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Sunday, 29 July 2012


 Warning - this is a long one so you might need a cup of tea with it or perhaps to just skip it altogether.

 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!


  1. I remember going on picnics with my friend in the woods with our bikes. playing ball in the field.
    I learnt to knit etc, and I read a lot too! I remember the Navy Gaberdine macs, I never had one though. I had Lego which also has tiny pieces and jig-saws and lots of dolls!
    Julie xxxxxxxx

  2. I had an inner city childhood until I was nine - playing on bombsites which still existed around where we lived in Bristol and careering down the steep hills on a scooter to the park with swings and slides alone or with a friend from about the age of six. Later we lived in rural Essex so bike rides, picnics and ponies became available. I always wanted a Bayko set - everything then came with hazards -Spirograph came with pushpins and I had lots of lead toys. We seemed to survive .

  3. As a child during the '60's I played out all the time too, during the summer from morning to night. We played allsorts of games many which you have mentioned. Our bikes were very popular too.
    I laughed when you talked about knitting with the spools, I remember having miles of knitting which never really became anything but that really wasn't the point.
    You said about putting on your mac, if you said that to a child nowadays they would think you were turning on a computer. :)
    Vivienne x

  4. As a child in the 70s in North Norfolk we too spent much time outside. We used to make dens in the Sandringham woods and played in disused concrete bunkers. We also cycled down to the coast and navigated the marshes and mud flats to collect samphire. I'm sure that out parents would have been horrified if they knew some of the places that we played in, the dangers of the marshes makes me quite twitchy now, but we all survived!

  5. Sounds like we had very similar childhoods. We spent all our time outside, riding bikes, swimming, rowing our little boats, exploring...and if it rained, we played Monopoly!

  6. My memories are along the same lines as 'greenrabbitdesigns'. My brother used to stay out, and only come home when he was hungry,, and mum never worried about him.

  7. What you describe isn't so very different to my growing up in the late 60s and 70s. We would go on expeditions across the local farmland that lasted all afternoon and no one seemed to feel the need to know where we were.

    Great post :D

  8. Ex-RAF hubby says righteo! Times were simpler and yes, he remembers well his Mac but had only a Mechano game.
    About children not getting enough fresh air, could not agree more!

  9. I enjoyed your memories of childhood here, Jane. I grew up in the late 50's-60's and we were outside everyday, unless it was horribly cold, raining (although I remember having a pretty little umbrella and boots and taking a walk in the rain), or miserably hot outside. We had swing sets, slides, teeter-totters, bats and balls, jump rope, tree houses, and bikes. We played hide and seek, we built snowmen, and rode our sleds down icy hills. We built bonfires and roasted marshmallows. We played in the woods where I would cut a bouquet of wild flowers for my mother, and built forts in the woods with tree limbs and sticks. We ran barefoot through cornfields, and swung over a creek. I would play dolls and house with friend. My brothers and I played card games and board games. We were busy children! Sadly, when I visit my grandchildren, they do spend most of their time inside.

  10. Oh, another thought: Just a week ago, here in the US the news showed a short video of a 10 year old girl almost being abducted off a city street. Street cameras showed the young girl and her 4 year old brother walking along the street, a man following in a car. The man got out of the car, approached them, and grabbed the 10 year old girl. She fought and screamed and the little brother screamed too. The man let her go and ran off. He ended up turning himself in. I said to my brother, I actually think in today's world, Parents should never let their young children walk on the streets alone. It is a sad world, and children outside the home are now easy targets for murderers, sexual predators, or whatever. Even in small "safe" towns, one still must be vigilant.

  11. Wow, that was a journey and a half you took us on, i love time travelling. I remember the early 60's growing up in blackpool, first we lived above my dads shop with a small backyard and the alley behind the shops became the playground for us 'shop kids', we'd hear the rag and bone man and rush inside for rags off our mums so we could get a goldfish and then jump on the back of the cart for a ride through the alleyways, mum would give me a bucket and i'd have to scoop up the horse poo for the few plants that we managed to grow. When we moved to a proper house with a big garden I thought i was in heaven, i clmbed trees - my favourite perch being at the top of an apple tree with an enid blyton book. New friends and new games, hide and seek, kiss chase, french skipping, two ball, mr wolf etc. The older kids watched out for the younger ones and all the neighbours watched out for every kid and weren't averse to giving a clip round an ear if they saw someone misbehaving and there would have been no point in complaining because you know they would have been round and told your parents what you were up to.
    My sons growing up in australia in the 90's were able to run around with no shoes, fish down the creek, ride their bikes through the villages, they climbed trees, made cubbys, I suppose we were lucky that we lived in a small country village and were able to give them the same upbringing we had as kids.

  12. What a lovely post but alas a sad one too. I had this sort of childhood where I would jump on my bike and go off all day , making dens etc and my parents would never worry but now I wouldn't dare let my boys out of my sight . I do try and get them out as much as possible though, walking to school , going to the beach park etc. I read on a blog recently that unless a toy beeps or has buttons then most children are not interested and I unfortunately have to agree. I used to get Bunty magazine and cut out the dress up doll on the back and would spend hours playing with..., ahhh memories

  13. The last comment sent me back in time too. My friend used to get Bunty and cut out the doll on the back and I wanted to get one too but my Dad thought Look and Learn was more suitable for me! I wonder if they really were the halcyon days I seem to remember Jane? In my memory the summer holdays were contiuously hot and sunny and I spent hours riding around the roads on my bike without my parents giving it a second thought.We stayed out for hours on end without any adult supervision. I aslo remember playing ball games against the wall and something where we hid it in our skirts whilst singing 'Queeniee ball ball ball, against the wall, wall wall'. Fancy a game of 'one potato, two potato, three potato, four......?

