Traditional children's games such as Tag and 'Ipi-dipi-dation' are thriving in 21st century school playgrounds. New research by the Institute of Education, the University of East London and the University of Sheffield, a ground-breaking website (www.bl.uk/playtimes) from the British Library, and a documentary film produced as part of the project all show that, rather than dying out as some fear, children's play is in robust health.
Launched by former Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, the findings and outcomes of this two-year project, Children's Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age counteract the widely held view that the media is destroying the imaginative play of children. By observing play over two years in playgrounds in Sheffield and London, researchers have found that games consoles, pop music and television actually enrich children's pretend play; adding topical themes to fantasy scenarios as youngsters incorporate their favourite characters, reality TV stars, pop songs and dance moves into their make-believe worlds.
Today's children act out the Jeremy Kyle Show, or Britain's Got Talent, as well as engaging in play based on computer games, in which scenarios of combat, stealthy hunting, fantasy weapons and warriors, and computer consoles feature. Other media sources include contemporary pop stars such as Beyonce, musicals such as Mamma Mia and High School Musical, adventure films and novels such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, computer game characters such as Mario, and manga-styled animations such as Ben 10.
Professor Jackie Marsh of University of Sheffield said: "The project has shown how childhood is changing in a new media age. But today's children have to manage an increasingly complex world of technology and information and the project has shown how these aspects of their lives are crucially important for their social, emotional and cultural development. The playground provides an important space for children to engage with how their culture is changing in a digital age."
A new picture of children's games is emerging and this research is joined by online access to hundreds of historic and contemporary recordings of children's play reminding us of both changes and continuities from generation to generation."Pretend play is still flourishing," says Andrew Burn of the IOE, leader of the project. "Children have always enjoyed enacting scenarios from their home or school lives, as well as fantasy stories involving witches, zombies, princesses, martial arts warriors and other figures." The British Library's website is asking both children and adults to send in their own stories - in this way it will build an ongoing archive of recorded children's play.