Sunday, September 2, 2012

In The River On The Bank (Children's Movement Game)

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised August 5, 2014]

This post showcases the elimination game "in the river/on the bank". This game is similar to "Simon Says" and is a fun game for mixed groups of boys and girls, and children, teens, and adults.

The content of this post is presented for entertainment and recreational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Mrs. Janie Mae Owens for teaching me this game. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post, and thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

"An elimination game in which players need to quickly respond to commands.

Material: None

How to Play
Some divider is chosen by the leader. This can be a string on the ground, the change between sidewalk and grass, or the imaginary line that is drawn between two chairs set up.

The leader explains that one side of the line is the "river" and the other side of the line is the "bank". It is essential to be at the right spot at the right time (can make up story about scorpions on the bank at some times and piranhas in the river at others).

Players then line up, shoulder-to-shoulder, on the bank. The facilitator then shouts out one of two commands - "river" or "bank".

If they facilitator calls "river", players must jump forward across the boundary line into the "river". If the facilitator calls "bank", players must jump back to the "bank". The facilitator can call bank or river multiple times in a row.

If a player jumps when they are not suppose to (or fails to jump in an adequate amount of time), they are eliminated from the game. (it can be helpful for the leader to have them come help judge who should be out so as to keep them engaged.) "

From January 3, 2011 by Leslie Patterson
"When I was little, we used to play this game. We’d put a jump rope on the ground and hop from side to side as the person in charge would say, “In the river, on the bank.” The game was a great way to pass the time at any gathering of eight or more West-Indians. It seems simple enough, but after a few rounds there’d be just two or three of us left. We were the ones with quick reflexes and sharp ears"...

I first learned "in the river/on the bank" during vacation Bible school in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s. When Ms. Janie Mae Owens, one of the instructors, taught the summer camp students that game she said that it came from "down South". Given the number of African Americans in the Southern part of the United States with Caribbean ancestry, it's possible that this game could be from the Caribbean as is suggested by the comment by Leslie Patterson which is noted above (and as suggested by the video given below as Example #2).

Decades after I first learned "in the river/on the bank", I introduced that game to a number of [mostly African American] Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area children, teens, and adults as part of after school/special programming sessions that I conducted. It appeared that no one knew this game before I taught it to them.

When playing "in the river/on the bank" outdoors, I either use adhesive tape, or a long sidewalk line. I always warn children never to jump from the street curb to the street. I then explain that the "river bank" is the ground near the river and not the same type of bank that you keep money in. Then I caution the children never to play this game or any other game near a real river bank.

As as a preface to actually playing this game, I emphasize the point that "in the river/on the bank" is only a game. The goal of the person calling out the command "in the river" or "on the bank" is to trick the players into moving when they aren't supposed to move" or trick them into moving the wrong way. I tell the players that if they mess up and have to leave the game (because they moved when they weren't supposed to move, or they moved the wrong way), it's no big deal. They can always play this game again, and the next time they might be the winner. I also emphasize the point that, besides being lots of fun, the reason why people play IROB is because it teaches people how to use their mind.

The way I play this game is that players stand facing horizontially and not sideways as shown in some of the videos of the game that I've seen. To reduce the possibility of bickering, I make sure that children aren't standing shoulder to shoulder, but that there's a small anount of space between each players. Also, players shouldn't hold hands. I then make sure that players understand the rules - if they move when they shouldn't move, or move the wrong way, or if just one or both of their hands or feet touch the line dividing the river or the bank, then they are "out". If one call is shouted out - for instance "in the river" - and the group is already standing there, I've seen some people jump up and some people stay still. It seems to me that either way is fine as long as the person's foot or hand doesn't touch the line or jump to the other side of the line.

Prior to playing IROB "for real", I usually have a couple of practice turns to make sure that the group really understands how the game is played. After those practice turns, when players "mess up", they are out of the game. I usually tell those former players and other observers to stand far away from the game line, so there's no confusion about who are the remaining players. Also, new players can't join the game once it has started. Observers (including former players) can be helpful in letting the game caller know who has messed up, but sometimes that might cause bickering.

As the game progresses, the players who remain in the game can move near each other rather than some being at one end of the line and others at the other end of the line. The last person remaining in the game is the winner. That person is the new group caller if he or she wishes to be. However, this may or may not work well as it's important that the caller quickly shouts out the commands "in the river on the bank" and does so in ways that might succeed in "tricking" players. For instance, sometimes I pretend to be jumping forward (that is, the same direction as "in the river") while I shout "on the bank". Or I might say "in the river/ on the bank" multiple times so that the players get use to hearing that, and then switch up and say "on the bank". I like being "tricky" that way. ;o)

In my experience, "in the river/on the bank" is one game that has never fails to excite participants from about seven years of age on up, regardless of their gender. I enjoy playing this game with mixed genders, and mixed ages of children, teens, and adults.

In my opinion, children need to experience playing lighthearted games with adults. "In the river/on the bank" is challenging but still relatively easy to play for physically mobile people. That probably accounts for the fact that boys like playing it as much as girls. I highly recommend the in the river/on the bank as a fun recreational pasttime.

*During that same vacation Bible school experience in the 1950s, Mrs. Owens also taught us how to play "Zoodio". Click for a video of Zoodio & the words to that game.

These videos are presented in chronological order with the videos with the oldest posting date on YouTube given first.

Example #1: River Bank

MT06 Uploaded on Jul 7, 2006

Pat leads kids in a game of River/Bank which we have renamed Black/White...
For obvious societal reasons, I don't recommend renaming this game "Black/White". Besides, it seems to me that that change in name could be confusing, since players can more easily imagine that they are jumping into the river or back on the river bank, then they can imagine that they are jumping from a black space to a white space.

Example #2: In the River on the Bank

Rochelle's Randoms , Uploaded on Feb 16, 2009

Friends playing games at Meadowvale Seventh Day Adventist Church Social, Kingston, Jamaica.

British Fencing - In the river on the bank

hollymilesBF, Uploaded on Sep 30, 2011

Click for a sound file of the 2003 dancehall reggae song "Pon De River Pon De Banks" by Elephant Man.

Note that Leslie Pitterson writes that "in the river/on the bank" was a West Indian game.

It's likely that Elephant Man's "pon [upon] de [the] river/ pon [upon] de [the] bank" refrain has its source in the movement game of the same name.

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