Playtimes: Continuity and Change

Professor Andrew Burn and Steve Roud discuss how childhood has changed over the last few decades. They examine the impact that more highly regulated play and the media have had on children’s play and discuss the paradox that is the continuous yet constantly changing nature of children’s games.

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Prof. Andrew Burn:

Over the past 100 years, one of the things that we can say is that children’s cultures have become more heavily regulated than they used to be. There’s a move away from street games into the more controlled environment of playgrounds. Children are more protected against perceived threats than they used to be. And although this makes them safer in many ways, it also constrains the spaces and the possibilities for play. It’s fair enough to say also though that adults are well intentioned about the design of place spaces, and that playgrounds are more imaginatively designed spaces than they used to be, which is a good thing, of course. Another thing that’s changed about childhood is that children have had more access to a wider range of media cultures, much richer media cultures, partly because they have more purchasing power than they used to have to buy toys and video games and DVDs, and partly because these cultures and the technologies associated with them have also become more extensive and more complex and offer more possibilities for play.

Steve Roud:

Yes, games are very interesting because they are a combination of continuity down the generations and change. Children will inherit things and pass them onto their younger brothers and sisters and the younger children in the playground, but they will also make things up, or they’ll change things whenever they want to. So some things will have lasted 100 years, others will have been made up last week. And again, the children don’t really mind because as long as it works they’ll do it. Over the last 50 years, whipping tops have disappeared. Nobody whips a top any more. Conkers and marbles seem to be on their way out. But clapping rhymes have come in. Fantasy games, where you take on a role, have increased tremendously and got more complicated, because we now have superheroes, we now have television and film stories that can be enacted in the school. So again there is things on their way out, things on their way in. The ‘Hokey Cokey’ has more or less survived in tact for 50 years, ‘Eenie Meany Minie Mo’ has lasted for 100 years, but other rhymes, as I say, are much more recent.

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