Games for children – from enchantement to learning

The genealogy of games is as old as that of dances. Originally an imitation of important events in the life of the community (e.g. battles or hunts), they gradually gained magical significance and were incorporated into rituals, in which gestures and motion were accompanied by words and music. Many scholars conclude that folk games emerged precisely from these rites and contained ample remnants of ancient customs and traditions, spotted by children and adapted to their own needs, as proven by the use of props (e.g. masks, brooms, sticks, fur balls, old clothing), verbal formulas or simple melodies. A number of children’s games, including dances, also possess an archaic form of spatial organization, from processions (a form retained in some “adult” dances) through games played along a circle, in lines or in chains. Important among the above are games based on ditties and puns, e.g. who’s it chants and counting-out rhymes, dialogues and guessing games. Another group features games in which children imitate the behaviour of adults.

In the traditional culture, games taught children to co-operate, developed a sense of orientation, tested their reflexes, inspired imagination and creativity. Younger children learned from their elder friends through oral transmission and imitation.

The earliest written accounts of children’s games in Poland date back to Wincenty Kadłubek, who wrote that it was in the habit of children to play and “ride long sticks”. Other mentions of particular games may be found in the works of Mikołaj Rej, Jan Kochanowski or Marcin Bielski. In 1831, Łukasz Gołębiowski published the first collection of games titled Gry i zabawy różnych stanów [Games and Plays of Various Social Classes], which has provided an invaluable source for scholars in the field. Descriptions of folk games were also featured prominently in Polish ethnographer Oskar Kolberg’s cycle The People...; they, too, are priceless on account of their supplementation with melodies accompanying individual games from respective regions of the country.

A number of historical games were not preserved until today. Others have undergone numerous transformations and adapted to the changing circumstances, but their abundance in rural and urban cultures continues to inspire contemporary educational and artistic initiatives. It is our intention to introduce the users of our website to those children’s games which have survived in traditional (and contemporary) culture in the country and in the city, and which may still be recalled by our parents and grandparents.

Robert Dul, PhD