|Six-year-old John hard at work playing a game of masak-masak.
By LEE MEI LI
John Tan’s tiny hands are busy filling up a miniature steel pot with a medley of flowers and leaves, plucked fresh from the organic garden in his backyard.
“Mummy, come see what I’m making,” the six-year-old shouts excitedly.
Jasmin Choy looks on with a smile, as she helps her other son, four-year-old Ethan, pour some dried pasta bits into a pan.
The trio is playing masak-masak, a pretend cooking game. It’s a game Choy used to play growing up, when children and outdoor activities were one, and computers didn’t figure in their routines.
“I try to introduce my kids to some old school fun just to get them off electronic stuff. I’ve noticed when they play with their iPad and computer games, they tend to focus very much on themselves; they don’t learn to interact with each other,” says Choy, 40.
The homemaker’s family is one among the few who are introducing traditional games to their children.
“I used to live in Kulim, Kedah, and we’d play games like batu tujuh and lompat getah over and over again during recess and after school. When my cousins were around we would play card games like Donkey and Old Maid. We spent hours playing those games and we were happy.
“With kids today, everything is moving at such a fast pace. You have no choice but to enforce an electronic-free day once in a while. They’ll experience withdrawal symptoms of course, and a lot of parents will usually give in once their children start screaming or crying. But if you just stand your ground, sooner or later the kids will be so bored they’ll find other sources of entertainment on their own. But you really have to open their eyes to that possibility,” she adds.
“Initially, when I taught my boys how to play board games like Snakes and Ladders, they’d fight over who’s cheating or whose turn it was. But they knew I wouldn’t let them continue the game unless they learnt to play nice, so they were forced to get along with each other.”
To help her sons relate better to the game, Choy uses a modern Transformers-themed Snakes and Ladders board.
“They were receptive to the game, but it wasn’t something that I could leave them to play on their own. I had to sit there to play with them,” Choy observes.
The mother of two feels that modern parents are not sharing enough playtime with their kids.
“I think a lot of parents are taking the easy way out – they work such long hours that when they come home, they just want some time to themselves. So the iPad has become a babysitting tool,” says Choy who admits she is also guilty of relying on electronic gadgets to keep her kids occupied whenever she has her hands full preparing dinner.
“I think the games we used to play are more relevant today than ever because a lot of children, as young as Year One, have tuition all day. They don’t have enough playtime as it is.”
Choy runs a Facebook group, Malaysia Education Info, which encourages parents not to give kids too much tuition but instead, inculcate more playtime in their schedules.
“My friends and I try to meet up once a week and we’d take the kids out on a playdate to FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur). We’d have a picnic by this big grassy area and just let the kids play by themselves. They’d come up with their own games, which is how it’s always been done. They’ll play catch and run around – not once have they asked for an iPad or iPhone. When they played, they were actually thinking of how to do better. They’d also learn how to set goals. I doubt they find traditional games boring. To them, it’s just another game. It’s only boring if they sit around and have nothing else to do.”
When Sagayah Mary Puttagunta was growing up, she had hours of fun playing a range of hands-on games with her young neighbours.
“I grew up in the outskirts of KL – my father worked for the Agricultural Ministry and we stayed in a village with other Chinese, Indian and Malay families. We used to play kites, games like galah panjang, lompat getah, batu seremban and congkak,” Sagayah, 35, recalls.
The IT engineer is intent on passing on her passion for traditional games to her three children, aged four, two and nine months.
“I started off teaching them the concept of peek-a-boo and later when my older kids could run, I taught them how to play hide-and-seek. At first, they couldn’t understand the game so I had to show them how it’s done. I would be counting along with my son while my parents would be scrambling along with my daughter to hide. My daughter is two but she already knows what hide-and-seek means.”
|Sagayah’s niece, Netasha Neha Vanslas, playing a game of hide-and-seek with her younger cousins. Sagayah hopes to introduce more traditional games to her children when they are older.
When her children are a little older, she hopes to introduce them to more games. “My husband and I work in the IT industry so we understand how addictive technology is. We grew up playing in the drain and mud, and we turned out fine. Kids must touch and feel, and that’s vastly different from the simulation mode offered in computer systems. From my experience, if you expose your children to traditional games first, they’d take to them easily. If they’re more familiar with the iPad, then they’d be a bit reluctant to try anything else.”
Sagayah believes that traditional games are no longer a staple entertainment at home simply because modern parents do not have the time and patience to teach their kids how to appreciate such games.
