Popular Children's Games

Lúcia Gaspar
Virgínia Barbosa
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarians
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Popular children’s games, besides competition, help develop imagination, team spirit, socialising and help children to better adapt to the world.

Nowadays, due to progress and the changes it brings, popular children’s games are being replaced by television, electronic games and computers.

Urban evolution has also contributed to the extinction of these activities. The move from living in houses to living in apartment buildings and the general insecurity in the country are causing pavements to stop being a place where children have fun.
Some time ago it was very common in the cities, especially the small municipalities in the Northeast Brazilcountryside, for children to play in front of their homes, on the pavement, parks or in quiet streets.
There are a large number of well-known popular games which gave and still give joy to many Brazilian children: queimado (dodgeball), barra-bandeira (capture the flag), cabo-de-guerra (tug-of-war), bola de gude (marbles), esconde-esconde (forty forty), boca-de-forno, Tá pronto seu Lobo? (What’s the time, Mr Wolf?), academia or amarelinha (hopscotch), passarás, rica e pobre, esconde a peia (hot or cold), adedonha or stop, quebra-panela (piñata), o coelho sai, sobra um (peg solitaire), concentração.

Today, football pick-up games can still be frequently seen played in quiet streets with little traffic, on empty lots, in the sand on the beach, grass in public gardens and even in some parks.

Any empty public space and a ball will do for a pick-up game of football, known as ‘pelada’ or ‘racha’ in Brazil. It is an informal game, without strict regulations and where the rules of football are not respected.  Anything goes, except touching the ball with hands. Usually there are no goalkeepers. In this case, the goal posts are narrow to make scoring more difficult.

In order to contribute to the recording of these popular games, here is a small summary with information about each one:


Any number of children can play this game. A figure that looks like a doll with only one leg and arms outstretched or an airplane, as it is also known in some parts of Brazil, is drawn on the ground with coal, chalk or, if it’s on the sand, a stick or tile. The hopscotch courts end with ‘heaven’ (a circle). There are seven other numbered squares. The child who shouts ‘Primeira!’ first begins the game and the order that the game will be played is shouted by the other children in turn. The game consists of throwing a stone on the first square and hopping with your hands on your waist over the whole court, there and back, without stepping on the square with the stone and picking it up on the way back. The stone is then thrown into the second square and so on until the circle. The stone has to come to rest inside the square. The winner is the one who makes it to heaven without making a mistake, or in other words throwing the stone into the correct square in each turn, going to the end and back without putting their other foot on the ground or stepping on the lines. Completing the course without throwing the stone can also be done, carrying it on top of a foot or on one open hand without letting it fall. Whoever makes a mistake waits for the next round and begins from where they stopped. There is also another stage where the stone is thrown while facing the other direction and if it lands in a square, that square is owned by the player and nobody else can step in it. The winner is the one who “owns” the most squares.



Players are divided into two groups of children. The battlefield is drawn with the same distance on each side, tracing a line in the centre called ‘the border’. The game consists of each child on a team throwing the ball from the ‘border’ at another child from the opposing team. Whoever can’t catch a ball and is hit is “out”. The child who catches the ball immediately throws it, trying to hit someone from the other team. The team that wins is the one that is able to eliminate all their opponents or has the smallest number of children hit.


Players are divided into two groups of the same number of children. Each group holds one end of a rope, making a division in the middle, which allows each group to have the same length of rope. The signal to start the game is given and each group starts to pull the rope to their side. The winner is the one who manages to pull more rope to their side in the stipulated time (one or two minutes).


Also known in Pernambuco as “31”. A child is chosen to count to 31 with their eyes closed in a specific place called the “manja” (home), while the others hide. After the counting, they try to find all the hidden children and when they see them they have to say “batida fulano ou fulana” (I see you, [child’s name]) while touching ‘home’. If some of the hiding children are able to reach ‘home’ without being seen, they shout “batida, salve todos” “touch, everyone’s safe” and the ‘looker’ has to start counting again. However, if everyone is caught, another child is chose to count and the whole process starts again.


Players are divided into two groups with the same number of children. The field is marked out and at each end a flag (or a stick) is placed. The game consists of each group trying to steal the flag of the other group without being touched by any opposing player. Whoever is touched has to stand still in the place where they were caught like a statue until a teammate saves them by touching them. The winning group with the smallest number of caught players or whoever gets the flag first, regardless of the number of “caught” children.


