When I was in elementary school, I was a bit of an oddity, as I never went through the “icky girls have cooties” phase. I was also often the new kid, since we moved a lot, and while I made friends easily, I knew I was unusual in that I was also willing to play the “girls games” as much as running around on the swings and jungle gyms with the boys. So it was interesting to go poking through the Outdoor Boy’s Handybook of Sports, by Daniel Beard, and see a whole section dedicated to hopscotch. Ignoring the hilariously misguided attempt to make it seem like it came from wild East India, the game as written in the late 19th century was considerably more challenging than the game I was taught in my youth.
To play, you draw a hopscotch board similar to the one shown here. Players take turns standing a little bit away from the space marked as 1, and toss a small stone onto the board. Then they have to hop up to where it lands, lean over and pick it up, and then hop back.
The single boxes are to be hopped on one foot, and the double boxes are straddled, with one foot in each box. If I remember right, you’re also supposed to turn around by hopping and landing facing back toward the beginning.
If you miss the board, stumble, or put a foot in a box other than where it’s not supposed to be, you’re either out, or miss a turn, or lose a point, depending on the group you play with.
This version can either be played for points or as a player elimination game, probably largely depending on how clumsy the players are. You can add a rhyme to be said, a requirement to switch feet while hopping, or even tossing the stone again while in the middle of the board, until you miss or end your turn with one of the other disqualifying conditions.
Simple, boring, a kid’s game. And even among kids, it is looked at through a sexist lens as just being for the so-called weaker gender.
However, as we look back, the game used to be considerably more challenging. So, regardless of gender, you can have your more athletic kids give hopscotch a try with the original rules. First, below are a few more options for the board.
These boards were all taken from the Outdoor Boy’s Handybook of Sports, right after the rules for Mumbledy Peg, which, as common as it was, should have made every kid an expert knife thrower. But that’s getting off-topic.
These boards might look pretty easy, with the apparent difference being only that there are more one-foot hopping spaces, including a tricky sequence where the crossed lines are. But the real challenge is in what you do with the rock.
First, all of these games have a separate line some distance away from the board, called a taw line, which is also a term used in marbles. From this line, you toss the rock onto the board, and that will be the position you hop to for this turn.
Seems like the same game, right?
Here’s the first catch – you have to do the numbers in order. That means first to 1, then 2, and so on. If you throw the rock and it lands in the wrong space, you miss your turn. The goal, naturally, is to be the first to get to the last space and back.
But wait, there’s more! When you get to the space with the rock, you’re not supposed to pick it up. Instead, you kick it backwards, by a hop-kick if you’re on one foot (not using your other foot, that would be too easy), or with a slide-kick that doesn’t lift the foot of the ground if you’re straddling.
Challenging, but still doable, right? Oh no, there’s one more teeny-tiny little tricky rule to remember to avoid losing your turn. You’re kicking it back into just the previous space, hopping as per the requirements of the space, and then kicking it back through all the spaces as you go. So if you were throwing the rock into space 3, you would hop up to space 3, then you would kick it back into space 2, then hop to space 2 and kick it into space 1, then hop to 1 and kick it out and back past the taw line.
With the stamina and coordination this game requires to make it to the end and back, it can be a solid game for burning off energy, since all it really requires is some way to draw a board, and a rock to hop after. The problem is if the players are more likely to quit from frustration or fatigue. That would be an ideal time to encourage self-confidence and the drive to see a project to its end no matter how hard it is. Alternatively, teaching good sportsmanship if someone is having an easier time with it than others would also come up as an opportunity.
So get some chalk, find a sidewalk, and rediscover a game from your childhood. Can you play it the old-school way?