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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Mancala (game) madness at our summer camp!

Mancala (game) madness at our summer camp!

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This post may not be long lived because there is nothing "technical" about the beautiful ancient African game Mancala and someone may pull it due to lack of relevance... But, it is all the rage at our summer camp and has helped aim the children and their extraneous summer behaviors into a much happier, focused venue. The memory of using/playing this game was somewhere in the recesses of my mind (it had been 15 years[ish] since I used it). Finding myself in summer camp employment again and seeing that the children needed more activity I tried to remember what we used at that old Center in Florida. Mancala. We had large plastic (orange?!) game boards and the children loved it! Contests were part of the summer. We had a very 'basic" way to play so very young children could join in the fun (see instructions below). At our Center we are in classes until early afternoon so we let the Kindergarteners play while we are busy. My daughter had taken our old board with her when she grew up and moved out. I found a nice one on eBay, a tad less expensive than stores. A inexpensive travel folding version is available at Walmart the kids have bought these off the shelves! In my original online search I found some elaborate game boards and I drooled, had to try making one! My boyfriend and I spent a good part of a Saturday working on the first huge one with a router! (We used a 2x10 spiff) The kids love that one! We've since made 3 at home and have started 2 at school. The router is loud and messy but the kids are loving using it (protective goggles and ear plugs needed)! One of my boards is Celtic design, I want to do one African and one Egyptian... It's addicting and you can personalize any theme. At the Center, the beloved game is simply called "The Game"*... (Instructions for simple Mancala: One direction: counter clockwise. You each have the side/row in front of you. Both ends are "free turn" spaces. Pick up only from your side. No winning on your first try! Belive me, they find the calculation to do this quite quickley!!! Variations are available like on any turn go in whatever direction although following your turn through in one direction. Or picking up from any side. The way you win is by clearing the stones/marbles from your side.)

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George Stern's picture
George Stern
Intern at Edutopia, college student, aspiring Educator.

This is really neat. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer.

Peter Blose's picture

Here is something you have never seen before. Several schools and summer camps have recently incorporated this into their programs. It takes about 15 seconds to check it out. It is NOT about video games:


Jennifer Holcombe's picture
Jennifer Holcombe
After School care at the Austin Discovery School (Challenge School)

Thank G & P!

P> I went to the site and I love the idea and am so curious how the game is played that had the grid on it!!!

I just bought a 1937 2 sided game board that has multiple games that can be played on it (4 netted corners)and can't wait to wade thru the extensive (original) instruction booklet!*

Last week when I walked into work early Monday morning one of the secretaries asked me if we'd consider doing a life size mancala game?! I said a resounding YES and we had a ball! The game did take quite a long time and I think it might have worked okay using only one person (marble) per square instead of 3...

Peter Blose's picture

The game with a grid is "Go" THE most popular board game in the world. It is older than chess. It is played primarily in China and Japan and Korea. There are a growing number of players in the US. It takes five minutes to learn how to play the game and a lifetime to get really good.


Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Director of Programming and Innovation

What a great thread! My dad played Go when we were kiddos and I remember being really impressed by how beautiful it is. I LOVE the idea of getting kids involved with making the game board and pieces too. What a great summer (and weekend) activity.

I'd love to hear what others think on this (since I've not played Go or Mancala) but I can't help but think that some of these games that teach you strategy and patience are some of the best for teaching 21st c. skills. Thoughts?

Jennifer Holcombe's picture
Jennifer Holcombe
After School care at the Austin Discovery School (Challenge School)

Peter thank you for the great new info, of course my curiousity is totally aroused, great description... I will google the game as soon as I start breathing, as summer ends so my schedule changes big time...

Betty, Mancala is a strange (simple) mesmurizing game, it's very relaxing, it's hard to explain... And I am big on creating new ways with the children to play games so we are creating new versions all the time... Please attempt to play it sometime it's lovely...

Jennifer Holcombe's picture
Jennifer Holcombe
After School care at the Austin Discovery School (Challenge School)

This is my favorite new addition, especially for those children that are becoming way to interested in winning: this idea came to me to have to play and then win for your opponent! The kids still love to play it and they are still as aggressive but they are then thrilled when you win for them! ;)

karen tauscher's picture

hi my name is karen and i know what your talking about with the large orange mancala game, i played it at the boys and girls club about 15 yrs ago i have been looking for one to buy but have had no luck it was so great b/c the holes were big enough to get your hand in and the peices would not fall out. just wanted to let you know i am looking for it too :)

Jennifer Holcombe's picture
Jennifer Holcombe
After School care at the Austin Discovery School (Challenge School)

Karen> That was the same time my daughter was in the afterschool care program where I worked in Florida where they used those orange boards. They were great, light weight, durable plastic and as you say large compartments. If I ever find a source I will surely let you know.

The lady at my job that came up with the idea to do a life-size Mancala game suggested today to create a square one and to drill the comparments on all four sides so four players can play, sounds neat! I should think that the free compartments could be in each corner. Makes me wonder what to make in the center square?

Her suggestion made me wonder about creating a board with an inward spiral and the free space could be in the center (and maybe at the entrance as well, haven't quite thought through the value of either).

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