A child is chosen to be the commander or the Master who asks the other players to complete a mission. The game begins with the Master shouting: Boca-de-forno! Everyone replies: Forno! The Master says: Tirando bolo! Everyone replies: Bolo! The Master says: O Senhor Rei mandou dizer que... (The King orders…) and indicates several tasks like going to various places, getting sticks, flowers, various objects or any type of task to be completed. The children run off and spread out to complete the mission. The game is similar to a scavenger hunt but with no winner, or to the English game ‘Simon Says’.


A child is chosen to be the wolf and hides. The rest join hands and walk, singing: - Vamos passear na floresta, enquanto o seu lobo não vem! Está pronto seu lobo? (Let’s go walking in the forest while the wolf isn’t there! Are you ready, Mr Wolf?) The wolf answers for some time that they are busy, doing one task at a time: having a shower, getting dressed, putting on their shoes, combing their hair and other things they think of. The game continues until the wolf is ready and, without warning, comes out of their hiding place and chases after the other children, trying to catch the players by surprise. The first child caught is the wolf in the next round.


Without the group of children playing the game knowing, two children randomly choose two words – they can be fruits, flowers, animals, etc – and each one keeps the chosen word secret. They stand one in front of the other, holding hands, forming an arch. The players form a line which must be lead by a bigger or smarter child who represents the mother of them all. This child pulls the line and passes under the arch, singing: - Passarás, passarás, algum deles há de ficar. Se não for o da frente, deve ser o de detrás. (You shall pass, you shall pass, some of you shall stay. If it’s not the first one, it must be the last.) The last child in the line is “trapped” between the arms of the “arch” and must answer the question: Do you prefer apple or grape? (for example.) The option they choose makes them line up behind the child that word belongs to. The game keeps going until the last player is “trapped” and chooses the word. The child with the most number of players in their line wins.


One of the children hides an object while the others close their eyes so they can’t see where it was put. Then they all try to find the object. To get clues, they ask the person who hid it: “Am I hot or cold?” If the player is near the hiding place the answer is “Hot!” If far away, “Cold!” Whoever did the hiding object can also give clues like “You’re getting warmer” or “Getting colder” according to the distance from the hidden object. When someone gets close to the hidden object, the hider shouts “You’re burning!” and if they’re far away “You’re freezing!” the child who finds the hidden object is the next to hide it.


This game can have any number of players. All that is needed is paper and a pen or pencil. A list or table is made with 11 columns and with the following headings: person’s name, place, animal, colour, car manufacturer, artist, fruit, vegetable, flower, object and film. A letter is drawn and a time limit is set (two or three minutes). Each player has to fill out all the categories with words beginning with that letter. For example: if the letter drawn is A:

NamePlaceAnimal ColourCarArtistFruitVegetable

Whoever completes all the items first, even if they don’t use all the time, shouts “Stop” and the round ends. Nobody can write anything else. The number of items completed is then counted for each player. Each item is worth 10 points. If more than one player has written a certain item, instead of 10 points each player only gets 5. The winner is the one who gets the most points.


One of the children is chose to be the ‘cabra-cega’. A blindfold is put over their eyes, someone spins them around several times and asks them to touch or catch the other players. Whomever they touch or catch first is the next ‘cabra-cega’. The rules have to be agreed upon before, whether it’s to touch or grab. The game should be played in a small open space with few obstacles so that there are no accidents or injuries.


In Northeast Brazil, this game is common at birthday parties.  A clay pot full of sweets, gum, chocolates and other treats is hung from a high place. A blindfold is put over the eyes of one of the children who is spun around several times and with a wooden bat or stick in their hands they try to break the pot. If they can’t, another child is chosen until one of them manages to break it and they all race to get the treats on the ground. Nowadays, the game is played by using a rubber balloon that needs to be burst. The traditional ‘piñata’ (a Spanish word that means ‘pot of candies’) that has representations of various childhood themes (dolls, animals, object) made of a type of cardboard or papier-mâché in which the treats are put is still not widely used in Brazil.


An ancient game played by the Greeks and Romans. The word ‘gude’ comes from the Provencal word ‘gode’ which means “small, round, smooth stone”. Nowadays marbles are made from coloured glass. There are various forms of the game, but the most well-known is called ‘triangle’. A triangle is drawn on the ground and a marble is placed in each corner. If there are more than three players, the marbles are placed inside or on the triangle’s lines. To decide who starts, a line is drawn on the ground away from the triangle. From close to the triangle, each player rolls a marble trying to make it stop as close to the line as possible. The distance of the marble from the line determines the order of the players. The game begins with the first player shooting their marble to try to hit one of the marbles on the triangle. If they do, they keep the marble and continue playing until they miss, which is when the second player’s go begins, and so on. If the marble stops inside the triangle, the player is “stuck” and can only play in the next round. The players take turns trying to “kill” the marbles of their opponents, using their thumbs and index fingers to shoot the marble through the sand, with the objective of getting the most number of the other players’ marbles.  The winner is the one who gets the most marbles.


