European Games for Kids

By Tamasin Wedgwood
Hopscotch and skipping or jumping games are popular throughout Europe.

Due to immigration history, many European children’s schoolyard games are also played in America. Hopscotch, leapfrog, skipping or clapping games, chasing games and party games appear in similar forms in many different regions of Europe. Even the same playground rhymes appear in different languages. Sports like soccer, badminton, golf and tennis are European.

Schoolyard Games

Variants of “Oranges and Lemons” and “London Bridge” are played in Britain, Spain and Romania. Two players join hands, forming an arch. Children parade under this arch singing a rhyme. On the last line the arch comes down, capturing a child. A game where one child plays "Mr. Wolf" is found in Britain and Italy. The “wolf” faces the wall. Side-by-side, children stand some distance behind him calling: “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” If he replies “3 o’clock,” they move three steps closer. If he says “7 o’clock,” they take seven steps. But if he replies “Dinner time!” they run and he gives chase. Whoever he catches becomes the next “wolf.”

Party Games

In “musical bumps” children dance, sitting down suddenly when the music stops; the last one down is out. The game continues until only one child remains. For musical statues, children freeze when the music stops; anyone moving is out. For musical chairs, arrange a line of chairs, one fewer than the number of children. The child who cannot find a seat when the music stops is out. For "pass-the-parcel," children form a circle, passing around a gift wrapped in many layers. When the music stops, the child holding the parcel removes one layer. Play continues until somebody unwraps the gift.

Boules (Bocce or Petanque)

In this game, played on sand or fine gravel, children bowl metal “boules” at a smaller wooden ball called the “cochonet.” Players score points for every boule landing closer to the target than their opponent’s best shot. Quoits is similar—throw horseshoes over a peg in the ground.

Conkers

Every fall, European children collect conkers for conker fights.

Conkers are horse chestnuts threaded on strings. Two players duel by hitting their opponent’s conker with their own, until one conker is destroyed. If conkers are unavailable, substitute sweet chestnuts.

Rounders

Set up four posts as bases, then form two teams of batters and fielders. The batters line up to take turns batting, while the fielders spread out, except for the bowler and the backstop (catcher). Bowling is under arm. The batter must run even if she misses. She runs as in baseball, stopping when either the bowler or the fielder at the next base receives the ball. She is "stumped" out if a fielder touches a post with the ball while she is running to it. A home-run is a "rounder." Teams rotate when all batters have been caught or stumped out.

French Cricket

The bowler aims at the batter’s legs. The batter cannot move his feet--he protects them with a vertically held tennis racket, hitting the ball away. On hitting the ball, the batter passes the racket around his body, scoring 1 point for each circuit. Scoring stops when fielders retrieve the ball. The retrieving fielder now bowls from wherever the ball landed. The batter is out if he is caught, if his leg is hit, or if he moves his feet. Whoever gets him out bats next.

About the Author

Based in the Isle of Man, Tamasin Wedgwood has been writing on historical topics since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "The International Journal of Heritage Studies," "Museum and Society" and "Bobbin and Shuttle" magazine. She has a Master of Arts (Distinction) in museum studies from Leicester University.