Most Popular Childhood Games Around the World

Universally played childhood games

Children playing

The language of children is universal. This is why many childhood games of unknown origins became popular all over the world independent of culture, nationality or language. Even though nowadays more and more kids would rather play a game on the computer, tablet or mobile phone, there are still many old-school games that survived the digital revolution. These games bring children together, let them spend time outdoors and make them physically exercise in a fun way.

No matter where you live, the games below are guaranteed to bring you back childhood memories.



1. Tag

Tag game

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Many complex childhood games are based on tagging, but the original tag game is as simple as this: one of the children is designated to be “it”. The others get a heads start at running and then the “it” child chases them until he touches one. The caught player will become the new “it”.

In Mexico, this game is called “la traes” and in Spain is better known as “pilla pilla” or “tú la llevas”. Argentineans call it “la mancha” and Peruvianslas chapadas”.


2. Hide and Seek

Hide and seek

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Another widely known game that can be easily played by a group of children is hide and seek. The rules are simple: a child (“it”) closes their eyes and counts to a predetermined number while the other players hide. When the counting is over, the “it” child calls “Ready or not, here I come!” and goes searching for the other kids. The player found first will be the next seeker and the player found last is the winner. In another version of the game, the hiding players can also run to a place called “home base” and they are safe from the seeker once they touch the wall or a predetermined object within the base.

In France, hide-and-seek is referred to as “jeu de cache-cache”; in Israel, it is called “machboim”; in Greece, “kryfto”; in South Korea, “sumbaggoggil”; in Spain, “el escondite” and in Romaniade-a v-aţi ascunselea”. Throughout South and Central America, this game is known under different names according to country: “tuya” (Bolivia), “escondidas” (Chile and Ecuador), “cucumbè” (El Salvador and Honduras).

In Nigeria, children play a combination of hide-and-seek and tag (called “oro”) in which the seeker stands in the center of a large circle drawn in the sand/on the ground and tells other players to hide. Then he goes searching them. When a player is found, he/she must run to the circle in order to be safe. The child touched by the seeker before reaching the circle is considered “tagged” and will be the next seeker.


3. Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, paper, scissors

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This hand game doesn’t require any kind of props and can be played anywhere, indoors or outdoors. It involves two players at a time. The players simultaneously form one of the three shapes (rock, paper or scissors) and the winner is decided according to these rules: rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper, paper covers rock. Of course, there is also the possibility of a tie if both players form the same shape.

In the Malaysian version of this game, “scissors” are replaced by “bird” and “paper” by “water” (rock hits bird, bird drinks water, water sinks rock).


4. Capture the Flag

Capture the flag

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This game is best played with a large group of children. The group splits into two teams, each having an area considered their base with a flag or other object as a team marker. Each team’s goal is to steal the opponent flag and bring it safely to their own base. Players of the adverse team can be tagged and put to “jail” if touched while in the opponent’s territory. They can be rescued by members of their own team, but only one at a time.


5. Hopscotch


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To play this game, children need a piece of chalk, a rock and a sidewalk to draw the hopscotch board on. The squares of the board should be numbered from one to nine. Players take turns in playing the game. Each player starts by tossing the rock in the first square of the board, then he/she hops on one or both feet (according to the hopscotch pattern) until the end, then he/she turns around and comes back. When reaching the second square, the player picks up the rock in the first square balancing on one foot. The game is continued with throwing the rock in the second, third, …, ninth square. If you miss your toss, your turn is over.

The game can also be played inside with a hopscotch fabric board or mat and a substitute object for the rock. There are also some variations of hopscotch with only 6-7 squares or with 10 squares.


6. Jump-Rope


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Jumping the rope can be played alone but it is much more fun and difficult when played with other two friends holding the ends of the rope for you. The jump-rope game is also known as “skipping”. It is customary to sing different tunes or rhymes while jumping the rope and the game can be made even more interesting with two ropes instead of one. In this case, the game is called “double dutch”.

Also, using a longer rope, multiple players can jump at the same time while two kids hold and turn the ends of the rope.


7. Marbles


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Although there are many variations of this game, in the basic one each player has a set of marbles: a larger marble and several smaller ones. A circle is drawn in the sand/ground or to the sidewalk with a piece of chalk and the smaller marbles are placed within. Then the players’ aim is to knock each other’s small marbles out of the circle by tossing the larger marble at them.


8. Hand-Clap Games

Hand-clap games

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Usually there are two people involved in this game, doing a series of clap patterns on their own and each other’s hands while singing rhymes. Some of the best known hand-clap rhythmic songs are “Pat-a-Cake”, “Say, Say, My Playmate”, “My Mother Said”, “Miss Susie”, ‘Miss Mary Mack” etc.

In Nigeria, this game is called “Tinko Tinko”. In Spain, there are two well known hand-clapping games: “Mariposa” and “Chocolate”. Each of them involve breaking the title name in syllables, so, besides the coordination skills required to perform the clapping pattern, the game teaches children the letters and correct pronunciation.

