At this point in my education school was about besting personal scores in a range of playground games and get involved in the hum of recess activities. The games we played required neither electricity nor batteries, just wide open spaces, and a few basic props.
At the beginning of every term my mother packed school uniforms, day outing clothes, stationery and textbooks while I sorted my marble collection, gathered the latest set of jacks,two sets of playing cards and my lucky hopscotch stone. Recess without these essentials was well, unthinkable. There was no borrowing another girl’s property whether a school sweater or a set of marbles, Matron was quite strict on that score.
My mind is fuzzy about recess time at Kaptagat Preparatory School, but there were no group games and the only sport I recollect was cricket for the boys and tennis and horse riding for boys and girls. I do not recall being involved in any activities so when I arrived at St Andrew’s Prep School I faced a steep learning curve. However, it didn’t take long before I was able to participate in the games which made a big difference to how I felt about boarding school.
Some games needed no props, only a partner and a good memory. The rhyming clapping games, with a partner or against a wall, had songs with predictable rhythms that we clapped out against our partner’s hands.
A sailor went to sea sea sea
To see what he could see see see
And all that he could see see see
What the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea
I went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread
They wrapped it up in a five pound note and this is what they said said said
My name is
girls are sexy
sitting on a balcony drinking Pepsi
The nonsense rhymes appealed to our young minds and perhaps for that reason some verses have stuck.
We spent hours with small round wooden solitaire peg boards competing with each other to clear the board except for one peg left in the centre. Jacks, marbles, and hopscotch were also popular. When enough girls gathered What’s the time Mr Wolf and Bulrush were favourites and we pushed and shoved our way across the finishing line.
After the second term at St Andrew’s my mother reinforced the pockets of my school uniform because the weight of the jacks and marbles, that went with me everywhere, had torn the pocket seams.
Even though the stakes were agreed upon before every game of marbles, as we competed for each other’s prize marbles called goons, Jaspers and aggies arguments inevitably erupted as someone felt they had been ‘cheated’ out of their prized marble. We all knew that if the playground duty teacher was called in to settle a score both sets of marbles were confiscated, until the end of term. No winners there.
As playground games phased out and new activities emerged, yesterday’s craze was dropped in our eagerness to learn something new. The hula hoop was a great success and was picked up by our PE teachers who taught us synchronised routines to music. Hand string puzzles, cats-in-the-cradle and Double Dutch jump rope were popular too and these activities captured the imagination of children everywhere.
There was a time I was part of a Double Dutch jump rope team and while we were capable and very fit our skills would have been no match for the skilled jumpers that make up the international teams today.
I am pleased to have grown up during a time when children were encouraged to take risks, climb trees – which we fell out of frequently – and test our personal strength in so many different ways. We learned from an early age where our physical capabilities began and ended and which risks were worth the excitement even if they did go awry at times.
We survived the hard ground beneath jungle gyms, swinging two-up on the school swings and jumping off those swings from great heights: we learned how to keep ourselves entertained for hours in the freedom we had to roam the school’s grounds. We didn’t know about ‘free play’ but that is what we did at every opportunity. Free to explore and test ourselves and learn lessons from our mistakes and get up and try the same trick with a new, hopefully, safer strategy.
I am pleased there were no computer games, digital devices or even television sets to lure us indoors. There was so much to see and do outside and never enough time to get it all done. Best of all we were never bored.