  14. A very thought provoking post. I too remember the activities that you mention - growing up in the late 60's / 70's. There was a field behind our house and we would make dens and be out there all day. My mum would come to the back fence to call me and my friends for a glass of squash and something to eat and then we'd be out again. I enjoyed many rides on my bike too and was always running errands for people to the corner shop, which involved crossing a main road. I did this from about the age of four, all by myself. It just wouldn't happen now and perhaps we are the worse off for it.

  15. It sounds like you had a great time! Unfortunately in this age its not so safe anymore for children to be wondering on their own, even as young teens. My daughter is picked up at the bus stop everyday, no matter what. They had our property to run around when they were little, and socialised with other children at playgroups. They had loads of fun, and stayed safe. Great post as always!

  16. You have almost written my childhood there. I used to knit clothes for my dolls and sew some too. I was always made to go outside in winter too though if there was snow it was no hardship. We used to have seasonal games too Whip and Top; Bat and Catty; Hoops; Conkers; Hop-scotch. Oh the memories, thank you!

  17. I loved this post and other peoples' memories, too. A reminder of times gone by, with a vengeance. Wandering around the road;, in and out of friends' houses; borrowing a baby and pushing it out in its pram; playing Grandmother's Footsteps in the road; hide and seek in local gardens because the railings had gone for salvage and the irate householder rapping on the window; Knocking down Ginger, tying two doorknockers together with string; asking a passerby to change a penny for two halfpennies and the next one to change it back again.
    Trying to roller skate; playing rounders in the road using the lamp post and telegraph poles as bases...
    A different life altogether in the 1940s, literally.

  18. A great post Jane! I think one of the main reasons the children don't play in the streets anymore is due to the cars. We used to have hardly any cars in our street and the road was our playground! We also used to play on rubbish tips and build dens. It would all be considered a health and safety hazzard today but we learnt how to be independent and problem solving skills such as how we are going to climb over the barbed wire fence. Life seemed to be a big adventure back then!

  19. I agree with Simone. But also, there's a sort of snowball effect. When lots of kids were playing in the street, it was the normal thing to do. Now, a kid or two playing on their own in the street look as if they are neglected (at least in the city) and motorists don't look out for them and pedestrians are worried about them. I don't know what the answer is. Except walking to school whenever possible, which at least gives some exercise in the day.

  20. Yep, despite a childhood growing up in the middle of Liverpool, as a youngster I would be always out of doors, with my friends, playing 'house', making swings, later cycling all over the place, roller skating, playing rounders on the park, even later...regular visits to Silver Blades Ice Rink, dancing....och it was all go go go! Stopping only to pick up a book to read! Hiking and camping with the Guides, playing hockey and netball for school'd never believe it to look at me now! And none f these things were organised for us, apart from the school games, so no excuses that there's 'nothing for us to do', it doesn't wash with me.

    I understand the fear parents have these days about letting their children play out all day long, but too much reliance on electronic games I think is very injurous to health and well-being!

    (How ancient do I sound!!) Excellent post!

  21. We, my elder brothers & I, Rocky was 10, Andy 9 and I 7, had total freedom in first the Canadian/Ontario bush behind our house, only really getting into trouble after being caught swimming in the swamp becasue of the snapping turtles although possibly three stinky kids were just a little hard to take. Rocky got sprayed by a skunk once, phew! Later when my parents decided to return to GB we lived on the edge of the Forest of Dean and swam in the Wye, with my four younger suiblings too, none of us came to any harm apart from the odd treee jumping incident (climbing up 20' young pines and swaying them til you could jump to the next one), it was about who could go the furthest without touching the ground. We had an old house, large 'the Good Life' style garden and livestock with an Arts & Crafts shop there at the time, near the Yat Rock and all had to help with the house renovation, for some time I was in charge of mixing barrow loads of cement, at the age of 12, I did not like having to carry up the slates to the shop roof for Dad when he was reslating it though and it was something that I resented at the time but now realise that this involvement formed my ability to tackle anything but the shop was mine and my Dad's domain, I loved going on the buying trips and meeting the Artists best trip was to the Welsh Woollen mill. I tried to pass this tackle anything attitude onto my own children and both have become very independent, capable adults in part no doubt to their own extensive freedom growing up in Shropshire and Zimbabwe. With this attitude also comes the appreciation of older/more experienced people as their knowledge and advice is vital to help in ones ventures.

  22. Yes, I recognise most of those games and experiences of a fifties childhood - my Mum would recognise her 30s childhood too and even my son who grew up in the 70s enjoyed much freedom to roam in our small market town in rural North Wales. It seems to me that past generations of children entertained themselves for the most part but now kids have to have activities arranged for them, entailing the parents in endless taxiing around to expensive organised activities.

    And thank you so much for your very kind comments on my blog recently - they are greatly appreciated and make my day!

  23. I still show off my "blow a blade of grass to make a noise" skills to this day when there are small children about. It has been good to read of people who grew up knowing a little bit of danger like climbing over barbed wire and climbing trees. I can remember my two brothers encouraging me to touch the electric fence surrounding a field and them telling me it would "tickle".......
    (They did it first!)


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