Global Games: Playing Marbles in France

marble games from France

I had a fairly global childhood, raised in five different countries on three continents, and I’m trying to give my children a sense of global awareness from within the walls of our own home. One easy way to do this is to introduce children to international games, and my three are finally old enough to begin learning some of the playground games I played as a student in a French public school!

In my school, we had a two hour lunch break, every day, and much of that time was spent in a bare concrete area – rain or shine. I spent over an hour every day of fourth grade perfecting two different marble games: tic et tac and a second game, that either had no name or whose name I don’t remember, involving – of all things – manhole covers.

Tic et tac was a very simple game, and my kids caught on right away. The game goes like this:

  1. Set up at opposite ends of a set space, either bare concrete outside or a rug indoors. Wood floors are not good, unless you use the flattened marbles that are favored by interior decorators for flower arrangements.
  2. The first player pushes their marble as far into the space as they wish.
  3. The second player attempts to hit the first player’s marble. If they do, they win the other player’s marble. If not, it’s the first player’s turn to try to hit the second player’s marble – or to retreat to safer territory.
  4. The game continues until someone makes contact during their turn. This person gets to keep both marbles.

As it turns out, two-year-old is a tic et tac natural, probably because she has astonishing quantities of both focus and perseverance. This made Lily very happy, and her siblings very frustrated, even though I had left out the “playing for keeps” aspect of the game.

For the second game, it is important to understand that France is home to some very distinctive manhole covers. My classmates and I used the patterns on the manhole covers as a maze of sorts, with the end goal of getting our marble into – but not through, it was important to choose a sufficiently large marble – the hole that was invariably in the center of the manhole. Sometimes the first person to achieve this goal got to keep both marbles, sometimes they then took turns trying to get the second marble into the center (with the child achieving this goal keeping the second marble), and sometimes it was a straightforward competition with no exchanging of marbles. My kids don’t have much opportunity to play this game, since suburban Massachusetts manholes are 1) in the middle of the street and 2) much less interesting, but I think it might be possible with New York City manhole covers.

What playground games do you remember from your childhood? Do your children play the same games? I asked this question on my facebook page a few weeks back, and was reminded by a reader of a childhood favorite I had long forgotten: “Darling, if you love me, won’t you please, please smile?”

This post is part  of a cross-blog conversation with Play Activities, where Melitsa wrote Monday about developing your family game. Visit her blog next week, as she answers the question: How do you use maps in your home?

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

19 thoughts on “Global Games: Playing Marbles in France”

  1. I think it is amazing how you teach your kids so much about the world..and it’s even more amazing that you have experienced in person different places!
    These games are fun…I’m going to teach them to my kiddos!

  2. I spent hours playing chinese jumprope, playing on the bars and just playing make believe with my friends. It was a good childhood. 2 hours is a long lunch. Did the teachers take a Siesta or what?

  3. I remember you talking about these when I wrote about Colonial games. I have to say my kids were not too fond of marbles when we played it, but then our driveway was sloped and those round marbles kept rolling out of the playing area………

  4. Neat! My grandmother taught us jax – she was the master! I remember playing all kinds of street games when we live in NY like ghost in the graveyard, kick the can, and steel the bacon. When we moved to the Cape we played hopscotch practically everyday after school : )

    1. Yep! I remember adding that it was even harder to keep a straight face if the person asking added in an extra “just” or “please”…

  5. Interesting! We never played marbles, but playing with pocket knives was pretty popular, even with girls – throwing knives in a certain way and making them stick. Also the game that I believe here is called A Cat’s Cradle, and, of course, jumping rope, balls and a hopscotch.

  6. We called it ‘[Name], smile if you love me’, and it was a central part of my elementary school years. :-) We played handclapping, kickball, fort building (there were a lot of trees at my school), and monkeying around on the playground… Nothing particularly distinctive. We never really played marbles.

    I wish they had a 2 hour recess at my daughter’s school! I think it is more like 35 minutes. Which is hardly time to eat lunch and play.

  7. My boys still play marbles at school in France but I’m not sure if they have any man-hole covers to play on. One of my main memories of playtime games in UK is French skipping which I’ve never seen being played in France! You’ve got me interested to find out if it still exists and if so what it’s called here in France as it’s sure not to be “corde à sauté à la française”!!!

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