Scottish Children Games
As summer comes to an end, parents everywhere breathe a sigh of relief that their little darlings are going back to school, and the long weeks of trying to find entertainment and fun for all the family are over for another year (let’s face it, while we all love this time, it can also be very stressful!). To celebrate your wee one going up a year, or even starting school for the first time, we thought it would be fun and instructive to reminisce about some of the best Scottish playground games, still popular amongst Scottish children today!
Many childhood games, such as hopscotch and skipping, are of course common across the world – but Scotland has some particular quirks unique to our bonny region with songs and games which have never been commonly played anywhere else. On the other hand, we have also been the originators of some games which have seen their popularity spread worldwide! So read on for some great ideas of games to teach your kids and share your Scottish pride from the earliest age.
Many Scottish games centre on songs or poems which are recited out loud while playing. These songs are usually sung in broad Scots regardless of the regional accent, and are most commonly chanted by girls. Some of these, such as Oor Wee School, have no particular relevance to the actions performed, but are just amusing rhymes – slightly outdated now, but still enjoyed by new generations of Scottish children as they skip with a long rope (with two children “cawing” or spinning the rope and one or more skipping), or clap in intricate patterns with their friends;
Oor Wee School
Oor wee school’s the best wee school,
it’s made of bricks and plaister.
The only thing thats wrang wi it,
is the baldy-heided maister.
He goes tae the pub on Saturday night,
he goes tae the kirk on Sunday.
And prays to God tae gie him strength,
tae belt the weans on Monday.
Other rhymes are much simpler and indicate the actions the players are attempting; the perfect example of this is Plainy Clappy, a game played by bouncing a ball off of a wall or pavement.
Plainy! (bounce and catch the ball)
Clappy! (bounce and clap before catching)
Roll the reel! (bounce and roll hands together before catching)
Tabacky! (bounce and clap hands behind back before catching)
Right hand! (bounce and catch using right hand only)
Left hand! (bounce and catch using left hand only)
Low skiteesh! (bounce and lace hands together to catch underhand)
High skiteesh! (bounce and lace hands together to catch overhead)
Touch your lap! (bounce and touch knees before catching)
Touch your toe! (bounce and touch toes before catching)
Touch your heel! (bounce and touch heel before catching)
Touch the ground! (bounce and touch ground before catching)
Wee burlaround! (bounce and clap in front and behind before catching)
Big burlaround! (bounce then spin on the spot before catching)
Both of the games described above are most commonly played by girls, and while they do so, boys are more likely to be playing “fitba’” or “keepie-uppie”, which are of course very common wherever football (or soccer, for our American friends) is popular. However, there are Scottish games which wee laddies are often found playing as well! Bools is a popular Scottish game played with marbles, between two players. The first player throws a “bool” a few yards away, then the next must try to land his as close as possible. If it lands within a hand’s span, he collects his opponents bool, if not, both marbles remain in play. This continues until one player has run out of marbles, or forfeits the game.
Boys also tend to enjoy the more physical playground games, such as De’il Tak’ the Hindmaist, a simple running or cycling race. At the end of each circuit, the child who came in last place is declared to have been taken by the devil and must sit down and stop participating. The winner overall is the last child standing. Jig Ma Handie is another popular game which is very active, enjoyed by both boys and girls. This is a variation of the common game Tig, but instead of whoever is “IT” simply tagging their victim, they must grab their hand and not let go, the child grabbed is now IT and must catch someone else in the same manner, dragging the first person behind her. This goes on and on, creating a chain of children running together to help catch more people, and the winner is the child who manages to evade capture for the longest.
As you can see, many Scottish games are very simple, requiring very little in the way of equipment – just a few skipping ropes, a ball and some marbles is enough to spark off the imaginations of bairns (or weans!) and set them on a path of learning and fun. Scottish playgrounds have long been incredibly active, fun and imaginative, and the many songs and poems that can be heard chanted out often teach children a lot about the history and culture of their homes, for example Burke and Hare about the infamous Edinburgh graverobbers;
Doon the close and up the stair;
Mind yir back for Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher; Hare’s the thief;
Knox the man wha buys the beef.
Or The Wee Kirk, a satirical rhyme about the Disruption of 1843, during which the Church of Scotland experienced a schism which resulted in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland (known colloquially as the “wee frees”);
The wee kirk, the Free Kirk,
The kirk wi’oot the steeple.
The auld kirk, the cauld kirk,
The kirk wi’oot the people.
We hope you have enjoyed this blog, and we especially hope you will consider teaching your children some of these games and rhymes if they don’t already know them! Playing games which honour and recognise the traditions of their culture can have a huge impact on kids, and we certainly look back fondly on our childhood memories of all these games and many others. As always, we welcome your comments and hope to hear about even more children’s games, both Scottish and from the wider world!