Child’s play: how Portuguese kids play traditional games

group of boys playing games

Traditional games have played a part of Portuguese children’s education for generations, a valuable part of cultural and social heritage.

Throughout its history, sport in Portugal has seen several influences, mainly based on militarism, gymnastics and health. 

Due to the dictatorship in Portugal up until 1974, sport underwent several changes – both political and social. At the time, Mocidade Portuguesa – Portuguese youth organisations with a military character – were intended to separate children, younger men and women to not allow interaction between them. Currently in Portugal, this no longer happens with children of all ages and genders involved in sport.

Traditional Portuguese games play a fundamental role in children’s lives. They were designed so that children playing them will develop skills, such as: cooperating in game play, following guidelines and rules, mastering movements and gaining knowledge of how games are won and lost. 

By playing traditional games, children also develop physical, intellectual, emotional and affective skills.

There are several traditional games in Portugal, including Cat and Mouse, Target Shooting, Elastic Jumping, Bag Racing, Blind Goat.

In The Blind Goat game, one of the players is designated as the ‘blind goat’ – blindfolded and trying to catch the other players who are in a circle around the goat. The player caught by the goat then becomes the ‘blind goat’. 

Other traditional games that are also very popular in Portugal are the Toothpick game, Handkerchief game, skipping rope game, hoop game, the Rooster, spoon With potato, game of chairs, rope in the line, game of mesh. 

In the game of mesh, players throwing metal discs or stones towards a pin or a stick placed at a certain distance, aiming to  knock over the pin or land the discs as close as possible to it. It is a traditional game widely played in several towns in Portugal, either with two players competing against each other or with double (two against two) or larger teams.

Traditional games are part of the first cycle of basic education in Portugal, taught in Physical Education classes. Lessons are designed to make students aware of the importance of the learning process, as well as of the knowledge of the playful culture of their parents’ generation. 

These lessons are important in providing students with knowledge of game types, fundamental so they better understand their national game culture. In this sense, traditional games promote physical and cultural learning, as well as encouraging the students to work in teams.

Throughout the world – not solely in Portugal – traditional games should always be present in children’s learning, because in addition to promoting their physical, psychological and social development, they provide moments of fun. 

For these reasons, playing games is beneficial and contributes to improving both children and adults’ well-being and quality of life. Traditional games are thus shared from generation to generation, as they carry a valuable cultural and social heritage that must be preserved, valuing the past and building a better future – despite the political and social changes that can occur over time.

By Gonçalo Costa, Agrupamento de Escolas A Lã e A Neve | Europeana Education Community

Feature image: Jogando as cinco pedrinhas, Tomás José da Anunciação, Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Public Domain

5 thoughts on “Child’s play: how Portuguese kids play traditional games

  1. Mocidade Portuguesa (mandatory for children in secondary schools during dictatorship – that ended in 1974) was mostly a fascist indoctrination movement that used sport activities, most of them exhibitional and non-competitive (as gymnastics) as a pretext to captivate children and youth and to prepare them to fight internally against communism, socialism and democratic ideas and movements, and also to accept the “patriotism” to fight liberation movements in the war in the African colonies.

    All other traditional games mentioned report to a reality that ended a few decades ago. I bet that only 10% of children and youth in 2020 had contact or played one of them at least once. This text arrives with a time delay of 30 years. For the good or the bad, this is not an image of Portugal in 2020.

    1. Thanks Manuel, it was very correct from your part to remember the real character of the “Mocidade Portuguesa” (a copy of “Hitlersjugend” in fascist Germany). That photo of militarized children was by the way quite inadequate as a “graphic opening” for the article.The article per se is interesting as a melancolic look at Portugal’s black age, but has nothing to do with the present reality. The recent thoughts of another commentator here some days ago only reflect the demonic nature of the ideological manipulation of children. The victims, also very old in age today, typically never realize what happened with their souls.

    2. We in Croatia had similar games, and similar situation considering old games, but I think most of the world is dealing with same loss in children. You still can see some of them play out in the streets, but it is usually football or something other that is popular at the moment. Out of the variety of the mentioned traditional games, I think you need to search for a very long time in order to find somebody playing them.
      In my opinion, it is very interesting that many games in different cultures are fairly similar.

  2. Fiz parte da Mocidade Portuguesa em Moçambique e na altura anos 1940/1950 (escola Primária e Liceu) fiz parte da Mocidade Portuguesa e ensinavam,—nos a Amar a Pátria, ginástica, jogos tradicionais
    e nunca se falou em partidos politicos ou política nem tampouco em lutas contra os movimentos de libertação.

  3. Eu fui para a escola em 1957 e nunca fui obrigada a frequentar a MocidadePortuguesa!!!
    Penso que está um pouco enganado. Os desportos que fazíamos além da ginástica no ginásio jogávamos basketball, volleyball e nas férias football e hockey em patins. Muita natação nas praias com a vigilância de bons pescadores que trabalhavam como nadadores Salvadores.

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