Cinderella, dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss a fine fella… and so goes the rhyme chanted by schoolgirls with jump rope in hand. The rhymes may differ from one place to the next but the playground pastime, jump rope, is cross cultural.
In some African countries children play a game called stockings. It uses a girl’s stockings or perhaps a rope. The girls swing the rope first at the ankles, next at the knees and then slowly higher and higher. A jumper’s turn ends when the rope reaches the necks of the girls swinging or the jumper can jump no higher, whichever comes first. (4)
In addition to jump rope, children across Africa enjoy other games played the world over including hide-and-seek and leapfrog. Circle games are also popular as are games that employ singing and clapping.
On quiet days, it is common to find children playing mancala, a game that harkens back to ancient times in Africa. The game is played with a board carved out of ivory or wood or even temporarily drawn in the dirt. Mancala’s popularity has been exported; variations of it are now played in nearly every country around the globe. (3)
Unlike children in western countries, African children frequently use homemade toys in their play. For example, boys can be found playing with hoops from the rims of tires and girls with homemade dolls. (3) Children sometimes make their own balls too. Prior to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, photographer Jessica Hilltout documented Africans’ love for the game of football during a seven-month sojourn across the continent. A number of her photos pictured the homemade balls that many children in Africa make with items that they find - bark, rags, rope - and a bit of ingenuity. (1)
Football is probably the most popular sport among children in African countries. Others that they enjoy are basketball, volleyball, cricket, rugby and wrestling. (3)
Another activity that continues to grow in popularity with African kids is called capoeira. It is an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. Played in a circle, it teaches children about discipline, respect and working in groups. (3) Click on the following link to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlRfGGIbMcc
UNICEF cites sports and play as two important tools for promoting health and preventing disease. Early childhood, especially, is the most essential time for brain development according to researchers. Athletic activities aid communication, education, and social interaction. As UNICEF notes on their website: “Children around the world are naturally drawn to sport and play, and they can engage all children, even the poorest and most marginalized, to have fun and enjoy their childhood.” (2)