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Old Playground Games for Kids

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We all have fond memories of the games we played as children, & they're still exciting for kids today!

Do you remember the old playground games you used to play as a kid? They're still a lot of fun today! For generations of children, playground games have been an essential part of an exciting school day – running around, getting messy, and sharing experiences with their friends.

Our Kids Today project worked closely with children to find out what matters to them – and, as the video below shows, we discovered that our kids want to have time to relax, have fun, and just be kids. Today, we’ve collected the rules to some classic (and exciting) kids’ playground games you might remember, to help your children make the most of their playtime!

Our Top 3 Old Playground Games for Kids

One of the best things about sharing these traditional playground games for children with your little ones is the sense of history behind them. Our three favourites have entertained kids for generations:  

1. Oranges and Lemons

This playground game is based on a rhyme about the church bells of London – with a slightly gruesome edge kids love. The lyrics can be traced back as far as 1744.

How to play:

At the beginning of the game, two children join hands facing each other to make an arch. Each arch player chooses to be the leader of either the Oranges or Lemons – which is which must be kept a secret. Once they’re ready, the other children run through the arch in a line as they sing:

Oranges and lemons,
 Say the bells of St. Clement's.

   You owe me five farthings,
 Say the bells of St. Martin's.

   When will you pay me?
 Say the bells of Old Bailey.

   When I grow rich,
 Say the bells of Shoreditch.

   When will that be?
 Say the bells of Stepney.

   I do not know,
 Says the great bell of Bow.

 As the players continue running through, the two arches raise and lower their arms until they trap someone:

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
 And here comes a chopper to chop off your head! Chip chop, chip chop! Once a player is caught, they are asked “Oranges or Lemons?” They whisper their answer, holding on to the hips of the arch player they’ve chosen. The game repeats until everyone is holding on – then there’s a tug of war between the opposing sides! Don’t worry about a little dirt, either; kids love to get a little messy every now and again, and you can rely on Persil detergent to lift grass stains easily.

If your playground surface is hard, another version allows players caught out to make arches next to the original. As the game goes on, the tunnel becomes longer and escape more difficult – the winner is whoever lasts the longest.   

2. The Big Ship Sails

The origins of some old playground games for kids are mysterious, as with The Big Ship Sails. The original ship is an enigma: some claim it was the first to sail down the Manchester Ship Canal in the 1800s, whereas others claim the Suez Canal is more likely. The game is fantastic because it requires co-operation, although a big tangled mess is also pretty fun for kids!

To play:

The players all hold hands to make a chain. The first two players in the chain hold their hands high to make an arch, while the players on the other end of the chain dance through, keeping their hands joined. This move is known as ‘Threading the Needle’.

Then the players at the beginning of the thread become the needle: They make an arch, and the others go through again. The idea is to keep going as long as possible without breaking the chain – you can see it in this video from the British Library. The song goes as follows:

Threading the first needle:

The big ship sails on the Alley Alley O, Alley Alley O, Alley Alley O,

Threading the second needle:

The big ship sails on the Alley Alley O, On the last day of September.

Threading the third needle:

The Captain said, “It will never, never do, It will never, never do, It will never, never do”,

Threading the fourth needle:

The Captain said, “It will never, never do” On the last day of September.

Threading the fifth needle:

The big ship sank to the bottom of the sea, The bottom of the sea, the bottom of the sea,

Threading the sixth needle:

The big ship sank to the bottom of the sea On the last day of September.

Threading the seventh needle:

We all dip our heads in the deep blue sea, The deep blue sea, the deep blue sea,

Threading the eighth needle:

We all dip our heads in the deep blue sea,  On the last day of September.

If, by the end, everyone is still in the chain, they should dance a jig at this point – and try not to fall over!  

3. Duck, Duck, Goose!

This is a gentler playground game for smaller children, but is just as fun! A version of Duck, Duck, Goose called Daisy in the Dell has been recorded as early as 1919.

How Does The Game Go:

Players sit in a circle, facing inwards, while another player (known as “the Fox”) walks around the outside. As the Fox goes, he or she taps the head of each player, calling each a “Duck”, before randomly picking one player as a “Goose”.

The Goose then gets up and chases the Fox all the way around the circle – if the Fox makes it to the Goose’s spot without being caught, then the Goose becomes the Fox when the game continues. Once you see your kids having fun with these games, it’s easy to understand why they have been played by generations of schoolchildren.

For more fantastic playground games, like World Hopscotch, check out the rest of our site!