A variation of this game involves playing it with a bunch of kids in two rows, with each child doing clap patters with the child in front of them. All players have to be synchronized with their moves and their singing along.

There can also be three people involved in the clapping game at a time, with players making a circle in which each player claps their right hand to the left hand of the person in their right side and the left hand to the right hand of the child in their left side.


9. Musical Chairs

Musical chairs game

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Another fun game to play with a group of friends (especially indoors, at a party) is the musical chairs game. For this, you need as props chairs (one fewer than the number of players) placed in a circle facing outward. When the music plays, the children walk around the chairs and when the music stops they sit down to the nearest chair as fast as possible to avoid remaining the one player standing up. This player is out. To play the second round, a chair is removed and the game is continued every time like this until only one chair and two players remain in the game. The player that manages to sit in the last chair is the winner.


10. Freeze Dance

Freeze dance game

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“Freeze Dance” or “Stop the Dancers” also uses music and can be played by a large number of childred. One of them is in charge with the music and sits in the center of the circle the other players make around him. Drums or other improvisation props should be used. The child in charge of the music starts playing and everyone else must dance to the rhythm. When the beats stop, the dancers must freeze. Those caught dancing or moving even an inch after the music stopped are out. The winner is the last dancer on the floor and he/she will be the next drummer.


11. Telephone

Telephone game

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In this game, children sit in a row or in a circle. The first kid whispers a sentence to the fellow child sitting next and the game goes on like this until the sentence reaches the last child, who then shouts it out loud. The amusement generated by this game is based on the misunderstandings that might occur. Most of the time, the first sentence whispered is very different from the final one. The result might be hilarious.


12. Hot or Cold

Hot or cold

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In “Hot or Cold”, everyone leaves the room but one child, who hides an object there. The other children then return to the room and search for the object guided by the first child’s callings of different temperatures based on the searchers’ proximity to the object: “cold”, “warm”, “warmer”, “hot” etc. The closer they get to the hidden object, the “hotter” they are.

In the original version of this game, the hidden object was a thimble, this is why “Hot or Cold” is also known as “Hunt the Thimble” or “Hide the Thimble”. There are also some variations of the game. For example, there is a version in which only one child leaves the room and the others hide a small object and a version in which hiders sing a song during the search: the louder they sing, the closer the seeker is to the hidden object.

In the German version, called “Topfschlagen”, the searcher is blindfolded and is guided by the same “hot”/”cold” calls of the hiders. In Poland, the game is called “Ciepło-zimno”; in Russia, “Kholodno-goryacho” and in Spanish speaking countries “Frío o caliente”.


13. I Spy

I spy game

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In this guessing game, one of the children is “the spy” or “it” and mentally chooses and object from the room that is also visible to the others. The spy then says “I spy with my little eye…” continuing with a clue such as “…something that begins with a “d”” or “…something red”. The clues can be based on colors, shapes, beginning letters, resemblance with another object, mentioning of parts of the object or the material it is made of etc. The players that have to guess the object take turns in asking “yes” or “no” questions, either in a direct form “Is it [object]?” or by trying to narrow down the possibilities (“Is it on the floor?”, “Is it on your right side?” etc.).

“I Spy” requires no props and is often played by children indoors on a rainy or snowy day.


14. Tic-tac-toe

Tic tac toe

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This game requires a paper, two pencils and two children. Each player has a mark/sign: the “X” or the “0” and they take turns in filling in a 3×3 grid, one square at a time. The player that gets three of his signs (“X”or “0”) in a row, column or diagonal wins.

In English, the game is also called “Noughts and crosses” or simply “Xs and 0s”. Spanish language speaking countries use different names to refer to this game: “tres en raya” (Spain), “gato” (Mexico), “michi” (Peru). “Gato” and “michi” are the name for the “#” symbol representing the 3×3 grid.


15. Tug of War

Tug of war

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Mainly played outdoors, this game basically consists of two teams of children pulling at the ends of a large rope. A line is marked on the ground between the two teams. The part that manages to drag the opposite team over this line wins.

This game that tests children’s strength is also known as “war of tug”, “tug o’ war”, “rope war”, “rope pulling”, “tug war” or “tugging war”. “Tug of war” originally meant “the decisive contest” or “a severe contest for supremacy”. It was also turned into a real sport with grown up players that compete against each other in different championships and Olympic contests. There is even a Tug of War International Federation.


16. Red Light, Green Light

Red Light Green Light game

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One person is the traffic light and the other children stay at a distance from it. When the “traffic light child” has his/her back to the other kids, he/she shouts “Green light!” and the other players start “crossing the street” towards the “traffic light”. When the “traffic light child” turns around, facing the other children, he/she says “Red light!” and everyone must freeze. Players caught moving after this signal must return to the starting point. The player that reaches and touches the “traffic light child” first wins and will be the next traffic light.

In Mexico, “Red Light, Green Light” game is called “1, 2, 3 Calabaza” and in other South American countries is also known as “1, 2, 3 Momia Es”. The same rules apply, but the “it” player shouts out “1, 2, 3 Momia Es” or “1, 2, 3 Calabaza” instead of “Red light”. The players must stay still like mummies (“momia”) or pumpkins (“calabaza”).


