British Studies Web Pages



Playground Games - Polish and British

Childhood is a time when patterns of play are first established. One edition of The British Council's 'British Studies Now' is devoted to the theme of Childhood. In the short article below Małgorzata Zdybiewska reflects on Childhood games, and suggests ways to compare British and Polish varieties of these.

When was the last time you saw a group of schoolchildren playing hopscotch near a school building or in their yard next to a housing estate? Most children today rush home after school and spend hours in front of their TV sets or computers. They know little or nothing of the childhood games played by their parents.

I think it is a pity. Most playground games I used to play as a primary school girl were fundamental training in social interaction. They taught me how to negotiate, persuade, and present my point of view.

I can still remember how seriously we treated the rules of our games. How many arguments we had about seemingly minor points. Cheating was seen as a major offence and those who took that risk would face expulsion from our playground community. The culprit was threatened with spending hours alone at home feeling like a social outcast. That could not be taken lightheartedly. Playing was a serious business.

All the children from my neighbourhood spent a lot of time in their playground. Much more time was spent outdoors than it is the case today. 'Podwórko', (it is not easy to find a good English word that would describe it well), was our world.

Mothers would have problems persuading their children to leave their friends and come home, especially in summers. One of the tasks I hated in my childhood was to go out and tell my brother that it was time to go home. As an elder sister I felt responsible for him and yet at the same time fully aware that I was hopeless as a messenger. He was always deeply involved in some game or other.

I am sure that children in other societies played similar outdoor games. The rules were mysteriously passed down from generation to generation, crossing borders and centuries. It is not difficult to imagine a little Greek girl bending down with a piece of chalk in her hand to draw hopscotch squares, or a Roman boy fooling around with a hard ball made of leather trying to learn how to hit it with a stick.

Below you will find short descriptions of some children's games popular among British children. Study them and try to see if they have Polish equivalents.

HOPSCOTCH - it is a game popular among young children. A player throws a stone or a small object into one of a number of squares chalked on the ground in a particular arrangement, and then hops to it through the other squares to pick it up. The name of the game comes from 'hop' meaning jump and 'scotch' meaning to trace a line.

ROUNDERS - it is a game popular with children in which the players strike a hard leather ball the size of a tennis ball with a wooden bat, shorter than a baseball bat. They then try to run round four bases (making a 'rounder') before the ball is returned to the 'thrower'. If a player cannot complete the round, he or she must then stop at one of the bases, and can only move on when the next player hits the ball. The game resembles American baseball.

POSTMAN'S KNOCK - It is a children's game (occasionally played by adults at parties!) in which one of the players goes outside and knocks on the door of the room where the other players are as a 'postman' delivering a 'letter' which has to be 'paid for' with a kiss.

HIDE-AND-SEEK - it is a children's game in which one player tries to find and catch others who are hiding.

MUSICAL CHAIRS - A popular children's game in which while music is played children run round a group of chairs placed back to back and numbering one fewer than the number of players. When the music suddenly stops, the children race to sit down on the chairs, the last player being out of the game, since he has no chair to sit on. The number of chairs is then progressively reduced by one until only one chair is left. The winner is the first of the two remaining players to sit on this chair when the music finally stops.

BLINDMAN'S BUFF - it is a game in which a person is blindfolded and then tries to catch and identify one of the other players.

SHOVE-HA'PENNY - it is not only a children's game. It used to be popular in pubs and some clubs, in which old small coins (halfpennies) or polished discs are pushed by hand on to marked sections of a smooth wooden board.

CONKERS - a game popular among British children in the autumn. One player threads a shelled horse chestnut ('conker') onto a string and with this strikes the conker of another player, with the aim of breaking it.

ORANGES AND LEMONS - this game is often played by young children. Two of the children form an arch with their arms. They determine in secret which of them shall be an 'orange' and which a 'lemon'. They sing the 'Oranges and Lemons' song (see below) and the rest take turns to run under the arch until one of them is caught when the arch falls at the end of the song. The captured player is asked privately whether they will be an 'orange' or a 'lemon' and then goes behind the original 'orange' or 'lemon' team leader. The game and singing then starts again. At the end of the game there is usually 'a tug of war' to test whether the 'oranges' or 'lemons' are stronger. The game is similar to 'London Bridge is Falling Down'.

'Oranges and Lemons' is an old English children's song about the sounds of church bells in various parts of London. It goes like this:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I'm sure I don't know,
Says the great bell at Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.


Fill in the table below with Polish names of the children's games popular in Britain. Remember that for some of them there may not be a direct equivalent.





















Now check here for our suggested answers


Can you think of typically Polish Childhood games not mentioned here? We would be grateful if you could send us short descriptions of both Polish and English playground games you either remember from your childhood or you still observe being played by the children in different countries. Send us an e-mail to:


  • Crowther, J. ed. 1999., Oxford Guide to British and American Culture, O.U.P.
  • Opie, J. & P., The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, O.U.P., 1973
  • Room, Adrian. Dictionary of Britain, O.U.P., 1986

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