Playgrounds around the world no longer ring to the sound of chalk scratching on pavements as numbered squares are carefully drawn out to make a hopscotch court.
And gaggles of small girls and boys foraging under trees to find conkers, the ultimate weapon with which to wage fearsome battles, are a rarity, too.
The traditional outdoor games of sunny days have been replaced by mammoth pirate ships, intricate climbing apparatus and twirly slides. And even though the shiny play equipment found in the schools, nurseries and public parks across the UAE are a great way for our tots to let loose, they seem to be slightly stage-managed by the myriad health and safety procedures slapped upon them.
So, are our children missing out on key character-building experiences with the demise of the more traditional, home-spun games, or have we been wearing our slightly sepia-coloured sunglasses for too long?
Tim Gill, scholar, advocate and consultant on childhood, suggests the former. His research over the last decade has focused on the changing nature of children’s play and free time. “There is something wonderfully pared down and self-reliant about many traditional games,” he tells us. “They rarely need equipment, many can be played almost anywhere, and can cope with a wide range of ages and abilities. And the rules can be endlessly adapted – just as long as a sense of fair play is respected.”
Gill believes outdoor games such as tag provide children with valuable rehearsals for everyday life. Children choose who is going to be “it”, they then need to agree where the “base” is and they have to figure out all the disputes that come along the way.
Gill adds: “The physicality of tag, and indeed many traditional games, demands accurate risk management. When chasing or catching, players have to try to make sure they don’t hurt each other too much. That is a pretty impressive list of physical, interpersonal and social skills.”
And the most important thing about these games is that they are a whole heap of fun. According to Gill, if children are given the space to play them, the immersive and ever-evolving benefits will come shining through. So let’s get out and reclaim the streets!
Global games from a bygone era
Global games from a bygone era
In the Handkerchief Game, two teams are on opposite sides with a handkerchief in the middle. The “caller” yells a number and the players race to try to grab the handkerchief.
Skill: Speed, problem-solving, listening.
In British Bulldog ,one player stands in the middle of the play area with all remaining players at one end of it (home). Players must run from one end to the other, without being caught.
Skill: Speed, problem-solving.
Played by teams of twelve, Kho Kho is one of the most popular traditional tag games of South Asia. Nine players are chased for nine minutes by the other team.
Skill: Agility, speed, problem-solving.
Three Tins is a game played by teams of five or more. The tins are placed in the middle of the space, one on top of the other, and the player has three attempts to knock it down. Simple but fun.
Skill: Coordination, problem-solving.