- Learning Playtimes: A Century of Children's Games and Rhymes
Learning Playtimes, the website of the British Library for children's playground games and songs since the 1900s, constitutes one of the most interesting Web resources that present and elaborate children's culture in an innovative and fascinating way. The webpage has an extremely elegant design featuring pictures, films, and audio clips in Britain since the 1900s. The quality of the media uploaded is excellent—a technical feature of the website that makes it valuable for private but especially for public use, as intended—giving a highly aesthetic impression. The site has a very solid construction, easy to navigate through, with clear entry points for the user that help him to go forward and backward without getting lost. This webpage is a part of an exciting project funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant under the Beyond the Text program, which intends to preserve British national culture, to trace its changes and continuities and explore parts of children's lives that represent their contemporary culture, such as computer games and the Internet. The webpage is one of the media products of the project along with a documentary film.
The site is hosted by the Knowledge Lab (University of Birbeck) and is the result of the collaboration between the Universities of London, Sheffield, and East London with the British Library, a cooperation built upon the Opie Collection. The collections of children's games and songs of the two folklorists Iona and Peter Opie at the British Library introduce only a part of the footage contained. A variety of collections like the ones of Father Damien Webb, the Pitt Rivers Museum, Bodleian Library, Archives of Cultural Traditions at the Sheffield University, The British Film Institute, Kathryn Marsh's collection, Siren Films, and the Scottish Film Archives were used to offer related material. Contemporary performances have also been filmed for two years in two primary schools, the Christopher Hatton School at London and the Monterey School at Sheffield, containing reenactments of parts of contemporary everyday culture, such as pop songs, theme tunes, and game shows.
The home page welcomes you with a flow of children's photos playing and singing. It is divided into two parts, one of browsing games and another called, "Kids' Zone." The first part introduces the viewer to the categories of games presented and includes pretend play, singing and dancing, playing with things, running-around games, skipping games, counting out rhymes, clapping games, ball games, jokes, and rude rhymes. Every category has subcategories accompanied by a variety of media and a researcher giving an oral presentation of the concept of every section. These parts succeed in giving a historical along with a contemporary perspective on the performances presented. From boys playing leapfrog to girls singing "Mama Mia," you can discover how children's games reflect culture—theirs and the adults'— and that they are not just scattered pieces for collection, a problem many so-called children's folklore collections face.
The Kids' Zone hosts an interactive picture that re-enacts a colorful hand-painted playground. You can choose parts of the painting and navigate through the aforementioned games' categories but in a more animated way. Even if the title and the setup of this section are more targeted to children, they are appealing for adults too. This part of the site has an educational character giving tips on what to think about when viewing every game category, and it induces all viewers of the site to contribute with their own stories. This call for feedback is the forerunner of the next parts of the site that [End Page 503] contain contributions already made by students and supply teachers with guidelines. This double feedback and call for action are actually a kind of an ethnographic sequel of the research on performances recorded in the two primary schools. It creates a constant dialogue between the past and the present and reveals the web-page's special dynamics already in action. The last part contains information...