Hide and seek - with a techno twist

Ellen's children and friends playing 'what's the time Mr Wolf?'

Ellen's children and friends playing 'what's the time Mr Wolf?' - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

My SON: “I’ve lost my iPod”.

“Well, when did you last have it?” I ask.

“Dunno,” he replies.

An extensive search of the house begins.

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“You must have some idea of where it could be?” I plead.

“I must have put it in the bin,” he replies. “We have looked everywhere else.”

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Obviously horrified, I start rooting through the rubbish, gagging on leftover prawn fajitas and elbow deep in out-of-date houmous.

My son giggles. “The rubbish is a bit stinky,” he sniggers. “But I may have put it in the washing machine afterwards, so it would get clean again.”

Flabbergasted, I yank open the door to the washing machine mid-cycle and flood the kitchen floor.

“Or maybe I washed it in the loo,” my son muses as I mop up the bubbles.

I spend half an hour opening up the cistern and poking around in the U-bend.

“Only joking, mum,” my son says. “You must never get an iPod wet. Everyone knows that.”

He trots off to collect the gadget from under Daddy’s pillow, where it was “having a rest”, and I am left seething.

Both my children received iPods for Christmas – from their very generous Grandma.

From the moment the presents were unwrapped, the pair have been seduced by the dizzying array of games and graphics, and the ease in which they can scroll between the apps.

In an effort to justify a five-year-old and a two-year-old having possession of something so fantastically extravagant, I spent a long time adding privacy and age restrictions, and uploading every piece of educational software I could find.

They each have access to a selection of games including basic mathematics, spelling flashcards and one which will teach them French, Spanish and Japanese.

I’ve been astounded at their ability to master the most complicated puzzles and they are clearly going to be far more computer literate than I.

But the best thing? Well, these little gizmos have become the ultimate babysitter. We have not heard a squabble or a whine out of them since December 25.

Come to think of it, we have not heard much at all except for the odd “Bonjour”, “Hola” and “Konichiwa”.

Much as I am enjoying the peace and quiet, I can see this becoming a problem.

A survey last year found that 21% of four-and five-year-olds can find their way around a smartphone but only 14% can tie their shoe laces.

And in recent news, NHS figures have revealed that children are less likely to go to hospital after falling out of a tree or taking a tumble off a skateboard and more likely to be treated for injuries caused by repetitive movements – such as playing on their computers too long.

Cause for concern? I think so.

Obviously it is important to move with the times and let children explore the wonders of technology, but the increasing ubiquity of computers in family households is quite clearly turning kids away from more traditional pastimes.

No wonder we are in the blight of a childhood obesity epidemic.

Kids should be climbing, running, skipping, rolling, laughing, jumping, muddy, wind-swept, rosy-cheeked, with scraped knees and tatty ponytails.

And so, in the final days of the school holidays, I decided to teach them every outdoor game I could remember from my own childhood.

We climbed trees, skipped with a rope, had a bash at hopscotch, and played British bulldog.

My daughter loved playing tag and my son donned his favourite hat for a spot of What’s The Time Mr Wolf? with my friend’s children.

There is something very pleasing about the tradition of playground games of the past.

And they are “of the past”, apparently, because in the last 10 years schools have been bombarded by the ridiculous directives of Health and Safety officers who claim conkers will crack heads open, French Elastic will have someone’s eye out and Piggy in the Middle might offend vegetarians.

Obviously a load of baloney (oops, I might have offended them too) because children have been playing such games for hundreds of years without upset.

Take Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses, for example. This is supposed, probably wrongly, to be a commentary on the Great Plague of 1665 when sneezing – “atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down” – was a familiar symptom.

Then there is Hopscotch – so old that it was played by the Romans, with the first recorded references to the game in English dating back to the late 17th century.

And what about rope skipping? This was hugely popular in the 1700s but mainly a game for boys – with girls considered far too delicate to partake.

This is not a problem for my daughter. She has really got stuck in and has enjoyed Leapfrog, Follow The Leader and the odd game of football.

And as for my son? “I like playing games with you, Mummy,” he told me yesterday. “Oh yes?” I said. “Which is your favourite?”

“I like the wolf game and the piggy one and the bit with the Bulldog,” he replied.

“But the best was watching you play hide and seek with my iPod.”

Traditional games or computer games: it’s all the same. You win some, you lose some.

Email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup

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