Lessons on Entrepreneurship from Childhood Games

Life in Nigeria especially for children who grew up before the return of democracy and the rise of the internet was full of fun memories. It is often said that life was simpler back then with few distractions. In fact, only a handful of houses owned television sets back then. This gave children ample time to engage in playful activities after they are done with chores and authorized by their parents that is. This brings up lessons on entrepreneurship that we unconsciously learned through childhood games.

Now, in 2023, life is more busy with a lot of distractions for both children and their parents alike. School and screens consume a significant part of children’s time now. As parents are on the other hand battling with the rising cost of living and stress of life. 

The need for persons to engage in entrepreneurship or side business has never been more pressing than it is in this era. 

lessons on entrepreneurship

As many adults are contemplating what form of business they will engage in, this essay will attempt to highlight some of the necessary skills for entrepreneurship. And show how some traditional children’s plays we engaged in might influence our fortunes. 

What do the experts say about Children’s Plays?

Several established psychological theories support the idea that plays and certain types of games can positively impact cognitive, social, and emotional development. Which can all contribute to the development of entrepreneurial skills. Here are some relevant theories:

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development: Jean Piaget’s theory suggests that children actively construct their understanding of the world through play and interactions. Play allows them to explore, experiment, and develop problem-solving skills. This can be fundamental for later entrepreneurial endeavors.

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory: Lev Vygotsky’s theory emphasizes the importance of social interactions and play in cognitive development. Play, especially cooperative play, promotes social skills, communication, and negotiation abilities, which are essential for entrepreneurship.

Bandura’s Social Learning Theory: Albert Bandura’s theory emphasizes that children learn through observing and imitating others. Playing games with role models, such as parents or older siblings, can expose children to entrepreneurial behaviors and skills.

Play-Based Learning Theories: Various educational approaches, like Montessori and Reggio Emilia, emphasize the importance of play in early childhood education. Play-based learning can foster creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork skills, all of which are valuable for entrepreneurship.

What are the Skills for Entrepreneurship and Which Plays Influence them?

  • Risk-taking and Resilience: Games often have an element of risk, where children may face failure or setbacks. By learning to take risks and bounce back from failures in games, individuals can build resilience. An important trait for entrepreneurs facing the ups and downs of business ventures.

Games of cards involve a significant amount of risk-taking. There is a game called Karta played by children from Northern Nigeria. Karta is popular a game of chance. It involves the use of finely cut matchboxes that will serve as cards. Two players keep playing their cards in turn. Any player that plays a card that matches the previously played card wins the whole stack.

Or the game of Rubber Bands which is loosely referred to as Robali in Hausa. Children throw these rubber bands to the floor in turns. Any player who manages to throw a band that crosses over another rubber band wins the entire stack of bands played. 

These games involve a significant amount of risk because a child can lose all his cards or rubber bands in one fell swoop. This is also true because a lot of effort is put by children into scavenging match boxes to turn into Karta. And rubber bands are bought with money that is hard to come by in those days.

  • Decision Making: Childhood games often require quick decision-making. This skill can enhance a child’s ability to make informed and decisive choices as an entrepreneur.

Yar Carafke is a traditional game played by children from Northern Nigeria. It involves the digging of a hole in which twenty pebbles are placed. A player is to hold one pebble in his palms and throw it into the air. Then reach for the pebbles in the hole, and drag them out. Then reach out to catch the thrown pebble before it hits the ground. If a player is unable to catch the thrown pebble, he loses and the next player takes a turn. 

The real challenge in Yar Carafke is not bringing out the pebbles from the hole or catching the thrown pebble. The real challenge is to throw the pebble again and while the pebble is up in the air, attempt to push back the withdrawn pebbles back into the hole without letting the suspended pebble fall.

While pushing back these pebbles into the hole, a player has to decide which pebble he will leave behind as his prize. While strategically guiding the others back into the hole.

The number of pebbles to be left behind increases arithmetically with every gameplay. The aim is for a player to win the highest number of pebbles than his opponent.

This simple, yet tricky game of pebbles called Yar Carafke really exposes children to the need for decision-making. This skill is particularly important in later life when one is presented with a wide range of options and has to decide which course of action to take.

This decision-making skill is an everyday activity of the entrepreneur. If one should look back at the game of Yar Carafke, he may learn one or two things about decision-making.

