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African Board Games that Teach Kids

by David Anthony (follow)
David Anthony. Writer and Publisher. Port Stephens, Australia
Games (10)      kids (8)      Maths (2)      Education (1)     
There are more than 20 types of mancala games and they have been played for thousands of years.

Mancala is the general game play sometimes called sowing games, count and capture games or sometimes played as pit and pebble games.

The Most Popular

Kalah, Sungka, Oware, Omweso, and Bao are the most famous and favourite mancala games in the western world.

These Mancala board games have the same significance, particularly in the education of children, in many African and Asian societies as Chess in the Western societies.

Source: David Trounce
Source: David Trounce.

Among these older African board games in the world, Mancala could be the oldest of all. Mancala games are played in many editions all over the world which are recognised by over 20 different names.

The names vary and every different name has it’s own rules which are a bit different from others but the basic game is almost the same.

Technically, mancala is not a game name. In fact, games sharing the same techniques are collectively called the mancala games.

Source: David Trounce
Source: David Trounce.

For example in the pit and pebble game, the beads go in and out of the hollowed out pits.

A typical African mancala board consists of 12 smaller pits. 6 on each side of the board and two bigger pits fixed on the far left and far right of the board.

There are 48 beads used in the game which are equally divided in the 12 smaller pits which makes, 4 beads each pit.

The players with 6 pits on each side and the bigger pits to the left and right of them, face off with the board between them.


Mancala, Oware, Bao... etc, are very much, "Maths for Kids" and is an ideal educational board game.

The rules and regulations of oware depend on the game you’re playing.

They vary from game to game.

I’ll only mention one type of game, oware, to keep you from any confusion but I suggest you search for other ways to play this game!

1) The goal of oware is to fill the bigger scoring pit on your very right with beads.

For this purpose, you have to gather all the beads in a smaller pit by picking all the beads out of one of the 6 smaller pits and putting them in your hand.

2) Next step is to drop bead per cup in anti-clockwise direction.

The first bead is instantly dropped in the pit located on the right side of the pit where the beads were being gathered.

3) Likewise, you ‘seed’ the remaining smaller pits with a bead and finally you get to drop one of the beads in your bigger pits on the right.

These game pieces will not be used in the game any more because you are not allowed to take beads from the bigger pits and count as points as per rules of the game.

Source: David Trounce
Source: David Trounce.

You’ll never drop a bead into the pit to your immediate left as you’re facing the board as it’s the opposite player’s bigger pit.

On the whole, each player seeds a total of 13 pits, 6 on his own side and 6 on the opponent’s side and the bigger scoring pit on your very right side.

Only two Smaller Rules are to be noted which act as Exceptions.

1) The rule is known as ‘capturing’.

The player gets a bonus turn if he/she drops the last bead from his/her hand into the bigger scoring pit.

If the last bead is dropped by the player into a vacant cup on his/her side of the board, the bead and any beads opposite to the pit on opponent’s side can be removed by the player and he/she can put all those beads into the bigger scoring pit right away.

2) When one of the player’s has no more beads left in any of their 6 smaller pits on their side of the board, the game ceases/finishes.

Then the number of beads is counted in the bigger pits on the right side of each player. The player having the more number of beads is the winner.

Maths and Mancala Board Games in Education.

We have started using mancala with our 'almost-three-year-old' as a means of teaching her to count.

We are quickly learning that Mancala and other African board games are a great Educational Board Game for teaching our Kids Maths.

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