A Childhood Game
In the morning, before the sun rose, a group of Nigerian-Igbo boys, girls, and boys, ages four to six, would gather in the front yard of the family home and use a dry twig to scratch a grid of columns. and rows within a six-foot square area on sandy, earthy soil. Then we would take turns lining up with our backs to the grill. From outside the margin, the first boy would throw a pebble at his head, hoping that he would land on one of the smaller units on the grid. Then, still facing the edge of the grid, the thrower must retrieve the stone, wherever it may have fallen, from outside the edge.
A good throw was when the stone landed with a thud in the center of a unit, where the child could support himself on one leg and one hand, stretch the body and retrieve it with the free hand. A successful throw and retrieve gave the boy ownership of the drive, and he could use the acquired drives to retrieve thrown pebbles in the future. The most affordable units to get were those closest to the fringes, and we would try those first. A pebble that did not fall into any unit was a bad throw, allowing the next child to throw it.
Aiming and throwing overhand from behind was a challenge for most kids. It was like groping in the dark. You had to mentally calculate the position of each of the units so that a thrown pebble could fall on them without slipping.
There was a lot of motor planning (praxis) in that critical part of the play. For example, the child had to think about how much force to apply to the stone and in which direction he wanted it to go. He also had to remember which units were still open, and those units that have not yet been acquired. Retrieving the stone from where it fell was also a challenge. To do that, they had to support his body on one leg and one arm, while using the other hand to pick up the pebble. This maneuver must have put the vestibular balance system to the test, as well as the joints and proprioception. Children who did not have a sound balance system would often tip over and fall on their abdomen.
Occasions also arose where children were expected to hop around units on one leg to retrieve the pebble. It was against the rule for the soles of the feet to touch the lines. Avoiding breaking the rule required a lot of precision and praxis, and coordination between the visual system, (A Childhood Game) the motor system, and the vestibular system. We did multiple reps and reps. Each game lasted for hours and became more difficult when each child had to place their stone on a remaining unit in the corner of the grid. However, I think we persevered because we were competing with each other and because the play was challenging.
That’s not to say there weren’t frustrations. Children with balance difficulties were especially frustrated with this particular game. Ironically, I remember the frustrating aspect of the game more than the routine parts. I remember the tendency of the stone to slip off the grid, (A Childhood Game)the numerous times the children stepped on the lines, and the children fell on their abdomens when they extended their right hand while balancing on their left arm and left leg. Falling, while disappointing, was also fun. Unfortunately, like cultures, bona fide Igbo children’s games continue to disappear from the playlist of games that children can play.