How Hopscotch Works

Kids of all ages love hopscotch.
┬ęCHRIS WATTIE/Reuters/Corbis

While it's most often enjoyed as a childhood game today, its roots may be traced to ancient authority. Hopscotch may have been an agility training exercise soldiers used during the early days of the Roman Empire, although back then they played on courts up to 100 feet (30.5 meters) long [source: StepUp4Change]. There's also some evidence, though, that the game may have origins in China. Regardless of where it began, hopscotch is now a game with global participation.

The object of hopscotch is to hop from point A to point B and back again without hopping on any lines -- the origin of the name comes from hopping "scotch" or hopping lines -- and without losing your balance. But the real object of the game is to be the first to complete every hop. To play a game of hopscotch you'll need markers and you'll need a court. A coin, a small stone or another small solid object (even your keys) make good markers, and many games have been played on a simple chalk-drawn court. Hopscotch is truly a casual game; unlike other backyard games such as horseshoes or bocce there is no hopscotch association or world federation or any sort of ruling party. There are, though, a few basic rules to know.


Hopscotch Rules

Hopscotch, under the most common rules, can be played solo or with a group of any number of people you like. When playing in a group, determine a player order before you begin playing and stick with it throughout the game to be fair.

Basic game play involves tossing an object and hopping. The first player up throws their marker into the first square. That player then hops over the square with the marker, landing on one foot in the next available empty square. That player continues hopping -- and balancing -- on just one foot per square, following the order of the squares on the court. Hop on the same foot throughout each turn, and just one hop per square, please, with two exceptions: Some court designs include side-by-side squares, where a player jumps with one foot in each square during that hop (as long as there is no marker in the square), and some include rest squares, where a player may put both feet on the ground.


Reaching the end of the court, the player turns around -- still balancing on one foot -- and hops in return through each square of the court. On the way back, the player must pick up the marker and hop over that square without losing balance.

After each successful turn you advance to the next square. For example, once you successfully complete your first turn with your marker in square one, during your next turn you'll toss your marker into square two -- and so on until you've successfully completed a turn for each sequential square on the court. The winner is the first to successfully hop every number in order.

Your turn is over if you lose your balance, hop on a line, or touch a line with a hand. Your turn is also over if your marker toss misses the designated square or lands on a line.


The Hopscotch Court and Game Variations

The French variation on hopscotch, called escargot, features a spiral court instead of a linear design.
┬ęKeystone Features/Getty Images

Now that you know you'll be tossing markers and hopping through a series of squares, let's talk about what that set of squares might look like. A hopscotch court is basically a long rectangle, broken into squares, on a spot of flat ground.

The organization Step UP 4 Change, Right to Play at the University of Guelph and Free the Children at the University of Guelph currently hold the record for the world's longest hopscotch court at 18,064 feet (5,506 meters) [source: Guinness World Records]. The courts in playgrounds across America, though, tend to be a lot smaller. Most of us are familiar with the standard layout of a hopscotch court: a rectangle about 10 feet (3 meters) long -- and up to as long as 15 feet (4.6 meters) -- by 3 feet (1 meter) wide and made up of 10 sequentially numbered squares. Also popular is the traditional English court layout, also known as an arched design. This court modification has a half-circle -- an arch -- at the end of the 10 squares, designated as a safe zone, sometimes known as "home," where you may stand freely on both feet [source: SportsKnowHow].


There isn't one true version of the game; hopscotch changes depending on where you live. In Boston, for example, the game is called hopscotch and played with a traditional 10-square court, but just about 200 miles (322 kilometers) away in Brooklyn they call the game potsy (sometimes spelled potsie), and whatever you use for your marker is also called a potsy. Jump across the Atlantic from New York City to France and you'll find the game isn't called hopscotch or potsy, but escargot (which means snail). While the rules of escargot are similar to the ones used in playground games across America, one of the first things you'll notice is the court looks different; the French game uses a spiral court, like a snail shell, with 5 to 8 squares, none side-by-side. Further along in our world hopscotch tour, we find ekhat-dukhat in India, a version of hopscotch played on a 2-square court.

Hopscotch courts are also modified into agility courts, a training method athletes use for faster footwork and a reminder of the game's military training exercise origins. Agility hopscotch courts, also known as ladder drills, are set up for back and forth hopping rather than front to back.


Lots More Information

Author's Note: How Hopscotch Works

Not only is hopscotch fun, I also learned while researching the rules and regulations of the game that it can also be good exercise. Hopping is a plyometric activity, which means it helps strengthen your muscles and also helps increase your vertical jump -- so not only do players have a potsy in their pocket, they have the benefit of strength training as they hop through each game.

Related Articles
More Great Links

  • Adolfsen, Eric. "Hitting the Pavement." The Daily Plant. Vol. 17, no. 3663. July 25, 2002. (June 8, 2013)
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Hopscotch." (June 8, 2013)
  • Guinness World Records. "Explore Official World Records." (June 8, 2013)
  • Guinness World Records. "Longest Hopscotch Game." (June 8, 2013)
  • Kisiel, Ryan. "Hop it! You could be a criminal: What police told girl, 10, who chalked hopscotch grid on the pavement outside her home." Daily Mail. May 9, 2013. (June 8, 2013)
  • Long Island Children's Museum. "Escargot (Snail)." (June 8, 2013)
  • Popik, Barry. "Potsy." The Big Apple. March 7, 2005. (June 8, 2013)
  • Ratini, Melinda. "Plyometrics." WebMD. May 25, 2013. (June 9, 2013)
  • "Hopscotch." (June 8, 2013)
  • Taylor, Sarah. "Hopscotch History." Step Up 4 Change. (June 8, 2013)