Can a classic board game solve all your problems? Of course not. But let me tell you a little story about mancala.
I never played mancala when I was a kid. Never even heard of it. You know what a game nerd I am so that might surprise you. Or you may be asking, "What's mancala?"
Mancala is a strategy game that two people can play. It is also the game which, when I finally purchased it, became the inspiration for my inquiry into other historical games that kids and grownups have played around the world with little more than a few found items and their brains.
If you are long time reader of this blog (waves hello!) then you will know that the results of my game inquiry has been a series of posts featuring DIY multicultural games. And if you've been playing some of those games with your kids then you have been doing great things for their growing brains. (Note: this post contains affiliate links.)
But back to mancala.
What is Mancala?
- quick game with enough strategy to keep it interesting.
- a game that kids as young as 5 can learn and play with skill, but which doesn't get boring as they grow older.
Mancala is what is known as a "transfer game." The board has two rows of depressions, plus end "home" bowls. The goal is to transfer the most stones from the two rows into your home. A set of rules govern how you deposit and capture stones. You must use strategy to capture stones and ensure you do not leave them vulnerable to your opponent's greedy, greedy paws.
Why you should play mancala
Let me count the ways...
Playing mancala improves memory and observation skills, strategic thinking and planning ahead to make sure you don't inadvertently give your opponent the opportunity to thwart you. This requires kids to consider their opponent's moves (think: empathy and perspective!).
Without even knowing it, kids are learning the necessary skills for mathematical calculations through counting, and one to one correspondence. In addition, mancala improves the fine motor skills necessary for handwriting and building work!
In short, mancala appears to be the miracle game you have been looking for. I know! Amazing, right?
How to Play Manacala with Young Children
In my game of the month feature I always like to help out families who have kids younger than the standard recommendation. Of course, kids with a natural talent for strategic thinking and puzzles may be able to play this game as young as 3 or 4 - although they may not be able to keep up with their older siblings. Note: due to the small pieces, I recommend you keep the game away from children who still put items in their mouth. For a non-competitive transfer game, kids can play Tchuka Ruma. Click here to get my instructions for making your own Ruma game.
Mancala historical note
There are hundreds of mancala varieties in cultures around the world, especially in Africa. Archaeologists believe they have discovered versions of the game that date as far back as the 6th century A.D.! Now, if a game as survived that long, you know it's good. See why I consider it a must-own game? Learn more about this history of mancala here if you like!
There are loads of classic mancala games to choose from. I'm not really sure where we picked up our game along the way, but this one is very similar in style:
More classic strategy games: