About Playtimes

The Playtimes website is part of a wider Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project entitled ‘Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age’. This is a branch of the AHRC’s ‘Beyond Text’ programme which seeks to highlight the importance of communication, sensory perception, orality and material culture within current scholarship and today’s digital culture. ‘Children’s Games and Songs’ aimed to preserve children's play traditions as important aspects of our national culture. Equally it sought to explore how these types of play continue to be a part of the lives of children in the age of computer games and the internet. What does this oral tradition borrow from the media; and how might it connect with the entertainment and information technologies of the age of new media?

The project worked in a number of ways. Firstly, it digitised existing audio recordings from the 'Opie Collection of Children's Games and Songs'. Secondly, it carried out a two-year study of playground culture today – focusing on two primary schools, Christopher Hatton school, in London, and Monteney school, in Sheffield.  The digitised recordings of the Opie collection as well as the footage from the research projects form the core of this website – a resource that not only preserves a century of children's games and songs, but also provides a place in which members of the public, particularly children, can contribute their own thoughts and ideas about play. In addition, the project produced a documentary film featuring playground activities and interviews with children, and finally, it considered how traditional games are making their way into new forms of media, by a developing prototype computer game system, called the Game Catcher, using Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect technologies. Further details about the project outcomes and partners can be found below.

Project Partners

The project is directed by researchers expert in children's literacies and media cultures, and in game theory and game design...

The project is directed by researchers expert in children's literacies and media cultures, and in game theory and game design, at the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media at the Institute of Education, University of London; the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth at the University of Sheffield; and the University of East London. The project is based in the London Knowledge Lab, a research institution shared by the Institute of Education and Birkbeck College.

  • Professor Andrew Burn
    Andrew Burn is the project’s award holder and Professor of Media Education at the Institute of Education and a Research Tutor at the London Knowledge Lab. His main interests are media education and media literacy, children's popular cultures, and creative practices with new media, especially computer games and digital video.

    Dr. Rebekah Willett
    Rebekah Willett is a co-investigator for this project, working on the school playground in Camden, London. Rebekah has also lectured in Media, Culture and Communication, and ICT in Education. She has conducted research on children's media cultures, focusing on issues of gender, literacy and learning.

    Dr. Chris Richards
    Chris Richards is an ethnographer for this project, working on the school playground in Camden. Chris’ main interests are young people and popular culture and he has published books on popular music in media education, young adult fictions (novels and TV mainly) and, recently, a textbook on Education Studies and Cultural Studies.

    Professor Jackie Marsh
    Jackie Marsh is Professor of Education and Head of the School of Education at the University of Sheffield, and co-investigator for this project, working on the school playground in Sheffield. Her main interests are the role and nature of popular culture, media and new technologies in young children’s early literacy development, both in and outside school. She has conducted research projects that have explored children’s access to new technologies and their emergent digital literacy skills, knowledge and understanding.

    Dr. Julia Bishop
    Julia Bishop is an ethnographer for this project, working on the school playground in Sheffield. Julia is interested in cultural traditions of all kinds, but has specialised in traditional song and children's folklore. She is currently editing James T. R. Ritchie's book of Edinburgh schoolchildren's lore, language and games, The Bumbee (Playtime) Bell, for publication and, with a team of five colleagues, is preparing a critical edition of the James Madison Carpenter Collection of Traditional Song and Drama.

    Jonnie Robinson
    Jonnie Robinson is Lead Curator of Sociolinguistics and Education at the British Library and responsible for the British Library strand of this project. He has a research interest in language variation and change, particularly relating to British accents and dialects. He developed the British Library online dialect archive on the Archival Sound Recordings website and Sounds Familiar? website that celebrate and explore regional speech in the UK and he is a curator of the Evolving English exhibition.

    Laura Jopson
    Laura is research assistant for this project and worked with the British Library Learning Team to develop the Playtimes website. She has been responsible for researching and cataloguing the Opie collection of audio recordings held at the Library as well as sourcing and curating material from a number of other institutions for inclusion on the site.

