Even when Autumn has arrived and it’s slightly colder outside, I still see children skipping in the playground. There always seems to be a never-ending stream of timeless rhymes, with the children’s faces are filled with smiles and laughter and, often, lunchtime supervisors are merrily joining in!

Skipping games and rhymes have been featured in children’s play for hundreds of years and in countries all over the world. Skipping is believed to have originated when rope-makers were forced to jump over strands of hemp as they twisted them together.

Skipping is one of those activities that is inclusive of everyone; young, old, athletic and not so. It seems to bring joy to all involved and is of minimal financial cost to schools. It’s also perfect for Summer or Autumn out on the playground.

Sadly, during my years of running ‘Positive Playtime’ Training courses in schools, a frequent cry from teachers and lunchtime supervisors has been that children don’t know how to play with a skipping rope or the traditional skipping rhymes and games we used to play. With many children playing less outside due to the appeal of computer games, fears of stranger danger and busy roads, what was once a familiar sight in most neighbourhoods and schools across the country seems to have diminished.

In fact, I frequently see ropes in schools wrapped around children’s waists and used to play ponies. I believe there is a role for us in reigniting children’s love of skipping and in teaching the traditional games and rhymes which can then be passed down to the next generation, and not be forgotten.

Traditional Skipping Rhymes

There are hundreds of rhymes with new ones or new variations being added all the time, but the really old traditional ones still continue to be used and many of these are featured in my book 101 Playground Games which has a whole chapter devoted to skipping.

Some rhymes are obviously products of an older tradition, recited with little understanding but with enthusiastic actions.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear is a rhyme heard in playgrounds all over the country and enjoyed by many children and adults alike.

One player starts to skip and does the actions while they all sing the rhyme:

‘Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear climb the stairs.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear say your prayers.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear switch off the light.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear say good night.’

On ‘good night’ the child runs out.

The next skipper comes in once the player has finished the rhyme.

Not only to rhymes like this support children with increase physical activities (see more about benefits shortly), it also supports children with their literacy skills, most notably rhyming and rhythm. Older children could be encouraged to create their own Autumnal skipping tunes during a Literacy session, to that teach their classmates or friends.

I also encourage teachers to teach skipping skills and games once a term in their PE lessons. Initially, I suggest they teach children how to skip solo, this gets them warmed up learning some basic skills. The good thing about skipping is that it can be taught simultaneously to people with a range of abilities and allows different abilities to shine because of its non-competitive nature.

Once children have learnt basic skills they can then learn more complex moves that require greater agility and skill.

Children also love long rope games and many of these can be taught in groups in the playground. Like any equipment, however, rules need to be enforced in how the ropes should be used and stored.

In some of the schools I have consulted, they invite a trainer like me or a professional skipper to run skipping workshops. He/she trains a few students during the afternoon, teaching them skills and tricks, and then the whole school is invited to see a performance. After school many students take up the opportunity to join in further skipping workshops. Schools find these days are such a success that skipping fever hits their playgrounds for months afterwards.

Benefits

There are many benefits to children skipping, most notably the physical activity it offers. Child obesity levels are rising with current statistics showing that, of children attending reception class (aged 4-5 years) during 2011/12, 9.5% were obese. It is therefore imperative schools encourage exercise and skipping is an ideal activity to suit all capabilities.

Skipping can also bring additional benefits, such as increased social skills, improved self-esteem and of course the opportunity to be creative.

The British Heart Foundation’s ‘Jump Rope For Heart’ campaign is aimed at highlighting the health and have had over 25,000 schools and youth groups sign up. Hazel Mackie, an event organiser, said: ‘As well as being a great deal of fun, I believe that skipping improves fitness and acts as an antidote to playground problems such as bullying.

The British Skipping Association also points out that it is an activity not only suited for recreation, but also for a cardiovascular workout. This combination of an aerobic workout and coordination-building footwork has made skipping a popular form of exercise for many athletes.

Peter L Lindsay and Denise Palmer’s research further highlights that in many respects traditional games are more beneficial to children’s health (for example their cardiovascular endurance) than formal syllabus games. In addition to the physical benefits of skipping, the participation in skipping as a group or individually with others aids inclusion for all children, encourages a purposeful playtime and helps combat bullying.

Other findings suggest that a physically active lifestyle is associated with improved self-esteem and self-concept (Gruber 1986).

Equipment

The equipment for skipping costs very little.

The Curriculum

With there now being a requirement for schools to provide for the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) development of pupils, creating happier playtimes has become ever more important. The schools I work in see huge benefits in adopting a range of structured and unstructured playground games, such as skipping.

So, get outside, get the heart pumping and enjoy your Autumn of skipping!