1960s playground games

Dianne Robertson and Robyn Minard attended North Ryde Public School in the 1950s and 1960s. In this oral history they recount their memories of playground games.

Playlunch and lunch time

We really did enjoy our break from the classroom during the day. Our morning tea was called ‘playlunch time’ and our lunch was called ‘lunchtime’. 

Children at Fernleigh Public School playing in their school playground, circa 1959. (NSW Schoolhouse Museum collection)

Boy’s games

The boys participated in a variety of games including marbles, kingpin, chasing and tag.

Marbles

Our playground was always action packed. Marbles in the round was extremely popular with the boys and very competitive. A circle was drawn in the dirt, marbles were placed in the middle of the circle. The idea of the game was to flick your opponent’s marbles from inside the circle to the outside and when that happened you were the lucky keeper of the marble. Some boys had a wonderful collection of marbles.

Marbles was a popular boys’ game played outside in a ring in the dirt. This image shows a game of marbles being played indoors at the NSW Schoolhouse Museum.

Kingpin, chasings, tag

Kingpin was fun, known today as handball. Boys played ball and running games of all descriptions – soccer, chasings, hide and seek, a knock up game of cricket and tag. We all had the ability to be resourceful when playing outside in the playground.

Jumping on each other’s backs, trying to push or pull your opponent off his friend’s back or nudge them off their feet was rather daring but always plenty of fun and skylarking!

Girl’s games

The girls also engaged in lots of playground activities. 

Hopscotch, skipping, ball games, red light

Hopscotch and skipping were favourites as were ball games such as ‘Queenie, Queenie whose got the ball?’. Standing stock still whilst playing red light statues was quite tricky!

What’s the time Mr Wolf

When we played ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ the ‘wolf’ we learnt about how to tell the time and run away from our friends and the pretend wolf!

Chants and rhymes

We frolicked around the playground singing chants and nonsensical rhymes. This was one of our much-loved rhymes.

I went to the pictures tomorrow

I took a front seat in the back

I fell through the floor to the ceiling

And broke a front bone in my back.

Chatterboxes

Best of all though was to delightfully bamboozle our friends with our home-made game called chatterbox. 

Being resourceful

We were never bored, always full of energy and able to improvise another game to play.

Daisy chains

In a peaceful area of the playground we could be seen chatting with our friends whilst threading and creating fancy little daisy chains for ourselves. We fashioned necklaces and bracelets from these little daisies that grew wildly in the grass.

Cat’s cradle

Imaginative play was all part of the fun. We took a piece of string or wool, tied the ends together and were able to create wonderful patterns and shapes. One pattern we recall was called ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ and it really looked like a pair of cat’s whiskers. This game always kept us busy and happy, from one little piece of string or wool.

Knucklebones (Jacks)

Throwing jacks or knuckles up into the air to catch them as they fell in either the palm or onto the back of the hand required precision and balance. The reason the game was called knuckles was that knuckles came from a knuckle bone of a lamb roast. When we ate a lamb dinner at home we always asked mum for the knuckle which we washed and dried in the sun. Five knuckles were needed to begin a game and because we had four sisters in our family, we had to save up and share our knuckle bones.

Five washed and dried lamb knuckles were used in the game knucklebones, also known as jacks.

The bell

When the big brass bell rang, it heralded the next stage of learning back in the classroom. We were always so disappointed when we hadn’t finished our games, but we knew that there would be tomorrow in the playground.

Happy memories of games in the playground.

Questions and activities for students

  • What similarities can you find in the games children played in the 1960s to what you play today?
  • What differences can you find in the games children played in the 1960s to what you play today?
  • What do you think the playground of 1960s would have looked like compared to your playground?

Activities

  • Draw a picture of yourself playing one of the playground games from the past.
  • With a length of wool tied in a loop, can you make the ‘cat’s whiskers’?