“My sister-in-law taught her two daughters to play batu seremban and congkak because she loved those games as a child. I think as long as there are parents who are willing to share their love for these games with their children, the tradition will never be forgotten.”
Stay-at-home mum Ashley Ho, 33, remembers how simple playtime was during her childhood.
“My parents lived in a flat and there was this courtyard where all the children from the different floors would gather and play together. We would play lompat getah, tai chi, teng teng and soldiers and robbers.
“When someone learnt a new game from their cousins, they’d bring it to school and share it with the rest of their friends. We picked up different languages along the way. I went to a national school but I knew how to play certain games in Mandarin.
“It was so simple back then – just as long as we had one friend we could make a game out of anything. We could have hours of fun with just some rubber bands, and by plucking leaves we could play masak-masak – there was a lot of creativity involved.”
While she’d have to wait to introduce her daughter, two-year-old Kaylene Ho Manickam, to the wonders of traditional games, Ho has since passed on some of her knowledge to her young cousins.
“I used to play congkak in school and I really loved it. I bought this wooden set from Kota Baru and put it on display at home. When my cousins came over for a visit one day, they asked me what it was – they were curious because they had never seen something like that before. I showed them how to play the game and before long, they started to show their competitive spirit and kept trying to figure out how to ‘beat’ each other in each round,” says Ho, who was pleased she shared something she once loved with her cousins.
|Ho passed on her love for playing congkak by teaching her two young cousins, Lim Zhen Yan (left) and Lim Zhen Xian how to master the game.
Ho and her husband also brought her cousins, Lim Zhen Yan, 13, and Lim Zhen X ian, 10, out for a kite-flying session in a park.
“We bought a kite for them but we failed to fly it. But the boys had so much fun just running and trying to lift the kite up. They found it really intriguing and kept asking us to bring them there again.
“In my time, families were bigger and we used to stay closer to our cousins, aunties and uncles; we had a lot of playmates. Nowadays, the families are not only smaller, but people are living further from their cluster of extended families.
“So kids today don’t get that many chances to play with other children. To prevent this from happening to my daughter, I try to make an effort to take her out on playgroups with other children,” Ho adds.
“We had so much fun playing those games. If we still remember how to play them, why not share the knowledge with the younger generation? If these traditional games can survive through the years, it really means they are good and fun.
“A game doesn’t have to be rooted in science; it doesn’t have to enhance this side of the brain or help develop certain motor skills. If you take all that away, it’s just plain, simple fun. It’s something that the children will enjoy, and that’s all they need to know.”
Traditional games glossary
Share the love of traditional games with the kids of today. Here’s a list of the more popular games to get you started.
Also known as five stones, this game involves throwing and catching a set of five tiny rice-filled sacks, one or a few pieces at a time. The game becomes increasingly complicated as the player advances through the stages. Another version of this game uses seven stones, and is known as batu tujuh.
The game allows two players to take turns dropping a handful of marbles, one at a time, into the holes of a wooden board. At each end of the board is a larger hole that stores each player’s accumulated marbles. A player’s turn ends when he arrives at an empty hole. If the empty hole happens to be on the player’s side of the board, he is allowed to “tikam” (retrieve) the marbles within the opposing hole. At the end of the game, the player with the most marbles wins.
Consisting of the offence team and the defence team, the game requires the players to switch courts in a defined area, without being “touched” by the other team. It is usually played by two groups of four to 10 people each.
This popular boys’ game has each player using marbles to knock out other players’ marbles that are housed in a circle drawn in the sand.
The objective of the game is for each player to jump over a skipping rope made up entirely of rubber bands. The game begins with two of the players holding onto one end of the rope each. The third player will have to attempt jumping or somersaulting over the rope to advance to the next level. The height of the rope increases at every level.
This game is all about dirtying your school mates’ clean, white shoes. How it works: A group of three kids or more gathers in a circle, calls out “Pepsi cola,” and each takes a turn to attempt stepping on the shoes of the player standing to their left. The player who gets stepped on loses and leaves the game. The last one standing wins.
Also known as aeroplane jumping, this is a localised hopscotch game that utilises a stone and a chalk-drawn diagram made up of squares numbered from one to nine. Each player starts off by throwing a stone at square number one. He must then hop with one leg onto each single-square all the way to square number nine and back. Whenever there are double squares, the player must land with two feet. On his way back, he must retrieve the stone. The game continues with the player throwing the stone at square number two and so on. The tricky part is that the player must always remember to hop over the square that the stone lands in.