Traditional Russian nesting dolls on table
Traditional Russian nesting dolls on table

Throughout most of the 20th century, few toys were mass-manufactured in Russia due to difficulty in receiving government safety certifications during the Soviet era. Hailing from a vast country made up of remote, rural regions, Russian children have created their own imaginative games that require only a few nearby resources. Whether playing alone at home, with classmates at recess or with friends on the weekends, these four traditional games have kept generations of children entertained for hours.

Matryoshka Nesting Dolls

World renowned for their artistic beauty, matryoshka nesting dolls first appeared in Russia in the late 1890s. The colorfully painted folk game is traditionally made from linden or birch wood and is available in an unlimited range of shapes, sizes, themes and number of pieces. Inside each hollowed doll, which opens in the middle, nests a smaller doll. The toy is especially popular with imaginative preschoolers, who love stacking, arranging and counting the dolls. Although the ways to play with matryoshka are limited only by a child's creativity, modern sets usually include instructions.

Gorodki

Invented by 17th-century Russian farmers, gorodki has been played from the fields to the royal palace grounds. A mix between bowling and horseshoes, the objective is to knock out a configuration of wooden pins with a wooden bat in the fewest throws. Gorodki became recognized as a legitimate sport in 1923 when the rules were codified and 15 standard pin patterns were adopted. Although its popularity has waned in recent decades, pickup games of gorodki are still played at camping sites, community parks and factory courtyards.

Steeple Bell

During the long Arctic winters, Russian children bundle up for an outdoor round of Steeple Bell. Shuffling their feet through the deep snow, they mark out squares and lines for the playing field. Marching along the lines, the players ring then pass the bell. When the guard claps and removes the blindfold, the bell holder drops it into the center square. The guard picks up the bell and pursues the dropper while the other players try to steal the bell. The energetic round ends when the guard catches the culprit, who becomes the next guard.

Lapta

Largely unchanged since the 14th century, lapta is believed to be the precursor to American baseball and English cricket. Officially recognized by the State Sports Committee, the ancient Russian stick-and-ball game is played everywhere from summer day camps to college campuses. Amid cheers and jeers, batters swing at a tennis ball, either between their legs or above their heads, depending on strategy. Once the bat and ball make contact, up to six runners must sprint to the end of the field and back again without getting tagged by the six defensemen. The teams switch places when a runner is caught.