    Grethe Mitchell
    Grethe Mitchell is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East London, with 17 years experience in the Film and TV industries prior to entering academia and extensive experience of interactive technologies. She was Co-Investigator on this project – responsible for producing the documentary film “Ipi-dipi-dation – My Generation” and the “Game Catcher” computer game. Grethe’s main research interests are physical and computer games, intermediality and media references (particularly film, television and videogames). She has also written widely on videogames and the relationship to film and fine art.

    Andy Clarke
    Andy Clarke was Technical Lead on the project, developing the final version of the “Game Catcher” videogame. He holds an MA in Interactive Design and an MBA from Imperial College, and maintains an active interest in digital art, particularly that which appropriates videogame hardware. He runs a blog devoted to the technical aspects of the Game Catcher computer game (and on appropriating Wiimote/Kinect hardware in general). He collaborated with Grethe Mitchell on the book ‘Videogames and Art’.

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The Collections

The Playtimes website presents material drawn from a variety of collections relating to the subject of children’s play and childhood...

The Playtimes website presents material drawn from a variety of collections relating to the subject of children’s play and childhood. Below are the details of these collections, alongside information concerning the individuals who created them. You can also find the details of the various institutions where these collections can be consulted and the details of the individuals we have consulted while creating the website.

  • The Opie Audio Collection
    ‘The Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs’ (excerpts of which appear on this website) is a recently digitised collection of recordings originally held on 88 open reel and cassette tapes deposited with the British Library in 1998. You can access collection details at the Sound Archive Catalogue (collection number ‘C898’). The entire collection is also available worldwide as streamed audio and as downloads to UK HEI researchers at the Archival Sound Recordings website. The collection was created from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s and captures the songs; games; jokes; rhymes and voices of children from across the country. The majority of the recordings were made by Iona Opie as she travelled the country recording in playgrounds and schools, estates and parks. These visits were often unplanned and Iona described how she would simply wind down her car window and ‘follow the sound of children playing’. The collection also comprises recordings sent in to the Opies by a network of individuals interested in children’s folklore and includes interviews with a number of older informants including Dame Gracie Fields.

    The Opies
    Peter Mason Opie (1918–1982) and Iona Archibald Opie (born Iona Archibald, b. 1923) were a husband-and-wife team of folklorists who specialised in the then over-looked world of childhood. Alongside collecting its material objects (amassing one of the world’s largest collections of children’s books and ephemera, now deposited at the Bodleian Library, Oxford) the Opies collected the oral components of this culture: the lore, language, songs, rhymes and games of children. After years of collecting this information by means of national surveys and travelling the country recording the voices of children, their findings were published in their works: The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959); The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes (1963); Children’s Games in Street and Playground (1969); The Singing Game (1985) and Children’s Games with Things (1997). Despite having not received any formal academic training, the Opies are considered to have set a high-water mark for scholarship in the area of children’s games and lore, and their meticulous and careful histories of games and songs continue to receive praise. As acclaimed social anthropologist, Sir Edmund Leach declared after the publication of The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, the Opies had ‘arrived as anthropologists’.

    Father Damian Webb and his Collections
    Whilst working out in the parishes, Father Damian Webb became interested in the world of children’s games and dances; a passion that remained with him for the rest of his life. This passion drove him to photograph and meticulously record hundreds of children’s street dances and games. These were recorded across England, Africa and Europe. His vast and beautiful collection of photographs of children and their games is now housed at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Over eight thousand of these prints have now been digitised and are available to view online at the Museum, alongside his his own private papers. His sound recordings from England and Scotland have been digitised by the British Library and catalogued at the Sound Archive Catalogue (collection number C1431). The collection consists of 36 recordings made in Scotland, Cumberland, Lancashire and Yorkshire from 1960 through to 1983 and includes children’s games, songs and rhymes and recollections of local traditions such as ‘pace-egg’ rolling. The collection showcases a fantastic variety of children’s folklore and the recordings themselves are of high quality. Throughout this period of collecting, Father Damian came into contact with the Peter and Iona Opie. He appears on their collection of sound recordings that now form the ‘Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs’. Like the Opies, Father Damian defended the tradition of children’s games against claims that they were no longer played and were instead the victims of a new media age dominated by television and film. For more information see:
    Source – Damian Webb Obituary.

