Give me a lethal dose of Ludo

12th January 2001 at 00:00
THE banning of children's traditional games, like conkers and skipping, has come as a bitter blow. It is the final triumph of the accountability culture. For fear of lawsuits some schools have consigned conkers to the lead-lined bin marked "Danger" with the skull and crossbones on it, alongside genetically modified beans and radioactive rulers.

Play is one of the most powerful influences on human learning and behaviour, and not only in childhood. German playwright Friedrich Schiller said we are only completely human when at play, though he never actually attended a Wimbledon versus Leeds United match to test out his theory.

Anyone doubting the serious purpose of what looks, on the surface, to be a pointless romp, should watch young felines at play. Claws may be withdrawn, but these fluffy cuddlies are engaged in deadly practice for later assassination.

Play has an honourable place in teaching, from childhood to adult education. Structured play allows young children to develop an intuitive grasp of difficult concepts, like "floating" or "justice". Adolescents can get a feel for how business works through buying and selling in a computer simulation. Adult professionals use role play to explore and discuss real life cases.

Yet good old conkers and other traditional forms of play are now under threat, despite skipping being an excellent exercise for our society's wilting cardiovascular systems.

Silly really. I don't see many older people with arms still in plaster because of some vicious mistimed swipe from a conker 12 back in the 1950s.

There are reasons other than safety for making conkers illegal. It has bred generations of fraudsters. Baking your conker, soaking it in vinegar, leaving it for a whole year to turn hard and gnarled, all these should be on a par with drug cheating in athletics. And why did I always meet someone with a suspiciously round number of victories, a conker 100 or 500, never a conker 62 or 249? Because we were all liars, that's why.

Even traditional games like musicalchairs are no longer sacred. Some nursery or other banned it a few months ago as it was fomenting aggression. Of course it was, for goodness sake. That is the whole purpose of it. Children need to learn to control their aggression and sports and games are a very good way of doing it, unless you believe that Napoleon's territorial ambitions were sparked off by playing pass the parcel at the age of three.

There are lots of other traditional games we could ban, while we are on with it. Snap can be fatal. Over-zealous snappers are likely to break each other's wrists or sever an artery. As for hide and seek, I can only remind you that some teachers regularly disappear down bolt-holes when the deputy head is looking for someone to cover for an absent colleague. Point made.

Ludo is the most lethal game of the lot. Removing your opponent from the board is a breeding ground for future aggression. I bet Hitler invaded Austria just because his Uncle Joe once threw a six and knocked off his blue plastic counter.

I am not the slightest bit convinced by some of the new generation of politically correct games being introduced in the place of old favourites. Cross-dressing has the biggest nausea factor. Young children are supposed to dress up as the opposite sex so they can empathise. Forget it. Goodbye security, hello identity crisis.

Another one I find perplexing is the latest proposal for a citizenship game. Citizenship is a great idea, if properly done, but I didn't warm to the game where children are supposed to turn to the people on their left and tell them all their good points. What on earth do you do if you are standing next to Vlad the Impaler? "Hello, Vlad, er . . . I gather you're kind to your pet goldfish."

Give me musical chairs any day. Push Vlad off his seat, give him a taste of his own medicine. Or, better still, annihilate the evil bugger's conker 5,000 with your conker 4 billion.

Am I being too aggressive? It must be all that hopscotch I played as a child.

Research Focus, 26

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