Dr. Toy Talks About Street Games and Outdoor Play

By Stevanne Auerbach, PhD
Friday November 01, 2013 - 10:14:00 AM

Play takes many forms. Do you recall as a child the great fun playing games outside with friends? What games can you remember? I recall the fun of playing games like Hopscotch, Jacks, yo yo, jump rope, and watching the skills of other players who tossed marbles or played stickball.

We know that that one of the negative effects of the pervasive encroachment of electronics into the lives of children and adults, is the reduction of fun time spent actively playing with friends and as a family. This deficit takes a serious toll on personal health, socializing, shared group experiences, and better mental health.

We want to share some exciting group game events, and encourage parents to share the fun of games with their children, and to be inspired by exciting activities happening around the world that are happily stimulating more interests, fun, and increased playfulness.

This is the right time to look back to the games from our childhood, and see what is happening around our community and in the world to bring home increased aliveness and expanded enthusiasm for all kinds of social games.

A street game is a sport or game played on city streets, fields, plazas, or parks rather than on a prepared field. Street games are usually informal play time at the most convenient location for players. However, some street games have risen to the level of organized tournaments, such as Stickball, Hula Hoops, jump ropes, Yo-yo's and others.

Some street activities and games include riding a bike, and playing Frisbee, Handball, Hippity Hop, Hop Scotch, Hula Hoop, Jump Rope (Double Dutch), Kick the Can, Paddleball, Pogo Sticks, Relay races, Ringolevio (two teams play a form of Tag and Hide and Seek), Skates, Skateboarding, Skully (bottle caps), Soap Box Derby, Stickball, Street Basketball, Street Hockey, and, of course, learning to "go around the world" with the always handy endlessly fun Yo-Yo.


In September, Italy is the showcase for International Street Games, and this Eleventh year annual event organized by the Associazione Giochi Antichi (AGA), held an even more successful three-day event with over 300,000 attendees who enjoyed watching and playing over 40 traditional games in the streets and squares of Verona's historic center (200,000 square meter space)

Tocati Festival took place in collaboration with Hungary, and with the support of the European Association of Traditional Sports and Games (AEJST), Parliament, the Ministry of Cultural Heritages and Activities (MIBAC), UNICEF, Touring Club Italiano, Verona Diocese, Ulss 20, Banco Popolare, Chamber of Commerce, and many others including volunteers from many sectors.

The games, which originated from different regions of Italy and Hungary, were presented by a group of passionate players, who came to share their ancient games, traditions and history. Participants happily watched and tried out Hungarian games like Grundbirkózás (Hungarian fight), Gombfoci (football played with buttons), Archery, Hungarian whip, and Csürközés (sticks are thrown and then used to hinder adversary).

Among the traditional Italian games were Sicilian Stick , Bardunfa, the Spinning Top of Sardinia, Paga l'ost, a game of Bowls typical of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sburla la roda, athletic race with hay bales from Lombardy, Palla col bracciale from Tuscany, and three types of special skittles: Bbrigghja (Sicily) Is briglias (Sardinia) e Stacchje (Puglia). Plus Table Games such as Carrom, Chess, Checkers, and urban games, including Parkour, Bike Polo, Frisbee, and for the first time, Slackline and Kendama.

During the festival musicians and dancers performed music, songs and Hungarian dances of Tzigana's tradition. Also included were art exhibits, theatre performances, readings, speakers, books, films, and in collaboration with SIMBDEA (Italian Society for Heritage and Museum Studies) various Italian museum exhibited materials dedicated to games. A large area was dedicated to associations and institutions that deal with gaming as a profession (playrooms, Playbus, leaders, and experts in museum education). Children were welcomed with special entertainment and experiences.

The national network organized a large area in Piazzetta Pescheria, where several Italian Municipalities showed activities to make their cities "Friends of Children." In the festival kitchen areas, visitors enjoyed drinks and food from both Verona and Hungary.

The very successful free Festival began in 2003, and each year is dedicated to a different country represented by games, music, dance, and cuisine features. The participating countries have included: Spain, Croatia, Scotland, Greece, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Portugal, Taiwan, and Sweden. The First World Congress of International Experts (ITSGA – International Traditional Sports and Games Association) were also included. The Associazione Giochi Antichi protects traditional games, which are considered valued traditions, and are part of UNESCO World Heritages.

Another excellent feature was the "The Playful Train," which traveled from Munich to Verona carrying visitors and players who shared games enroute in keeping with the theme of the Festival. Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) sponsored the train to provide easier access for visitors and to support sustainability, an integral part of the event.

Giuseppe Giacon, Vice President of Associazione Giochi Antichi (the association organizing Tocatì Fastival) commented, "In these times of economic crisis, and information overload play may be "disposable," but our event shows a viable alternative. A playful appropriation of an entire city centre, largely supported by the clean energies of play, and of renewable supplies. The game is protected as a cultural heritage and, of course, as the archetype of the entire toy industry."

The Mayor of Verona, Flavio Tosi, said, "Tocatì, which started 11 years ago as a local festival, has over the years become an international event, which attracts thousands of visitors to our city from Italy and throughout Europe. For three days our city turns into a big playground where families and children can have fun and play together, an added value of happiness and serenity for Verona and beyond."

