Open accessibilty tools

Snakes and ladders game (1930s)

Snakes and ladders is based on a very old game from India called Moksha Patamu.

Talking about old toys

Use the questions below to talk with children about old board games. Talk about the snakes-and-ladders game here, or use the questions to explore old games you and the children may have brought in to your classroom or setting.

Look at the shapes, colours, pictures. How many different details can you describe?

Try turning it into a game. Look at the board for one minute and then take it away or close your eyes. How many details can you remember? Look again:

  • What did you remember?
  • What did you forget?
  • What else can you see this time?

This is an old game called snakes-and-ladders.

There are some pieces missing – there should also be some counters and a dice.

Do you know how to play it?

  1. Everyone chooses a different coloured counter and puts it on square 1.
  2. Take it in turns to roll the dice – you have to roll a 6 to start.
  3. When it’s your turn, roll the dice. Move your counter the same number of squares as the number on the dice.
  4. If you land on the bottom of a ladder, you can move your counter to the top.
  5. But if you land on a snake’s head, you must move your counter all the way down to the snake’s tail.
  6. The first person to reach square 100 is the winner.
  • It’s made from paper stuck on to a piece of thick cardboard.
  • Can you see the line down the middle? This is so you can fold the board in half and put it away.

The colours are not very bright and look a bit faded in some places.

It looks as though it has been used a lot:

  • The board looks a bit worn-out around the edges
  • There are some tears in the paper – especially at the corners
  • There are some dirty marks in some places.

The counters and dice are missing.

  • This game is about 80 years old – that’s a very long time for something made of paper and cardboard to survive.
  • It would probably have been played by your grannies and grandads when they were children – or even their mums and dads.
  • Your mums and dads might have played a game like this too, but it would look more modern. The numbers and pictures would probably be made with brighter colours. The board would probably be laminated (covered in a clear plastic coating) to help protect it.
  • Children still play snakes-and-ladders today. Have you played it?

This game now belongs to Preston Park Museum, where they take good care of it.

Which ones use a dice or counters?

  • What might the children who played this game in the past have looked like? What sort of clothes might they have been wearing? Our ‘Playing the past’ gallery is full of old pictures of children playing with toys and games – it might give you some ideas.
  • Where might this game have been played?

Exploring old toys through play

Draw a giant snakes-and-ladders grid with chalk in the playground (it need not go all the way up to 100).

Children can try jumping or hopping from square-to-square, counting as they go, and going up the ladders and down the snakes.

They could play a giant game of snakes-and-ladders, with one group of children rolling a large dice, and another acting as their counters.


Game design
Children could design and make their own snakes-and-ladders style game.
What long or tall things could they use in place of the snakes-and-ladders?

They could base it on a favourite story, film, TV programme or classroom theme.

Would they change any of the rules?

Children could create step-by-step instructions for snakes-and-ladders, or for their own version of the game.

  • They could write these down and turn them into the sort of instruction leaflet you might expect to see in a board game.
  • Old games often came with instructions written on the inside of the box lid. Children could design their own box for a game and write the instructions inside the lid.
  • They could record a demonstration using an iPad or tablet.

Try testing the instructions on a classmate or a grown-up.

Young historians
What questions do children have about old games? Encourage them to think carefully about something they would really like to find out about this snakes-and-ladders game or an old game in your classroom. They could take it in turns to hold a picture of a large question mark, and think of a question beginning with Who, Where, Why, What, When or How to share with the group or class.

Where could they find out the answers? They could:


  • Click on the ‘Playing in the past’ tab to find old pictures of children playing with toys and games.

Hubbub and Mancala are two of the oldest games in the world

  • Hubbub – or ‘the bowl game’ – is a traditional game, played by the Wampanoag people and other Native American groups across America. It’s easy to make and fun to play – remember to distract your opponents by making as much noise as possible! Find out how here.
  • Mancala is believed to have been invented by the Ancient Egyptians. Try making and playing your own mancala game here.