grange Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent. They chant "Ring a Ring O'Roses" and skip across the hopscotch squares like generations of schoolchildren before them.

But they have not picked up the little games and rhymes on street corners during lazy summer afternoons. They aretaught the traditional pastimes by staff keen to keep the old games alive. The school is one of hundreds teaching pupils once-familiar playground games to stop the decline of Britain's childhood heritage.

Four years ago, the 500-pupil school ran training sessions for staff to show them how to pass on playground games and activities to the children. Now the games that have entertained generations are part of the daily landscape. "The infants are encouraged to play together and are shown the rules of simple games," said Grange's head, Nigel Johnson. "The games are there to make sure children do not idly waste away their time. Some children might just want to sit down, which is fine, but rather than having everybody chasing around, it's good to have them playing together."

Research published last year by the London University Institute of Education found children were losing some of the traditional games that keep them occupied during the long lunch hour. Earlier this week Cheynes Infant School in Luton banned pupils from playing "kiss chase", fearing an "exchange of bodily fluids".

The London University study, by Dr Peter Blatchford, surveyed 1,500 schools and found 56 per cent of primaries and 44 per cent of secondaries had cut break times, mainly by removing afternoon breaks and shortening lunch hours. Dr Blatchford found teachers complaining that children were idling in playgrounds or causing disruption. But teachers insist that traditional games are still alive and kicking. Yo-yos, which date back to 400BC, took playgrounds by storm last year and tiddlywink-style Pogs were an essential addition to the school rucksack in 1995.

At Northwold Primary School in Stoke Newington, north London, the deputy head, Surinder Dhingra, brought in consultants to teach new games, songs and rhymes to the children and teaching assistants. Every year children are appointed "playground friends" to pass on the games to the school's 420 pupils.

The head, Graham West, said: "One of the things arising about two years ago was children getting into confrontations with other pupils during playtimes. I have found, working with children, that these sort of rhymes and songs have gone out of their vocabulary. They will practise pop songs, but creative play and working together has gone, perhaps because we don't allow them to play in the street and because they watch television."

At Grange primary, teachers believe games are essential. Mr Johnson said: "When they get outside they can run around and let off steam, but they need to know how to do it sensibly.

"They are started off on `Ring a Ring O'Roses' and hopscotch in groups. There's no British Bulldog, though. If you have two lines of children charging at each other it's a recipe for disaster."