Dr. Janet Gane, a Child Development and Behavioral Specialist, and Health and Lifestyle Expert for ABC -TV Eyewitness News Morning attended the event and added, "This exciting annual event could build a bridge between Italy's Tocati Festival, and beyond the European community, into the lives of all families and people around the world, starting an exciting new round of fitness and fun in the United States of America. Our country has prided itself on immigration reform and historical roots. It makes wonderful sense to support all cultures through these activities. Tocati proudly represents and allows children to experience historic play as well as our new age of technology associated play and invention. The Italian word Tocati means "it's your turn." And perhaps it's now our turn. " For more information visit www.tocati.it and www.deepfun.com/?s=tocati


Street Games (www.streetgames.org) is a unique sports event and network that since 2007 brings sports to the doorstep of young people in disadvantaged and other communities across the UK "at the right time, for the right price, to the right place, and in the right style." The aim of each Street Games project is to be sustainable and become involved in the community, create stronger and safer communities, strengthen action and volunteering, as well as improve health and well-being. Street Games gives young people the chance to enjoy sports, give back to their communities, and aspire to greater things.

The Children's Society research study among 42,000 8 to 15-year-olds was reported by Public Health England who advises that too much time in front of screens - including TV and computer games - combined with a sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll on children's well-being and increasing their anxiety. It identifies a link between children's screen time and lower levels of well-being, showing that higher levels of TV viewing are having a negative effect on children's well-being, including lower self-worth, self-esteem and happiness; children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression.

In response to this epidemic Play England (www.playengland.org.uk) announced a collaboration with other organizations to kick-start a revolution to reconnect kids with nature and outdoor play through The Wild Network, which officially launched in September. A survey found less than a quarter of children (23%) play out at least seven times a week, with 40% of children saying they want to play out more and just 17% said there is freedom to go and explore in their neighborhoods, with only 4% saying they played out in fields or woodland.

New York City

Street play has been active for many decades as a natural part of growing up. In 1997 childhood friends Mick Greene and Mark Pesner were reminiscing about the fun they had as kids playing in the streets of New York. They originally wanted to write a book about the topic but decided to use the Internet to help people recall "the time when it was OK to go outside, hang out with friends and have a great time playing activities that didn't require a coach, schedule or major amount of brand name equipment." Web designer and fellow New Yorker, Hugh McNally joined to help translate the idea into www.streetplay.com, an award winning site that reported about street game related events and encouraged parents to share the enjoyment free spirited play can produce with their own kids. Streetplay.com has demonstrated NYC games in partnership with several USA based museums and cultural institutions, and has been recognized for its contributions to the theme of play by many including Bernie DeKoven.

A specialist who recognizes the great value of games, Bernie DeKoven, aka Major Fun (www.majorfun.com), the author of The Well Played Game and Junkyard Sports http://www.junkyardsports.com/junkyard-sports-the-book/ shared, "Most of the games we knew as street games here in the USA were played in big cities by people who didn't have the alternative - no equipment, no place to play. So they played in the street with whatever junk they could find or create. The games they created are still as much fun as they were 50 years ago, and now, even though most kids have the official equipment, they aren't given the free, unsupervised time they need to rediscover social, physical play. Street games are a treasure available to all of us, and a way for kids to take back their neighborhoods and playspaces - if we only let them."

Also in New York City, The 6th Annual Street Games event was held in April at Thomas Jefferson Park, 114th Street and Pleasant Avenues (closed to traffic) to celebrate classic street games from the '60s and '70s, and to introduce them to a new generation of kids with a new and modern spin. Pogo sticks, double-dutch, hula hoops, and yo-yos were some of the activities players could try out at this popular annual event. Support has come from Disney, NYC Park and Recreation Department, Team ESPN, ABC Channel 7, and others. There are many other organized sports activities and games offered by the City like chess, dance, fitness, swimming, and other activities scheduled for all ages all year round. (www.parks.nyc.gov.org)

Come Out & Play started in New York City and is an annual festival that started in 2006 of street games that turns New York City, San Francisco and so far one event in Amsterdam into a giant playground. They encourage new types of public games and play by bringing together players eager to interact with the world around them with game designers producing innovative new games and experiences. Over the years, thousands of players have gathered to play dozens of city-wide games. Friends faced off in life-sized Pong using only their ears to "hear" the ball. Bicyclists armed with spray chalk and stencils competed to claim and build bike lanes. Strangers worked together to build and race blindly through labyrinths as part of an ancient lost sport. Tompkins Square Park became a putt-putt course. And it's just the beginning. (www.comeoutandplay.org).

You can find an old or new street game to try out with your family and friends. Better yet, plan a "street games event" in your local school and/or community, sponsored by your organization and/or company, and expand a wider range of playful experiences that will greatly benefit all participating children and adults.

For more play information, see my book, Smart Play, Smart Toys, and my website, Dr. Toy's Guide www.drtoy.com, for suggested toys and play products of all kinds. See also Dr. Toy's Best Gift Guide (App https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-toys-best-gift-guide/id486720439) See Dr. Toy's Archive of Articles on Play on The Huffington Post site- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stevanne-auerbach-phd/