LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Children still enjoy playing traditional games like skipping and clapping in the playground despite the lure of mobile phones, computer games, and television, a study published on Tuesday found.
Playground games are “alive and well ... they happily co-exist with media-based play, the two informing each other,” it said.
Contrary to popular beliefs, schoolyard games are “not overwhelmed, marginalized or threatened by the quantity and plurality of available media,” researchers found.
Their study showed that children still spend their school breaktimes singing the songs that have been circulating for decades, although they sometimes update them by inserting references to the latest pop stars and soap characters.
Dancing also remains a favorite playground pastime, but children now like to base their routines on acts like Michael Jackson or Disney’s hit film “High School Musical,” they said.
Other classic activities still drawing in the crowds at playtime include tig, skipping, clapping, rhymes and make-believe games, while the hula-hoop is making a come-back.
“Media is an undeniably important aspect of children’s lives, but part of a wider repertoire of playground culture that also includes older games, songs and rhymes,” researchers said.
The study found that while children do make use of the multitude of media resources surrounding them, they “creatively manipulate them to their own ends” and that new media enriches children’s folklore by providing topical themes for them to include in their make-believe games.
While children incorporate characters from reality television shows and the pop music scene into their play, they apply their imagination by changing, recombining and subverting what they had garner from the media rather than simply copying it.
“Some people play ‘Dr Who’ by choosing characters from the show and then improvising,” said one child interviewed for the study, describing his favorite game based on the popular British science fiction television series.
Andrew Burn, who led the project, said pretend play was still flourishing.
“Children have always enjoyed enacting scenarios from their home or school lives, as well as fantasy stories,” he said.
Researchers said computer games inspired many playground games but added that children do not merely imitate the action on their screens — they adapt generic elements like stealth moves and weapons.
They had seen children using tree stumps as magic consoles and waving pretend game weapons like light sabres, which showed that “though computer games are sometimes blamed for a perceived decline in children’s outdoor play ... imaginative games in the playground can build on them.”
The findings showed that computer games provide children with rules for their breaktime activities, while films and television shows supply narrative and character elements which the children could adapt.
“The playground provides an important space for children to engage with how their culture is changing in a digital age,” said Professor Jackie Marsh from the University of Sheffield.
Researchers at the Universities of East London, Sheffield and the Institute of Education spent two years looking at what children played during their breaktimes at schools in London and Sheffield for the study entitled “Children’s Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age.”
As part of the project, the British Library has created a website which documents the games children have played from the early 20th century to the present day (www.bl.uk/playtimes) and is encouraging people to help expand the archive by sending in short films or letters detailing their own favorite games, songs and rhymes.
Editing by Steve Addison