Games that school children play around the world

The traditional Maori game of Ki-o-Rahi, played in New Zealand Illustration UNICEF/Traditional Games

Millions of children around the world work hard every day at school. But there is always time for fun – when they can use up some energy and play their favourite games in the playground or the school yard with their friends.

In its guide to children’s games, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF says sports-based games are a chance to be fun and active but also “a way of learning important values and life skills, including self-confidence, team work, communication, inclusion, discipline, respect and fair play”.

Here are some of best-loved children’s games from different countries.

KABADI (Sri Lanka)

A player runs into the opposing territory to try to tag one of the opponents. While doing this, the player must keep yelling “kabaddi-kabaddi” the entire time they are on the opponent’s territory, until she makes it back to her side. Watch how to play it here.

TAG (United Kingdom)

Also known as tig. One person is chosen to be “it”. The player who is “it” needs to catch someone else who then becomes “it”.

DODGEBALL (United States)

There are different versions of the game. The National Amateur Dodgeball Association in the USA says teams should have six players in action and three balls available to each team. The onject is to eliminate all players of the opposing team by hitting them with a ball below the shoulders. Children’s rules can be much more relaxed.

KHO KHO (India)

Played by teams of 12, of which nine enter the field. They try to avoid being touched by members of the opposing team.

HAJLA (Syria)

A playground game where an object, usually a stone, is thrown by a group of players, through patterns of squares outlined on the ground, hopping through spaces with one leg.

SHADOWS (Ireland)

Players must stand on opponent’s shadows in order to catch them – then they are the chaser. If you are being chased you can run to a shaded place where you have no shadow and then you are safe.


Also known as Ten Ten. Players stand facing each other ,clapping their hands and moving their legs to a rhythm. They must ensure they don’t raise a leg directly facing the other opponent – which means it is OK for a player to raise a left leg when the other raises a right leg. Once a girl or boy raises the wrong leg, the other girl scores a point. Other hand-clapping games are also popular in Nigerian playgrounds – watch this group of children demonstrate one here.

DARUMA (Japan)

Players line up about 30 feet from a wall in a bid to reach it. The player who is “it” faces the wall and says “Daruma falls down” before turning around. If he sees someone moving that person is captured and has to come to the wall. 

JONAH (Uganda)

Players sit behind each other in two rows with their legs in a V shape to mimic rowing a boat. They sing a rhyme about Jonah and when the song ends they start to sway from side to side. Those who fall out or lose their balance are out of the game.

OONCH NEECH (Pakistan)

One player is “it” and has to catch their opponents. However, players can be safe from capture if they climb up on to something – a porch, a kerb, a tree branch.


Players sit in a circle while a person jogs around the circle with a handkerchief. The seated children are not allowed to watch and have to sing “Corre, Corre, la Guaraca who looks back will be bopped on his head!” Trying not to be felt, the runner drops the handkerchief on a child’s back and runs. If he makes it around the circle before the player realises that it’s on her back, the seated player is out.


This is a two-player game but more children can play by taking turns. Each player has a handkerchief or a piece of cloth tucked into a pocket or waistband. Both players are not allowed to use their right arm, which is to be crossed over their chest. Then, hopping on one leg, each player must try to capture the handkerchief from their opponent using his left hand. If the child puts the other leg down, or unfolds their right arm, he is disqualified. The last person who still has his handkerchief is the winner.

LUKSONG-BAKA (Philippines)

Translated as “jump over the cow”, one player crouches down while the others jump over him or her. The game progresses when the crouching player gradually straightens up making it harder for the other players to jump. A person becomes “it” when they touch the “baka” (cow) as they jump. It will repeat again and again until the players declare the player or until the players decide to stop the game.

If you want to learn more about traditional children’s games around the world, UNICEF has a great guide – including road tennis from Barbados, Ki-o-Rahi from New Zealand and Three Tines from South Africa.