The children’s playground game Hopscotch is so universal across cultures and so ancient that in the fifth century, B.C., it appeared on Gautama Buddha’s list of games he would not play.
Through most cultures, hopscotch, known by many different names, has been a standard for playgrounds and considered wholesome, as well.
It’s a simple game that can soak up a lot of kid energy and it is easy to play. Simply draw a grid of eight to 10 numbered squares on a flat surface. Typically, single squares are drawn on top of each other, interrupted by a double square, then a single, and then another double. The player throws a small rock on the first square, then hops over it, and hops to each square, straddling the double squares. Then the player turns around and hops back, this time picking up the rock. If the player manages to hop all the squares without touching a line or losing balance, then he can pick up the rock and throw it to square two, and so forth until the whole course is achieved. If the player touches a line, the next player is up.
As you might imagine, the game has many variations, some with complicated hopping rules, with hops crossing legs, or even dance moves, and many different forms for the course. Poet Maya Angelou’s Harlem Hopscotch gives the game a soulful, jazzy reputation, and a music video (see it on oprah.com) suggests that just no one can resist a hopscotch course.
The first documented mention of hopscotch was in prehistoric India around 1200, B.C. In the English-speaking world, the first written reference was in the 1600s, when it was called scotch-hop.
But the hopping game has many musical names: In the Persian language, it is laylay; in Hindi, kit kit; in the Tagalog language, piko or kiki; in the Visayas language, bikabix; in Ghana, tumatu.