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Children’s Games

Children have always played games. This famous oil-painting by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder is entitled Children’s Games. Painted in 1560 – more than four-and-a-half-centuries ago – it depicts a town square filled with children of all ages playing games. More than eighty different games have been identified in the painting.  Do you recognise any of the games and activities? Can you find children engaged in tug of war, playing leapfrog, giving piggyback rides, doing somersaults or climbing?

Children's Games
‘Children’s Games’ by Flemish Renaissance artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1560.

Why do children play games? Games provide physical and mental activity, which children enjoy – running and racing, chasing and catching, hiding and finding, acting and pretending. Physically, games help children to develop strength, agility, balance and coordination. They also teach children to socialise, compete, win and lose. In playing games, children learn about fair play, sportsmanship and the value of teamwork. So games teach life skills.

In the past, games were more often played outdoors – on the streets or in the fields – where there was more room to play (and, perhaps, less adult supervision). Games such as marbles, conkers, hopscotch, tag, hide-and-seek, and skipping were popular with Irish children.

Learn to Play ‘Five Slates’

This game is called ‘Five Slates’. All you need are two players (at least), five slates or flattish stones, some chalk and a flat surface. As well as being fun, the game helps to improve your coordination and counting skills.

How to play …

  • Draw out your target board (as above) using chalk. It can be square or rectangular in shape. The number 5 should be in the centre, with number 1 to 4 around the edge
  • Agree a throwing distance and mark the throw/toe line
  • Each player throws five slates or flat stones, trying to get a high score (maximum of 25 points)
  • There is no score if the stone lands on a line between two numbers
  • Add the final score after the five throws. Remember your score
  • This highest final score wins


  • Ask your parents/guardians/grandparents about the games they played as children?
  • Get them to tell you all about their favourite game?
  • Have a go at playing the game and write out the rules
  • What skills would be improved by playing the game? Would it, for example, improve your fitness or coordination?

Have Fun!



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