Playtimes website relaunched

The Playtimes website, subtitled ‘A Century of Children’s Games and Rhymes’, has recently been relaunched by the British Library after an extensive redesign. The site is part of a wider Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project entitled ‘Children’s Games and Songs in the New Media Age’, led by DARE members from 2009-11, and involving Professor Andrew Burn and Dr John Potter from the current DARE group, working with colleagues Professor Jackie Marsh and Dr Julia Bishop (University of Sheffield), Grethe Mitchell and Andy Clarke, University of East London, and Dr Chris Richards and Dr Rebekah Willett, now University of Wisconsin-Madison. Colleagues at the British Library who led on the creation of the website included Jonnie Robinson and Laura Jopson, while the redesign was led by Dr Alex Whitfield.


The playtimes site includes video talks by members of the project team, including Chris Richards, Rebekah Willett, Steve Roud and Andrew Burn. It also includes video footage of the former Children’s Alaureate Michael Rosen, presenting findings from the project about categories of play. The site is notable for being co-curated with primary school children in London and Sheffield, who took part in the categorisation of play, and made animations representing these categories with examples from their own research, which also appear on the site.

The redesigned version includes in addition a number of short essays on categories of play, by Julia Bishop, Jackie Marsh, Steve Roud and Andrew Burn.

The project was part of the AHRC’s ‘Beyond Text’ programme which sought to highlight the importance of communication, sensory perception, orality and material culture within current scholarship and today’s digital culture. ‘Children’s Games and Songs’ aimed to preserve children’s play traditions as important aspects of our national culture. Equally it sought to explore how these types of play continue to be a part of the lives of children in the age of computer games and the internet. What does this oral tradition borrow from the media; and how might it connect with the entertainment and information technologies of the age of new media?

The project worked in a number of ways. Firstly, it digitised existing audio recordings from the ‘Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs’. Secondly, it carried out a two-year study of playground culture today – focusing on two primary schools, Christopher Hatton school, in London, and Monteney school, in Sheffield. The digitised recordings of the Opie collection as well as the footage from the research projects form the core of this website. In addition, the project produced a documentary film featuring playground activities and interviews with children, and finally, it considered how traditional games are making their way into new forms of media, by a developing prototype computer game system, called the Game Catcher, using Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect technologies.

‘The Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs’ (many excerpts of which appear on this website) is a recently digitised collection of recordings originally held on 88 open reel and cassette tapes deposited with the British Library in 1998. You can access collection details at the Sound Catalogue(collection number ‘C898’). The collection was created from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s and captures the songs; games; jokes; rhymes and voices of children from across the country. The majority of the recordings were made by Iona Opie as she travelled the country recording in playgrounds and schools, estates and parks. These visits were often unplanned and Iona described how she would simply wind down her car window and ‘follow the sound of children playing’.

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