While walking our dogs this morning I came upon a hop scotch course chalked on the sidewalk. Despite my two leashed border collies, and despite uncertainty about the strength of my knees, I found the lure irresistible. Hop, hop, hop, two feet down - an so on to "safety" on square 10. I was momentarily transported to Beach Haven, New Jersey and what seemed at the time to be endless summer. Hop scotch, jacks, mumbley-peg when the boys would let us use their knives, capture the flag were the games of my youth. And of youths for centuries. Variations of jacks are documented in countries around the world. A game using stones and bones was played in ancient Rome. An Australian variation used knuckle bones from a lamb shank. "Scotch-hoppers" are recorded in the 1707 edition of Poor Robin's Almanac.
Childhood is not what it used to be. Dodgeball has been banned from most playgrounds. This year the New York Health Department has identified "risky" activities that might warrant new regulated supervision: wiffle ball, kick ball, freeze tag and Red Rover are proposed. Now, I am all in favor of helmets for bike riders and arm and shin guards for skate boarders. I recognize that childhood can be made less injury-prone with similar common sense requirements. But I wonder how "risky" activities can be codified and how regulations can be enforced over the broad spectrum of childhood play. Will hop scotch be included? Will mumbley-peg be banned outright because it involves a knife? Will jacks be limited to objects too big to swallow? Quick, get some chalk, draw your course and start hopping before its too late.