Before the advent of video games and handheld devices, a little chalk and a stretch of pavement were all the tools that neighborhood kids needed to have a good time, thanks to the timeless game of Hopscotch. It’s history dates back centuries and, although not as popular today as it was in decades past, there are millions of former kids out there who spent plenty of playground hours showing off their hopping skills by engaging in this endearing and iconic outdoor activity.
Some scholars believe Hopscotch may have been played as much as a thousand years ago, possibly earlier. One legend has the game beginning in Britain during the early Roman Empire as a training exercise for the Roman foot soldiers occupying the region. Supposedly, the soldiers wore all of their gear and running the course was intended to improve foot work and dexterity. Roman children began imitating the soldiers, making their own scratch marked boards and rules, and thus (supposedly) the game began. Over the last two centuries, Hopscotch’s popularity spread through Europe, through Asia and throughout the Americas. Variations and various names of the game (potsy, paradise, airplane, hop-around, heaven and hell) abound, though play is generally simple.
The ‘Western’ version usually finds kids drawing a ‘hopscotch’ pattern on cement or pavement with chalk (or alternatively, taping it off with masking tape, or scratching out the lines in dirt or sand with a stick.) There are typically eight or nine sections drawn, though some variations have more. Some are drawn with the squares stacked vertically; others have certain numbers/spaces side-by-side. Some variations even have a large square sectioned into four triangles to maneuver through! The first player throws a marker into the first square. The marker is usually a small rock, though it can be a coin, or any other sort of simple item. The marker needs to land in the correct square and not touching any of the border lines, or else that player loses a turn.
If the throw is good, the player hops through the hopscotch course starting on the first square. Single squares must be hopped on with one foot only, side-by-side squares are hopped on at the same time, with the left foot on the space to the left, the right food on the space to the right. During game play, the space with the stone or marker in it must be skipped over. Once the player reaches the end, he or she turns around and hops back through the course in the other direction, picking up the marker on the way back, hopping into the now-empty square, completes the pattern, throws the marker into the next square and repeats the pattern once more. If at any point, the player loses balance or steps on or outside the boundaries of the space, the turn ends. When a player resumes, they pick up where they left off. The first person to finish the course for every numbered square wins!
A simple game of hopscotch was enough to keep us occupied, at least for a little while. Kids today have it pretty good – many playgrounds come with ready-made hopscotch courses, though it’s not like it was that hard to make your own. Near to a school, or coming with your own chalk, it was easy to make, and fun to add your own variations. Fun, back in the day, was always only a hop, skip and a jump away.