In many ways a child's upbringing today is very similar to the upbringing they would have received in Medieval Europe. Much of what children learned, they learned from their mothers. They played with pets that included dogs, parrots, and tamed squirrels. At the same time children enjoyed hide and seek. They also played with dolls, wooden soldiers, assorted wind toys, and when they got older bows and arrows. Medieval children did not play with cats. Cats were considered to be satanic and were not found in the majority of medieval homes.
When noble boys and girls were 8 years old they were sent to be squires in other castles. Usually, this was the castle of a relative. There the boys learned to dance, play chess, and backgammon. They also received their first military training. At the same time noble girls were sent to another castle for what some might call a finishing school. There they learned to embroider, play music, weave, and cook. In addition, if they wanted to learn to read and write, they could. At the time poetic romance was very popular.
Following dinner nobles were known to offer entertainment for their guests. These entertainers included jugglers, minstrels, acrobats, trained dogs, storytellers, and contortionists. They also played blind man's bluff, ring-around-a-rosy, and a primitive form of tennis that was played with a leather ball. Playing dice, dancing, and chess were also very popular. They called dice the game of the Gods, and they were known to gamble away their clothes until they wore nothing at all.
The most popular of all the aristocratic sports was hunting. Largely, they hunted on horseback for deer. At times, deer hunting was so popular that kings banned the peasants from the sport. During these times the forests were reserved for the nobles, even if the people were hungry. King Henry II of England went as far as to hang or mutilate poachers. Hawking and falconry were also very popular. Anyone who found a falcon or hawk and failed to return it to its owner was severely punished.
Knights practiced for war all of the time, and it was not much fun. Over time the concept of jousting tournaments developed. Tournaments provided the knights with the battle practice they needed while entertaining crowds at the same time. The first jousting tournaments featured large groups of knights who divided up onto sides according to where they lived. After receiving the signal they charged each other on horseback with their 20 pound lances leveled. Those that were knocked off their horses continued to fight on the ground. The knights that were defeated lost their horses and armor to the victor. During one tournament in Cologne over 60 knights were killed in this type of tournament. Soon afterward the tournaments were scaled down and the armor became heavier and more protective. Before long, the tournaments featured just two highly skilled knights charging each other on horseback in an attempted to spear the other one in the head and knock him off his horse. After time these tournaments developed into festivals, and the men who jousted became professional athletes who made a good living. Plays were also popular. Mostly, they were used by the church to instruct the public which could not read or write. Most plays presented stories from the Bible. Plays that did not feature the Bible were about saints, or designed to teach moral values.