    The Pitt Rivers Museum
    The Pitt Rivers Museum is the University of Oxford's museum of anthropology and world archaeology. Established in 1884, it cares for one of the most significant ethnographic collections in the world, including historic photographs, film and sound. As a teaching department of the University of Oxford, it acts as a centre for research and learning on material and visual anthropology, as well as ethnographic scholarship, and staff have forged numerous links with indigenous communities through research on the collections.

    The Opie Manuscript Collection
    The small collection of digitised children’s letters published in the ‘Your Stories’ section of the website come from the Opie Manuscript collection held by the Bodleian Library, Oxford (currently uncatalogued and to be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room). The collection includes thousands of letters, written by children from across the country, from the 1950s through to the 1980s. Each letter describes the child’s favourite game or those that are currently featuring on their playgrounds and are the result of a nationwide survey that began with a letter the Opies placed in the Sunday Times (1951) asking for help in collecting information on children’s games and songs. The Opies received a ‘deluge of replies’ and the collection includes batches of letters sent to them on a regular basis over many years from teachers and schools across the country. Many of the letters are illustrated and include carefully drawn diagrams to help explain the rules and regulations of the children’s playground games. These letters form part of the archive of working papers for the Opies’ own publications, which was given to the Bodleian Library in the late 1980s and 1990s by Iona Opie, following the successful appeal to purchase the Opie Collection of Children’s Literature for the Library.

    The Bodleian Library
    The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford form the largest university library system in the United Kingdom. They include the principal University library—the Bodleian Library—which has been a library of legal deposit for 400 years; major research libraries; and libraries attached to faculties, departments and other institutions of the University. The combined library collections number more than 11 million printed items, in addition to 30,000 e-journals and vast quantities of materials in other formats.

    The Archives of Cultural Tradition, Sheffield University
    The Archives of Cultural Tradition (formerly located in the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition, or NATCECT) is a wide-ranging and extensive archive dealing with the subject areas of cultural tradition, folklore and dialect. The archives have a large collection of material relating to the subject of children’s games and songs, including a large collection of audio recordings.

    The British Film Institute
    The British Film Institute holds a wealth of films relating to children’s play, including those seen on this site: ‘Leapfrog’ (1900), ‘Boys Sliding’ (1900), ‘Children Learning by Experience’ (1947), ‘Tottenham Still Going Strong’ (1919) and ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ (1957).

    The Kathryn Marsh Collection of Children’s Playground Games and Songs
    Professor Marsh is an Associate Professor of Music Education at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, where she teaches subjects relating to primary music education, cultural diversity in music education and music education research methods. The Kathryn Marsh collection represents the culmination of her research into children’s playground games and songs, which began in Sydney, Australia in 1990. Marsh has sought to observe, collect and analyse children’s musical play in primary school playgrounds in a range of social, cultural and national contexts in order to determine characteristics of music, movement and language; teaching and learning processes used by children in their play; degrees of cross-cultural transmission; and effects of audiovisual media on playground practice.

    The collection contains all Marsh’s field recordings collected in 13 schools during an international research project from 2001 to 2004 And includes more than 70 hours of field recordings, including 2172 separate recordings of children’s musical games, representing 333 different game genres. In addition to games in English, the collection includes games in Warumungu and Mutpurra Aboriginal languages (recorded central Australia 2001-2002), games in Norwegian and Eritrean languages (recorded Norway 2002), games in Bangla and Punjabi (recorded UK 2002), games in Spanish (recorded Seattle 2004) and Korean games (recorded 2004), recorded with the assistance of local collaborators. A complete index of the games and their locations and all research metadata accompanying the recordings is included in the collection, which will be available at the British Library once it has been fully catalogued.

    Steve Roud
    Steve Roud is a retired Local Studies Librarian and is now a freelance writer and researcher interested in all aspects of British folklore and social history. His most recent book, The Lore of the Playground (Random House, 2010) is an in-depth study of children’s games and traditions over the past 100 years, based on numerous interviews with both children and adults and on wide-ranging historical research. Previous publications include: London Lore (2008), The English Year (2006), The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain & Ireland (2003), and the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore (2000). Another continuing project is the Folk Song Index database, which is an exhaustive guide to English language traditional songs found in publications, recordings and unpublished collections in Britain and overseas. It currently contains over 175,000 references and is becoming the worldwide standard reference tool in the subject. It is available on the website of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

Read more about the collections


Throughout the website are a number of short film clips taken from films concerning childhood and children’s play. Below are summaries of these films, along with the details of where they can be consulted...

