No not the Olympic Games about which there is plenty being said by others more capable than I but games children play or maybe I should say used to play. I read of a Canadian report recently in which it said that many children spend less than 3 hours a week out of doors and this really shocked me. I know that they must be including those who live in high rise flats with no gardens where playing outside might well be difficult apart from an occasional trip to the park and always assuming that mum or dad is willing and able to take them but 3 hours a week?!!!!
As is my wont these days my mind went back to my own childhood and I seemed to remember being outside all the time. Of course that couldn't have been true and I began to think about what we played both indoors and out, of how we filled our hours back in the 1950s .
I was lucky in having a mainly country childhood and never did we live anywhere that didn't have a garden. My earliest memories are of living at Hightown near Liverpool where my mother worked as a live in housekeeper for a couple of elderly ladies (well they seemed old to me though were probably a good bit younger than I am now!) Here I am riding my tricycle round the garden aged about 3 or 4 I also loved paddling in their pond . They seemed to think I was the best thing since sliced bread and so thoroughly spoiled me and I was free to run about their garden most of the time as I pleased..
Children in the late 40s and 50s had much more outdoor exercise than nowadays as we usually walked to school, we had daily physical education lessons sometimes outside where we played rounders, running and jumping etc, and we spent nearly all our playtimes out in the playground playing games like tag, skipping, ball and so on as well as climbing and swinging on the frame in the playground - I particularly remember enjoying hanging upside down with one leg over each of two parallel ropes which were provided! Then in our free time we would walk to our friends' homes to see if they wanted to come out to play and proceed to spend hours playing in the road. There being very few cars this wasn't as dangerous as it sounds and when the shout went up "Car coming!" we rushed to untie our skipping rope (probably a piece of old washing line) from the lamp-post across the street to allow said car to pass before going on with our games! Imagine that now!
|No this isn't me this time!|
We played two, or even three, ball games where we tucked our dresses into our knickers (well the girls did) and played complicated games including different movements with the balls against some poor beleaguered neighbour's wall sometimes throwing the balls under one leg hence the need for dresses being tucked up out of the way. We did handstands against the walls too and when we got tired of that we would find a scrap of old chalk or maybe even a scrap of slate or soft stone and draw out a hopscotch pitch on the pavement for a game of hopscotch. If we fancied something a bit less physical we might play five stones or if anyone had some maybe a game of Jacks which involved squatting down and bouncing a small rubber ball whilst doing intricate manoeuvers with the jacks. Or we might decide to go for a walk and collect wildflowers which we'd press when we got home. Or maybe just a game of pretend such as mothers and fathers or for the boys more likely cowboys and indians or something like that.
Many of our activities involved plants such as making daisy chains, shooting the heads off plantains by wrapping the stalks round just below the head and of course that perennial favourite of most children where you choose a length of grass and holding it between both thumbs to keep it taut blow on the edge to create an ear splitting sound! We knew that elder trees had hollow stems if you could poke the pithy insides out and had ideas of making blow pipes or recorders though I suspect we never got that far. We knew the names of many of the wild flowers, which plants were safe to eat and which to leave well alone, natural remedies such as dock leaves to soothe nettle stings and so on and best of all we were free from adult supervision.
We learned hand eye co-ordination, independence, to use our own initiative and our instincts and many other of life's lessons along the way and all the time we were outside in Nature's classroom. I wonder how many hours a week we spent out of doors - probably 4 or 5 hours a day on dry school days and more in the holidays and even on wet days we would have had to walk to school.
Yesterday I took a walk into town, along this route past the lakes, to pick up a few library books and came across some children playing a game of "Dare" and was immediately transported back to my own childhood. These children were daring each other to jump across a ditch (probably about 3 feet wide) which feeds this lake and was filled with shallow water from the side I was walking across to a little wooden jetty presumably placed to allow people to feed the ducks without standing in the mud. I remember playing a similar game where we dared each other to jump over a dry ditch with a barbed wire fence at ever widening places! It's clever how children's innate sense of self preservation and their ability to recognise their limitations meant that nobody ever attempted what they couldn't achieve and so there were no gashes and no trips to hospital ever required or maybe we were just lucky. It was good to see that children given half a chance will play outside and do many of the same things we did!
But of course it wasn't always possible to play outside and then we would have to think of something to do indoors. Being an only child board games or anything that required someone else to play with were no good to me (maybe why I am not keen on card games or Scrabble or anything like that even now?) but there were books to read - perhaps from the library at school which would lend a child a couple of books each week. I did have some books of my own received as birthday presents and I also read some of Grandfather's books from his shelf including Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Water Babies which both had a fusty smell and pages mottled with brown spots due to age and the damp! If I could get Grandfather to knock a few sprigs into an empty wooden cotton reel I might do French knitting and finish up with a length of cord - I am not sure what I did with it but for children back then the doing was the thing as much as the finished product! Since my mother knitted most of my woolies there was usually enough leftover yarn to make these cords or maybe to do some cat's cradles with. Of course I sometimes put on my mac (who remembers the navy gaberdine macs we wore to school back then?) and set off to walk to a friend's house to play inside with her and then the range of activities was much wider of course.
One of my favourite indoor games was Bayco - a current day health and safety inspector's nightmare as it involved putting wire rods into a grid of holes on a plastic base and then slotting the "bricks" between these wires to build houses - I never heard of anyone having their eye out with these wires though! Nor with the lethal wire eyes that our teddies used to have - just the eye on a long wire poked into the teddy's face and liable to come out if pulled!!
We knew nothing of computers and televisions nor did we know about the present day dangers and although we lacked many shop bought playthings - post war nobody had much - I think we were happy making up our own games and playing with what we had. Happy days and yes many more than 3 hours a week spent outside!