  • Time Management: Many games have time limits, teaching children to manage their time efficiently. This skill becomes crucial when entrepreneurs juggle multiple tasks and deadlines.

Due to the nature of children’s schedules in Nigeria, they design their games with time in mind. For example, in northern Nigeria, all games after Maghrib prayers are prohibited. So when children embark on their plays in the evening, they do so with the fact that once the call to prayer is said, that is the end of their game.

Also, children are usually not allowed to play when they have important tasks to complete such as homework or house chores. Therefore, a child who joins a group to play with pending tasks at home can easily be called from the playfield by his parents. Children know the negative impact a deduction in their numbers can have on their group games. Therefore, many times before children start playing, they ask themselves if no one will be called at home. This enables them to have enough time to prepare their game plans.

This teaches children the importance of time management. Even in adulthood, they can tend to translate that skill into their entrepreneurial endeavors.

  • Leadership and Teamwork: Games that involve team play allow children to experience leadership roles and develop teamwork skills. Entrepreneurs often need to lead their teams effectively and collaborate with others to achieve common goals.

The Hausa variant of Tug of War which is called Jani-in-Jaka captures the essence of leadership and teamwork. The strongest member of the group is put in front of the rope. While the other members work collectively behind him to drag the other team across the line. 

Right from a young age, children are able to understand and identify leaders among themselves. And put them forth in games that require leadership while the rest contribute to the success of the group.

This is a very important reflection point for any adult who may be having problems with being a team player now. Remember your childhood games and reflect on how well the games turned out by working collectively as a group. 

  • Financial Literacy: Some childhood games involve imaginary money or resources. Which can introduce basic financial concepts and develop financial literacy, a valuable skill for running a business.

When children are not using the cards they make from matchboxes to play Karta, they sometimes use the same cards to play imaginary money. 

The value of the money is determined by the newness of the card or the colorfulness of the design on the card. 

While playing this imaginary money game, others open imaginary shops where they sell imaginary items. Some children display a collection of shells or other good-looking pebbles as wares. Interested buyers come to buy with their imaginary money from the said shops.

This teaches children the concept of spending their hard-earned cards to get something they desire or value. If a child does not spend wisely, he may find himself soon running out of cards. And resort to begging other children for a few pieces. 

To avoid getting caught in this conundrum, children learn to only buy what they may really need and keep the rest of their cards for future plays. 

These simple financial skills are learned by children without fully knowing the implications until later in life. Children with sharp financial literacy from that age tend to maintain the streak even later in life.

  • Goal Setting: Games usually have specific objectives to achieve, teaching children the importance of setting goals and working towards them. Entrepreneurs need strong goal-setting skills to stay focused and motivated on their business objectives.

The game of Yar-Gala-Gala perfectly captures this skill of goal setting. Yar-Gala-Gala is a game where rectangular shapes are drawn on the wet sandy floors and children throw stones into each of the boxes. And hop into each of the boxes on one foot until the player has landed on all the boxes. 

The aim of the game is for players to successfully hop into the rectangles on one leg without stepping on or out of line. After completing the entire shapes, a player has the reward of decorating any shape of his choice with a design of his choosing which he calls Gidana.

Now, when a player has clearly marked and designed his Gida, other players are prohibited from stepping foot on his shape when it is their turn to play. This creates a form of hurdle for other players where they are challenged to take long leaps to avoid stepping on a Gida that does not belong to them.

The goal of each player in Yar-Gala-Gala is to control the highest number of squared shapes. This is also true for entrepreneurs who are always trying to dominate a certain aspect of the market with their products or service. 

Pause and reflect on how determined you were as a child to win those games and embrace your entrepreneurship with the same or even better goal in mind today.


It is not an established fact that childhood plays are directly responsible for people’s entrepreneurial success. But there are elements of play that can prove to be useful for people who wish to engage in entrepreneurship. Many other factors are responsible for people’s success in life. Childhood games can so happen to be one of them.

These childhood moments and games shape us in more ways than we can readily understand. Therefore, attempting to study them with the aim of learning how relevant their lessons can be in our present life can be beneficial.

Maryam Idris Bappa

Maryam is an Architect and Writer who enjoys other creative activities such as crotchetting and sketching.. she studied Architecture from ABU Zarja and likes to chat with her friends during her free time.