Throughout the website are a number of short film clips taken from films concerning childhood and children’s play. Below are summaries of these films, along with the details of where they can be consulted.

  • ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ (1957) Copyright © The British Film Institute
    ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ was directed by Irish educator and author, Leslie Daiken (1912 – 1964) and filmed over the course of twelve months. The film was produced for the Free Cinema with a grant from the BFI. An educator and collector of children’s games, rhymes and toys, Daiken showed a strong interest in this world, publishing many works on the topic and completing a postgraduate thesis in nursery literature. Alongside literary works, Daiken also produced works for radio and television, including ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’, ‘Sticks and Stones’ and the radio plays ‘The Three Outcasts’ and ‘The Circular Road’. ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ would be his only film and indicated his continued endeavor to introduce the importance of children’s play to the general public The film includes children playing traditional games, such as skipping, and more contemporary games such as ‘two-ball’.

    ‘Boys Sliding’ (1900) Copyright © The British Film Institute
    ‘Boys Sliding’ was created by Bamforth & Co of Holmfirth in 1900, alongside the films ‘Leap Frog’ and ‘Boys’ Cricket Match and Fight’. James Bamforth is considered one of the early British filmmakers, along with individuals such as George Albert Smith and Cecil Hepworth. Bamforth began his career creating photographic lantern slides. In 1898, Bamforth was commissioned by the Riley Brothers of Bradford to produce films known as ‘RAB’ films. These films were made during the period 1899 and 1900 and often featured children playing.

    ‘Leap Frog’ (1900) Copyright © The British Film Institute
    ‘Leap Frog’ was another film created by Bamforth & Co in 1900 and depicts the children playing the game commonly known as ‘High Jimmy Knacker’. The game is also known as ‘Mountie Kitty’; ‘Hi Cockalorum’; ‘High Bobbery’; ‘Mobstick’; ‘Mount-a-cuddy’; ‘Strong Horses and Weak Donkeys’ and ‘Pomperino’. Roud notes that this game became particularly popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s, continuing into the 1970s. It has, however, now all but disappeared from modern playgrounds.

    Children Learning by Experience (1947) Copyright © The British Film Institute
    This film offers a window into 1940s childhood. After the war, many ex-servicemen turned to the teaching profession having had little contact with children while away and so this film was mainly intended as a training aid.

    ‘Tottenham Still Going Strong’ (1919) Copyright © The British Film Institute
    A short film showing a series of children's tea parties that took place throughout the Tottenham area on August 30th, 1919, probably to celebrate peace. The locations featured in the film include Craven Park Road, Plevna Crescent, Albert Road, Seven Sisters Road, Oulton Road, Cissbury Road, Catherine Road and Plevna Road.

    The Singing Street (1951) Copyright © the Scottish Film Archive
    This film was directed by James Ritchie, Raymond Townsend and Nigel McIsaac in 1951. The film recorded sixty different girls performing contemporary games and songs on the back streets of Edinburgh and Leith. The film hoped to promote the significance of children’s folklore, suggesting that children’s songs are an important form of poetry.

    Woodbine Place (1989) Copyright © Siren Films
    A documentary about a group of pre-teenage children living on a quiet street in Gateshead, with adults kept to the periphery. Fly-on-the-wall recordings of the children at play are interleaved with interviews that ask them about their attitudes and beliefs. The children are attached to small microphones and are filmed from a distance, allowing discrete observation of their undirected play.

    The British Film Institute
    The British Film Institute holds a wealth of films relating to children’s play, including those seen on this site: ‘Leapfrog’ (1900), ‘Boys Sliding’ (1900), ‘Children Learning by Experience’ (1947), ‘Tottenham Still Going Strong’ (1919) and ‘One Potato, Two Potato’ (1957).

    Siren Films
    Siren Films is a company dedicated to creating films about child development and created the film seen on the website ‘Woodbine Place’ (1989).

    Scottish Film Archive
    The Scottish Film Archive holds over one hundred years worth of Scottish films, including the film seen on the website: ‘The Singing Street’ (1951).

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