Regardless of your location you’ll likely have played or heard of hopscotch (or some variation thereof), a game which finds its origins way back in Roman times. All it takes is a hopscotch court, usually etched in chalk on a playground, and an object you can toss into any of the court’s numbered spaces. A simple enough concept which continues to teach young kids the essence of healthy competition, and keeps them fit at the same time.
The game is still popular all over the world, finding slight variations in the way the course is drawn and the actual rules of the game. There are no language barriers in this age-old kids’ game, and as long as you sketch your course anyone can start hopping their way to victory – watch out for those pesky pebbles your opponent might have casually laid out.
Whether you’re quite the pro, with your potsies tucked away in a bag ready for unleashing, or you’re just out to have fun on one leg, it’s safe to assume you’ll know how to play a game of hopscotch, even if you call it “Laylay” or “Amarelinha.”
Just How Old is Hopscotch?:
Yet, questions inevitably come to mind regarding this ancient game, like exactly how old is it? Who had the bright idea to sketch a numbered course, stomp on it and make a game out of it all? And why on earth is it called hopscotch? Put your potsies away as we take you thourgh our brief history of hopscotch.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the game first began, though some texts say Roman soldiers used to play it to keep fit, on courses which were as long as 100 feet (fancy doing that in your lunchtime break). Soldiers played the game fully clad in heavy armour, leaping about the course with the idea of improving their stamina and endurance. In some hopscotch courses, the home base or top box is marked as “London” as a tribute to the Great London Road dating back to Roman times. The most common account of the game’s origins has Roman children drawing their own courses, though just for fun, which is how the game eventually became popular throughout Europe.
China the birthplace of Hopscotch?:
Other stories say the game was born in China, and it pretty much resembled the course you see in many school playgrounds today, though the stone or object was used to represent the player’s soul (scary stuff). The symbolism behind the game was to overcome all the obstacles, which were portrayed by the lines, to eventually reach the pot/cat’s cradle which represented heaven. Some hopscotch variants in England still have the last square marked as heaven and if you’ll read on, as I hope you will, you’ll see the German version of the game is still referred to as “Heaven and Hell,” though it might be a bit too intense for my likings.
Yet there are other accounts which tell of hopscotch used as a rite of initiation for the young, playing a similar part as the labyrinth in many cultures of the past (like ancient Greece). Historians, who have researched hopscotch in relation to coming-of-age ceremonies, believe the game has some hidden symbolism attached, in a similar way to the Chinese version which we mentioned; the player overcomes various trials and tribulations, marked by the squares and lines of the game’s course. In any case, most historical accounts clearly make reference to it being challenging, despite its inherent simplicity.