All over the world, in every culture and country, children play games. While these games may vary from place to place, you will recognize them in one form or another. No one is absolutely certain where or when tug-of-war was first played, but we know that it became popular in England in the Middle Ages. Men from two villages competed against each other, and the losers fell into a stream between the two teams.

Every culture has hand-clapping games and rhymes. One of our most famous is the simple "Patty Cake" rhyme for young children.

Some games for older children can be quite fast and difficult. Children in some of the earliest civilizations used stone or clay marbles. Later, marbles were often made of real marble or glass, but wood and polished nuts may have been used, too.

In America, jump rope was a boy's game until the 1900s — physical activity was thought to be dangerous for girls! Then girls began jumping rope, too, and invented many rhythm and singing games.

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, maybe because it can be played almost anywhere with very little equipment. All you need is a ball and some space. And only the goalkeeper can use his or her hands.

In hide-and-seek, children scatter and find places to hide while one child closes her eyes and counts to one hundred. When she is finished counting, she looks for the other children. If she finds someone, she must tag the other child before that child reaches home base.

Here are some activity ideas related to games around the world.

Social Studies

Hold a family-fun field day! Invite members of children's families to school to share games from their culture. Encourage children to help explain the origins of each game and how it is played.


In a large open space, play Big Snake, a game from Ghana, Africa. One child, the snake, tries to tag others. The tagged children join hands with the snake and try to tag others. The leader and the tail are the only ones who may tag free players. If the snake's body breaks, the snake must start again. The game ends when everyone has been tagged.


Play the ancient game of Chinese Tangrams (PDF). The objective is for players to create an image using all seven pieces. Try making flowers, animals, and people. There are approximately 1,600 images that can be made. How many different images can the class make?


Encourage children to play with dice. They will need paper, pencils, dice, and 2 or more players. The first player rolls both dice and adds and records the sum. Players repeat each step. The winner is the person with the highest score after five rolls.