A group of children stand on one side, representing a poor mother with children, and just a girl on the other side, representing a rich girl.
The poor “mother” sings to the “rich” mother:

Eu sou pobre, pobre, pobre de marré, marré, marré, (I’m so poor, so poor, so poor…)
Eu sou pobre, pobre, pobre de marré decê.  (I’m so poor, so poor, so poor…)
The rich “mother” replies singing:
Eu sou rica, rica, rica de marré, marré, marré, (I’m so rich, so rich, so rich…)
Eu sou rica, rica, rica de marré descer (I’m so rich, so rich, so rich…)
Quero uma de vossas filhas de marré, marré, marré (I want one of your daughters…)
Quero uma de vossas filhas de marré decê (I want one of your daughters…)
The poor “mother” says:
Escolhei a qual quiser de marré, marré, marré (Choose whichever you want…)
Escolhei a qual quiser de marré decê (Choose whichever you want…)
The rich one says:
Eu quero dona (nome da criança) de marré, marré, marré (I want [child’s name]…)
Eu quero dona (nome da criança) de marré decê (I want [child’s name]…)
The poor one says:
Que ofício* dás a ela de marré, marré, marré (What will you teach her…)
Que ofício dás a ela de marré decê (What will you teach her…)
The rich one says:
Dou ofício de costureira de marré, marré, marré (I will teach her sewing…)
Dou ofício de costureira de marré decê (I will teach her sewing…)
The poor mother asks the child: - Você quer ser costureira? (Do you want to be a seamstress?)
If the answer is positive, the child goes to the rich “mother”.
If the answer is negative, the child stays with the poor mother.
The winner is the mother who has the most children.

*There should be several skills to win the children.


Various children form a circle and one remains standing outside the circle. Each child chooses a fruit. Whoever is running the game says: “I ate a fruit salad at (John)’s house. There was no banana or pineapple. The children representing these fruits change places. The child who is standing has to try to take the place of one of them. If they manage, one of them remains standing and waits for the person to say the name of other fruits and tries to get another place. At a given time the person running the game says: “There are no fruits!” All the children try to change places at once, and whoever is standing as well. As there is always one extra in this game, the child who is left over in this big change is the loser.


A circle is formed by children holding hands. One is in the middle of the circle, representing the rabbit. The “rabbit” has to ask questions or ask for something from the group. The group answers the questions or symbolically attends “rabbit’s” wish. For example: the rabbit asks: What time is it? They all reply: It’s two o’clock. The rabbit says: I want to have a shower. One of the children in the circle says: Have your shower here. I want to brush my fur. Another child pretends to brush. After many questions and requests, the rabbit says: I want to get out. I want to escape. The children hold each others’ hands tightly and the rabbit tries to break through. When they escape, all the children chase after the rabbit and whoever catches them becomes the rabbit in the next game.


A circle is formed by the children. Each child chooses a colour. The person running the game begins: Atenção, muita atenção, concentração, vai começar. Já começou! (Attention, pay attention, focus, it will begin. It’s already begun!) The person looks at a child and they have to say the colour they chose immediately (for example: red). The person looks at another child and, if they’re paying attention, also say their colour. The child who is not paying attention and who doesn’t say their colour is out of the game. The child (or children) who responds quickly with their colour wins.

Recife, 28 June 2007.
(Updated on 26 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
Ilustrations by Rosinha and Antonio Carlos Duarte Montenegro.


BARRETO, Luiz Antonio. Brincadeiras de rua, um repertório ameaçado. Recife: Fundaj. Inpso. Centro de Estudos Folclóricos, 1987. (Folclore, n.185).

CHACON, Dulce. A criança e o jogo: estudo psicossocial do comportamento lúdico da criança do Recife: Secretaria de Educação e Cultura de Pernambuco, 1959.

SOUTO MAIOR, Mário. Brinquedos e jogos nordestinos: contribuição ao estudo da lúdica regional: um depoimento. Recife: Fundaj. Inpso. Centro de Estudos Folclóricos, 1987. (Folclore, n. 206/207).

______; LÓSSIO, Rúbia. Dicionário de folclore para estudantes. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 2004.


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia; BARBOSA, Virgínia. Jogos e brincadeiras infantis populares. Pesquisa Escolar On Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: >. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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