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A Brief History of Hopscotch

Updated on November 12, 2014
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

Hopscotch being played by a child
Hopscotch being played by a child | Source

What's In A Name?

The name Hopscotch itself comes from the method of making a hopscotch court, scratching it into stone or scotching. It is the same source as the name butterscotch, scoring the candy so it breaks easier.

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Hopscotch is now pretty much exclusively a children’s game, however it didn’t start out that way, at least that’s what some historians think. There is no hard evidence, but many believe that hopscotch actually started as a military training drill in Rome. Roman soldiers would have to do intricate, and long, hopscotch courts in full armour, sometimes hopping on one leg, or whatever the course demanded. Basically the same way football players often do running drills through tires on the ground. It improves agility and gets you used to operating in armour. While I have found no definitive proof that this was the case it does seem logical, and you could then see it migrating to a children’s game as children love to emulate adults, and playing at being a soldier is a pastime even to this day.

There may be no direct evidence that Roman soldiers trained by playing hopscotch it can still be demonstrated that hopscotch existed during the Roman Empire. There are hopscotch courts etched into stone all over, but one in particular is scratched into the Forum and clearly can be dated to the height of the Roman Empire. Pilny the Elder who died in 79 C.E. wrote of a game which is definitely related to hopscotch and could possibly be the same game.

Hopscotch courts
Hopscotch courts | Source

How It's Played

The game has been passed on from child to child since its beginnings, the design of the courts has changed from generation to generation, but the basic game has remained the same you sketch the court somehow, chalk on pavement is the most common methods are the three shown on the right.

The game can be played by as many people as you like, but it is best with at least two players. The game begins when the first player throws a stone, or coin or other marker to the #1 square. The player then must hop on all the other squares (except the square the marker is on), the player hops from square to square on one foot only one foot can be on the ground at a time except when there are squares side by side, then both feet must land at the same time. The player must hop to the end turn around (remaining on one foot) then hop back picking up the marker as they pass. If they do this successfully without falling down they continue to the next number on their next turn, if not they remain at the same level and try again next turn. Once the player is done their attempt they hand the marker to the next player who repeats the process. Once a player has done each number square successfully they are the winner.

If you are looking for a more difficult version of hopscotch you could play in armour as the Roman soldiers were said to have, or you could play as some adults did in Medieval England with a friend riding piggyback on your back. If carrying extra weight is not your thing vary the design of the court, spiral courts are popular in France in a variant they call Escargot.

Escargot Court
Escargot Court | Source

Escargot Hopscotch

Escargot is a variant of hopscotch played much the same as traditional hopscotch but with a spiraling court as shown on the right. There are no double squares so the entire game is played hopping on one foot only. The player must turn around in the centre circle and make their way back to complete the court.

© 2014 Jeff Johnston


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