Playtime Across the Planet

Back to school is looming, and whether the thought fills your heart with joy, or has you quaking in your boots, the kids will soon be back in the classroom and running amok on the playground before you can say “Bring me a large latte”.

Since travel is something we love, I’ve had a virtual look at some playgrounds around the world to see what kids across the globe get up to in their down time. There are plenty of similarities, but also some new ideas which you could incorporate into your children’s own playground time. Who knows? Maybe they could move into the schoolyard with your kids and make the continental leap.

First up, we travel to Africa for a game you can play indoors or outdoors. In Botswana, Diketo is a game for one or more players, and the only equipment needed is ten pebbles (Although you might want to switch that to something like small bean bags or marbles) and a tennis ball. The player sits on the floor, and places their ten marbles inside a chalk drawn circle beside them. They throw the tennis ball into the air, and while it’s in the air, the player pushes all the marbles out of the circle, puts one aside and pushes the remaining marbles back into the hoop. They have to complete this manoeuvre before the tennis ball comes back down and lands in their hand. If they catch the ball, they play on with nine marbles in the chalk circle, then 8. There’s a video of it here:

Now over to China for a game called “The Hawk Catching The Young Chicks”. You need at least three players for this game. One player is the hawk, one player is the chicken, and the others are the young chicks. The Chicken and the chicks form a caterpillar shape, by standing in a line with their hands on the shoulder of the person in front. The chicken is the player at the front of the line. She steers the group away from the hawk, who can fly in from any direction on the playground, and has to protect them from being “eaten”, which is represented by being tapped by the hawk. Have a look at some grown ups demonstrating it here:

In Spanish speaking countries like Mexico and Spain, a good group game is “A Pares Y Nones”, which roughly translates as “Odds and Evens”. Everyone stands in a circle and walks around in the circle formation while singing the song which you’ll see on this video, At the end of the song, a leader calls out a number – let’s say they choose three – and everyone has to get into groups of 3. Anyone who doesn’t get into a group of 3 is out. The game continues until everyone is out.

British children have been playing British Bulldog for decades. It’s best played in a large, contained space like a gym or fenced tennis court to stop anyone sneaking out of the catcher’s way. At that start of the game, there’s one catcher – the bulldog. The children are spaced out along the back wall of the gym or along a line at the back of the playground, and the bulldog shouts out a command for them to run to the other end . They have to make it to the other end of the playing area without being tapped by the bulldog. If the bulldog tags them, they become bulldogs as well. The idea is that the number of bulldogs increases as the game progresses, making it harder for the children to cross the field of play. It’s not the most exciting video, but here’s a clear diagram showing the game, step by step: .

You might have seen the sudden craze for “The floor is lava”, but this is a variant of a game which has been played in Pakistan for years called “Ounch Neech”, or “Up Down”. You’ll need plenty of players for this, and one leader, who decides whether they need to be Ounch (Up off the ground) or Neech (Safe on the ground). If the leader calls out their “Ounch”, the children have just a few seconds to scramble to safety before the leader can chase them and catch them. Anyone caught is out.

Our final stop in our tour of the world’s playgrounds is Australia, where youngsters have their native creatures incorporated into a game you might know as “Squeak Piggy Squeak”. In Australia, it’s known as “Skippyroo Kangaroo”. Everyone sits in a circle. One child is chosen to be Skippyroo the Kangaroo, and they sit in the middle of the circle covering their eyes. The children in the circle all say “”Skippyroo, kangaroo, dozing in the midday sun, here comes a hunter, run, run, run”, and one child becomes the hunter, creeps up to Skippyroo, adopts a silly voice and says “Guess who’s caught you just for fun?” Skippyroo has to guess who’s behind the silly voice. If they’re successful, they get to take the vacant space in the circle, and the hunter becomes the new Skippyroo.

There are so many fantastic games played by children around the world. Have you got any you can share? I’d love to hear them.

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