How Do Kids Cope with Covid? Fun and Games.
Tuberculosis, polio and other diseases manage to work their way into our play.
Last week, shortly after my conversation with Yale researcher Nicholas Christakis, I found myself thinking about the many obvious and obscure ways in which the pandemic has touched the lives of children. In his book, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound & Enduring Impact of Coronavirus, Christakis discusses the fraught mandates pertaining to school closures and masks in classrooms. But how has the disease affected children’s play?
In recent weeks, I’ve heard my elementary school-aged boys talk about playing “infection tag” during recess. One child — designated the “infected” — tags and “infects” others, who then work together to continue the “spread.” While the concept of infection tag may not itself be new, it has undoubtedly adopted a Covid-inflected hue in our times. Turns out that as early as April 2020, just prior to school lockdowns in the US, there were reports of children playing “coronavirus tag” and Corona Ball, a game in which the aim is to dodge a spiky, virus-shaped ball.
A quick glance in the rear view mirror reveals that epidemics and chronic diseases have an enduring connection to both children’s games and nursery rhymes. In the 1950s, when polio was raging through the United States, “cooties tag” was a common playground activity. One would craft an origami “cooties catcher” which, when unfolded, ostensibly cleansed you of the dreaded virus. A friend might administer a “cootie shot” and simulate inoculation with a retractable pen. Yet another variation on the theme was the cooties kissing game, whereby boys would chase girls around the schoolyard and “infect” them with a kiss. Later, during the 1980s and 90s, Tag, you’ve got AIDS became a phrase often heard on playgrounds.
Children’s rhymes, too, have a long history of being shaped by epidemics. In the mid-20th century, for example, tuberculosis rhymes were common, including the following:
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