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Learning activities


Students ask questions to investigate the changing nature of children's toys and games.

Students compare the experiences of childhood from the past with their own experiences, through oral history activities.


  • 3-minute video about the knucklebones
  • a few sets of knucklebones, so small groups of students can play the game
  • the materials and rules to play a number of games not often played by children today.

Note: the games selected for play may depend on the grandparent who helps with this activity, and also on the games played by the children at school. Jacks, hopscotch, 'What's the time Mr Wolf?', skipping and marbles are some suggestions. The rules for these games and others can be found on various websites, such as Games Kids Play.


With your students, watch the video 'What is this? Knucklebones'.

The opening of the video shows a rainbow stripes moving across the screen from left to right. A cloud shape pops into the coloured stripes containing an image of a set of white and green game pieces or knucklebones. The video title 'What is this' is superimposed on the knucklebones. A question mark bounces into position at the end of the text ('What is this ?') and an eyeball rolls around in the dot forming the bottom of the question mark and winks. Upbeat music plays in the background. A swarm of question marks moves across and fills the frame.

This dissolves to a close up of a tin box with an open lid. In the box is a collection of small green and white objects.

TEDDY: (voice over, out of shot) Wotcha got there, Angela?

(Angela the presenter is standing behind a desk. The tin box is in front of her and she holds some of the objects in her hands. To the left of Angela is Teddy, a puppet, also behind the desk. Angela turns to Teddy.)

ANGELA: I found this little box with some kind of bones in it. (Angela shows Teddy the bones.) What do you think, Teddy?

TEDDY: Hmm. They're very small bones, aren't they? Kind of chunky ... about the size of Minties.

ANGELA: They look pretty old too, don't they?

TEDDY: Yes, but I have no idea what you'd use them for.

(Angela and Teddy are behind the desk. An animated television screen is above Teddy on the right of the frame. A question mark rotates slowly in the screen. Chrissie, an older woman, joins Teddy and Angela behind the desk.)

CHRISSIE: I think I might be able to answer some of your questions about those bones.

ANGELA: Hi, Chrissie.

CHRISSIE: Hello, Angela. Hi, Teddy. Hello, everybody.

TEDDY: So, Chrissie. What's the story with the bones?

(Close up of Chrissie reaching into box to pick up some of the bones.)

TEDDY (spookily): Are they human bones?

CHRISSIE: No. They're the knucklebones from sheep. And when I was a little girl we used to play a game with them.

(Close-up of Chrissie moving the bones around in her hand. The bones make a clinking sound as they hit each other.)

TEDDY: I bet the sheep weren't too happy about you nicking their knuckles.

CHRISSIE: (laughs) It's alright. We got the bones from the butcher.

(Chrissie, Angela and Teddy stand behind the table. The television screen shows a young girl, Yolande, sitting on the ground playing with the bones.)

CHRISSIE: Let's have a look at Yolande playing with the bones.

(Yolande throws the knucklebones into the air.)

CHRISSIE: It's a game all about throwing and catching and counting.

(Chrissie and Angela are both holding knucklebones in their hands.)

ANGELA: The game is called Jacks.

(A close-up of Yolande picking up the bones, she throws them up in air.)

CHRISSIE: (voice over) There are lots of steps to playing Jacks. You can play on your own, like Yolande, or you can compete with your friends.

TEDDY: (voice over) Phwooar! Sometimes Yolande's throwing the knucklebones up in the air, turning her hand over and catching them on the back of her hand. And then she throws them up, flips her hand and catches them in her palm.

TEDDY: That looks pretty tricky, Chrissie.

CHRISSIE: Yes, Teddy. But like most games, the more you play, the better you get.

ANGELA: It looks like a lot of fun, Chrissie. What other games did you play when you were little?

TEDDY: Did you play Jacks on your Nintendo?

ANGELA: They didn't have Nintendo when Chrissie was a little girl, Teddy.

CHRISSIE: No, my word. A lot of the toys you have today didn't exist when I was a little girl. We didn't have computers or video games. Lots of the games we played happened outside and used things we could find — like the knucklebones.

ANGELA: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Chrissie, but sadly we have to go now. Maybe you could tell us about some of the things that are the same today as they were in the past.



(Chrissie turns and starts talking to Angela and Teddy. Title music fades in.)

CHRISSIE: Do you both like playing card games?

TEDDY: I always win at Snap.

ANGELA: Only because you cheat.

TEDDY: You can't cheat at Snap.

Upbeat music. An animation of rainbow stripes moving across the screen from left to right. A cloud shape pops into the coloured stripes containing an image of the knucklebones. The video title 'What is this?' is superimposed on the knucklebones. This dissolves to National Museum of Australia logo.

1. Discussion

Have a class conversation about the types of games the students play today. Ask students if they know other types of games children played in the past. Ask them if they can think of games they play today that grandparents would not have played when they were children. Ask the students to draw a favourite game, either as a poster or as an annotated picture story.

2. Playing games

Review the rules of knucklebones. (A detailed explanation can be found on this Knucklebones (Jacks) web page.)

Break the class into small groups and let each group play the game.

3. Interviewing elders

Explain to students that some grandparents and older friends are going to visit the class to talk about the games they played when they were children. Talk to the grandparent/older friend helpers before they arrive, so you have an idea of the games that might be discussed. Ask the children to brainstorm some questions they would like answered by their visitors. To help students develop questions, you can prompt the whole class discussion with questions like:

  • What games do you play today that were not played in the past?
  • Why do you think these games weren't played in the past?
  • What games do you play today do you think were played when our visitors were your age?
  • What makes these games fun?
  • Where did/do you play these games?
  • Other than play, what else did you do when you were young?
  • Did you have your own toys? Where did you keep them?
  • How did you get to school?
  • Was school different? What was your favourite part of school?

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