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Ancient game is good for growing children

April 23, 2011
By Kenneth Cobb , The Inter-Mountain

I started doing this weekly column about four years ago. In an introductory column, I said there will be more to "Outdoor Activities and Adventures" than just hunting and fishing. This week I am going to discuss an ancient children's game dating from the Roman Empire.

The origin of hopscotch is not fully known. Many believe that it began in ancient Britain during the early Roman Empire. The original courts were several feet long. Roman foot soldiers would have to run the course in full armor and field packs to improve their foot skills.

British and Roman children imitated the soldiers by drawing their own courts with a scoring system. Over a period of centuries, the game caught on in other countries in Europe and Asia. In France, this game is called "Marelles," in Germany, it is called "Templehupfen," and in India, it has three names (Kith-Kith, Stapu and Ekhat-Dukhot).

Hopscotch is just simply a wonderful game for children of all ages. There are many, actually hundreds, of variations of this game. It can be played with several players or alone.

Hopscotch courts are often found on public and school playgrounds. If there is not any, the most popular court in the United States is very simple to draw with a good piece of chalk.

In order for the game to start, each player must have a marker or token. During the days of the Roman Empire, a small flat rock was often used for this. In modern times, such items as pennies, bottle caps, beanbags, and blocks of wood are often used.

The first player tosses their token into the first square. The marker must land on this designated square without touching a line or landing out of the square. If the marker lands on the wrong square, the player forfeits his turn. If the marker lands on the designated square, the player hops on one foot (doesn't matter which one), skipping the one where the marker is located. The side by side squares are straddled with the left foot on the left square and the right foot on the right square. When the player reaches the end of the court, they turn and hop back through the court is reverse order, stopping to pick up their marker on the way back. Upon successfully completing the court, they player continues their turn by tossing their marker to the next square and repeating the pattern.

Should the player step on a line, hop on a square where a marker is located, miss a square, or lose their balance when picking up their marker, their turn is over. The player starts their next turn where they left off. The first player to complete the course for every numbered square on the court wins the game.

These are only the basic rules of hopscotch; there are other factors that are also part of the game.

The first documented reference to hopscotch dates back to 1677 in Poor Robin's Almanack. This game was very popular with children in the 17th century.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world to hold a national hopscotch tournament each year. In certain years, the winners move on to compete in the International Hopscotch World Cup hosted every four years in England. Some of the countries that participate in this event include Canada, China, Romania, and the United States.

Spring is now upon us. This is the time for children to get away from computer and video games and enjoy the warm air and sunshine. I know there are many people who think this ancient game is only for little girls and boys who may be timid. This is nowhere near to being true. This sidewalk game is great for small children of both sexes in developing leg muscles, body balance and coordination.

Grownups can also test their balance playing this game and at the same time have fun with their children or maybe grandchildren.

When the game is played outdoors, choose a location that is level and the pavement is dry. If you are teaching a very small child how to play hopscotch, it would be a good idea to hold their hand for balance like training wheels on a bicycle. Holding hands will only be necessary until the correct balance is learned.

I do not recommend anyone play hopscotch wearing short pants. Falls could result in bruises, cuts and skinned knees. However, the most common mishap in hopscotch is turned or twisted ankles.



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