Home' Teacher : August 2011 Contents curriculum & assessment 31
they play there. The game seems to have
been associated with the structure since the
The children learn the rules of the game
in Prep, when they start school. Their ‘bud-
dies’ in Years 5 or 6 explain it to them as
part of their school orientation. This is
how the tradition has been kept alive at
the school and passed down through gen-
erations of children – the younger children
learning directly from the older children
and passing it on in turn, sometimes with
In common with much traditional play-
lore, this game has been passed on without
adult knowledge or i nvolvement – it is a part
of the children’s own play culture.
The rules of the game relate directly to
the shape of the structure, and a nea rby tree
is also utilised. Here is how the rules were
explained to me by a girl in Year 2:
❙ First, do ‘Dip Dip’ to see who goes ‘It’.
‘It’ is the cat and everyone else is a mouse.
❙ The cat has to chase the mice and try to
tag them , and whoever is tagged becomes
❙ There are four ‘holes’. From the right:
❙ The first is the bob-down hole. If the cat’s
going to get you, you quickly bob down
in there and you’re safe.
❙ Next is the cat hole. It’s only for the cat to
rest. If a mouse goes in there they turn into
a cat. (They take the cat’s place as ‘It’.)
❙ Next is the mouse hole, for mice only.
You can stay in there for 10 seconds.
❙ The next is the ‘free’ way. Anyone can
run through it.
❙ In the corner is the dungeon (on the left,
with a barrier across it). When you’re
caught they bring you to the dungeon,
and there’s a key, usually a stick or twig,
that can unlock the dungeon. The cat
hides the key and the mice try to find it
to set everyone free.
❙ The gaps in the fence mean you can run
through there to get away from the cat,
but the cat can run through too.
A Year 4 girl had similar rules for the
‘holes’, with the substitution of a ‘f reeze’
hole (‘You can’t move – if the cat sees you
move, you’re the cat’), and a mouse hole
instead of the dungeon.
Additional rules were:
❙ The cat is not allowed on the seats, but
can catch the mice from the ground – but
the cat can go on the section of the seat
where there is no rail.
❙ The tree is ‘time out’ to catch your breath.
Touch the tree and say ‘Time out!’
No doubt there are other variations at
different levels in the school. At one stage
some Grade Prep and Grade One chil-
dren sought out an older girl because they
couldn’t agree which version of the rules
was the ‘right’ one. Playgrou nd arbitration
The ‘Cat and Mouse’ is, as far as I know,
unique. It is an example of the strong rela-
tionship that can develop between play and
place, and an indication of the rich play
and learning experiences that can emerge
when children feel a sense of ownership of
their playgrou nd and are able to play freely
among themselves. It is a valuable and irre-
placeable play resou rce at the school, a nd
has a strong presence among the school’s
If there was a National Register for the
preservation of historically significant play
equipment, this would be a fine example to
add to the list. T
Judy McKinty is an independent cultural
heritage interpreter with a special interest
in children’s play, and Editor, with June
Factor and Gwenda Beed Davey, of Play
and Folklore. Thanks to Marion Turnbull,
Princes Hill Primary School archivist,
for her collaboration in researching the
history of the ‘Cat and Mouse.’ If you
have similar playing equipment at school,
or have information about the history of
the ‘Cat and Mouse,’ please contact Judy
McKinty at email@example.com .au
This article first appeared in Play and
Folklore, nu mber 55. Play and Folklore is
the twice-yearly magazine published by the
History and Technology Department of
Museum Victoria. Reproduced with kind
permission of the editors, June Factor,
Gwenda Beed Davey and Judy McKinty,
and Museum Victoria. This year is the
30th anniversary of Play and Folklore .
McKinty, J. (2010). Tradition and
Change: A playground survey of Princes
Hill Primary School.
Pictured, Princes Hill Primary School
students playing ‘Cat and Mouse.’
Photograph by Judy McKinty.
To read Play and Folklore, visit http://
The ‘Cat and Mouse’ game
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