Ah, the good ‘ol days – of simpler times when children enjoyed playing together outdoors, instead of being glued to their screens indoors. With the convenience of games at our fingertips through the ubiquitous mobile phone, it’s no wonder the games we used to play are slowly disappearing from the younger generation’s idea of ‘fun’.
But for those of us with fond memories of growing up in Singapore, many of these cherished moments centred on the fun we had with our siblings, cousins and friends, playing games with humble items that provided hours of entertainment (and in some cases, exercise!).
So, together with some ‘young-at-hearts’, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at the games that brought much joy to our childhood. As we used to sing around the campfire, let’s “pass it on, pass it on, pass it, pass it, pass it on” – on to our next generation!
1. Five stones
“These? Oh, they’re not little paperweights. They are my five stones! I used to play these in school during recess time. They were handmade by my mother, and I got to pick the cloth. Every time one of my classmates brought their own hand-sewn five stones, I would sneak a look to see if it was nicer than mine! Here, feel that in your hand. Isn’t it nice to touch? I think these are filled with green beans, but others are filled with sand or rice. Rice was actually the best filling for the ‘stones’, because it was lighter. Playing this game was like what you young people call ‘multi-tasking’ because I had to focus on so many things at once: picking up the stones from the floor, catching the ones thrown in the air, and remembering the entire sequence as well!” – Grandma June
Fun fact: Back in the kampong days, girls used to play this game with real stones!
“This was a favourite amongst the boys in my kampong! We used to have competitions among ourselves to see who can kick the capteh the most times without dropping it. I think it was Ahmad, my neighbour two doors down, who was the best at it. Front, back, even the side – wah, even when the capteh looked like it was going to fall to the ground, he’d stretch his legs to kick it back in the air! It was a very good workout back in those days. We would also try to make our own captehs out of old pieces of rubber and chicken feathers – my father once asked me why ours seemed to be going bald on one side!” – Uncle Samy
Fun fact: Originally known as jianzi (毽子) in 5th century China, capteh was a game used to train soldiers and Shaolin monks in their dexterity, and even martial art skills!
3. Pick-up sticks
“Jenga? Aiyoh, that game is so noisy – pull out one block and everything comes crashing down! Can get a shock, you know. Very bad for the heart. Me? I used to like playing with ‘pick-up sticks’ – much quieter, but yet, also very challenging. In this game, you need to pick up each stick without moving or touching the rest. When your uncle Hock used to play this game with me, he got so impatient that he would end up flicking the sticks all the time! Actually, we didn’t even buy the sticks – we painted satay sticks in various colours and used those to play. It’s so easy to make, just not as easy to play. Let me tell you my secret: steady hands!” – Aunty Mei Ying
Fun fact: This game has had various names over the course of its history, and in different parts of the world – these include fiddlesticks, spilikins, spelicans, mikado (Europe), jackstraws (USA), and jonchets (France).
“It’s good that I grew up with two other sisters because it was just nice for the three of us to play zero-point. I remember us sitting together to connect the rubber bands to form the rope, and how we ended up having a really long rope that we could split into two! Playing the game? Oh, it’s about jumping over the rope without it touching your body. It starts from the lowest ‘point’, like your ankle, and then the rope gets raised higher, and higher! My sisters were able to cartwheel over the rope, but I think I was only able to jump over it at knee level back then. I was too short to jump any higher!” – Cik Salmah
5. Eraser game
“Back then, I remember saving 10 cents of my precious pocket money each day to buy flag erasers from the school bookshop. I would be so excited to add a new country to my collection back then – especially the Singapore ‘flag’. Every boy in my class wanted it, but finding it was as rare as spotting a real Merlion! Once, I spent so much time searching for it in the bookshop, the aunty banned me for a week because I held up the queue. Besides trading with my friends, the other way that I would get new ‘countries’ was to ‘fight’ them. It was important for the erasers to be stable when it’s flipped – some of the other boys would secretly add staple bullets to their bases, but I didn’t. Fair and square – that’s how I won my Singapore flag! Sell my collection? No lah, I won’t. I’ll just pass it on to my grandson when he’s old enough. I want him to have the Singapore flag I fought so hard for.” – Uncle Michael
Fun fact: A larger version of the popular country eraser game – called ‘Flag Attack!’ – was an installation at the National Museum of Singapore’s ‘Masak Masak’ exhibition in 2015.
6. Pepsi Cola
“‘Pepsi cola 1-2-3!’ That’s how we started every game. It was something we could play anytime, anywhere - we just needed a space to leap over and step on each other’s feet! Okay, it’s not really as violent as it sounds – but thinking back now, it was quite painful, especially if we wore slippers. When I played it in school, my school shoes could get quite grubby after the session, so I had to use chalk to go over it to conceal the blackened parts. Otherwise, I would have to explain to my mother why my shoes were already so dirty on a Monday. ” – Pak Rashid
Fun fact: This isn’t the only childhood game that makes reference to the carbonated drink – a British handstand game called ‘I Am The Greatest’ also uses it in their rhyme!
We hope you enjoyed this nostalgic walk down memory lane! There are lots of other old-school games for your children to discover and try out at home – take a look at our Recess Rewind section in our Resources for Kids, and have them try out other activities like colouring postcards and making paper crafts. Have fun!
Back in Singapore with your family this summer? Sign your children up for 'Rediscover Home' to learn more about Singapore’s heritage and culture, and for them to rediscover their Singaporean roots through fun and experiential activities. Visit the following link for full programme and registration details: http://bit.ly/rediscoverhome-2018