17. Battleships

Battleships game

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Another “paper and pencil” game, Battleship is played between two players at a time. Basically, each player draws one or more battleships on a piece of square-patterned paper (usually a 10×10 grid) and the opponent tries to “sink” the ships by guessing different locations where parts of the ship may be (mentioning a row and a column, for example “C-5”). This game requires strategy skills and has its origins in naval war attacks. It is also known as “Sea Battle”.

The Japanese version of this game uses a 5×5 grid and each ship takes up only one space. Each player has 3 ships, and they sink after a certain number of hits by the opponent. The Slovenian version includes a third coordinate to the grid, making it three dimensional (5x5x5).


18. Red Rover

Red Rover game

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“Red Rover” or “Forcing the city gates” or “Octopus tag” is a popular playground game with at least 10 players divided in two teams. Members of each team hold hands creating a line like a gate and they face the opposite team’s line of players. The first team calls a player from the second team by chanting “Red rover, red rover, send [player from opposite team] right over”. The mentioned player then runs towards the opposite team’s line trying to break the hand links. If he/she succeeds, he may pick one of the two players that he unlinked and bring him/her to his team. If the player fails to break the link, he will be assimilated in the second team.

The game ends when only one players remains in a team and he/she fails to break a link in the opposite team.


19. Paper Airplanes

Paper airplane

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The simple game of folding a paper into the shape of an airplane and letting it fly produces hours of amusement to children all over the world. The rules are simple: the child whose paper airplane flies the furthest wins. The game can be made more interesting by adding different weights to the plane, such as paper clips or stickers. There are also different airplane models that children have fun folding from paper. This can also be the beginning of developing the skills and passion for origami (the art of folding paper into objects and animals shapes).


20. Truth or Dare    

Truth or Dare

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Another fun activity that keeps children from around the world entertained is the game of “Truth or Dare”. Each player must choose one of the two (truth or dare) and accomplish the challenge he/she is given. If the player chooses “truth”, then he/she will be asked a question to answer truthfully; if the player chooses “dare”, he /she will be challenged to undertake a certain action.

In German, the game is called “Wahrheit oder Pflicht”, in Frenchaction ou verité” and in Portugueseverdade ou desafio”.


21. String Game

Cat's Cradle

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This game can be played on one’s own with a simple piece of string tied in a loop, but it is much more fun when played in two, passing the string patterns from one player’s hand to another’s. Players require a lot of precision in their fingers, but the game becomes addictive after you get the hang of making the right patterns. You can also tie together strings of different colors to break the monotony. The game is also called “Cat’s Cradle”.


22. Slap Hands

Slap Hands game

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A simple game to be played in two, the “Slap Hands” game tests the players’ agility and reaction, even if it might be considered violent according to nowadays’ standards. Players put their palms one of top of the other’s with a distance in between. The player with the hand situated above has the palm facing downwards, and the player with the hand situated above has the palm facing upwards. The one with the hands on the lower side will attempt to slap the palm of his opponent, which can defend by dodging the attack. Roles reverse when the slap is missed. The player that fails to miss the attacks several times in a row will end up with red palms, the reason why this game is also called “Red Hands”.


23. Catch

Catch game

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One of the most basic childhood games played all over the globe is “catch”. The participants throw a ball or another object to each other trying not to drop it. The goal is to keep the ball off the ground as long as possible. The game can be played with multiple children sitting in a circle and throwing the ball according to a predetermined patter or randomly, at whomever they choose. This makes the kids alert all the time during the game.

Catch is the basis of many popular sports such as basketball, handball or baseball.  In a variation of this game, called “hot potato”, players throw a small object to each other while the music is playing. The person that has the object (“hot potato”) when the music stops, is out of the game. It continues until only one player remains – the winner.


24. Marco Polo

Marco Polo game

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In this aquatic version combination of “tag” and “hide and seek”, players in a swimming pool try not to be touched by the person that is blindfolded. This player (the seeker) will call “Marco” and the hiders will respond with “Polo” so that the seeker may acoustically determine the location of the other players. If a player is tagged, then that player becomes the new seeker.

The name of the game refers to the Venetian 13th century explorer Marco Polo, who didn’t really have much of a clue regarding where he was going, similar to the seeker in this game.


25. Blind Man’s Buff

Blind Man's Buff game

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“Blind Man’s Buff” is basically “Marco Polo” played on land. A blindfolded child tries to tag the other players. This game requires as playground a plain space, such as a field without any obstructions that might injure the blindfolded player.

There are multiple variants of this game. In one of them, similar to the Marco Polo game, the blindfolded child (“it”) tags a person and that person becomes the new it. In another version, the tagged players are out and the game ends when all hiding players are eliminated. There is also a variant of the “Blind Man’s Buff” in which the “it” child has to identify the person he/she tagged by filling their face.

In the Japanese version of this game, the seeker is not only blindfolded, but also holds a cut of tea that he/she shouldn’t spill.

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