For six years, I worked at an after-school care facility with kids between the ages of five to thirteen. Working here meant I had the opportunity to create engaging and fun curricula for us to enjoy every day. I spent so much time researching games, science projects, recipes and crafts. I really cared that the kids were receiving mental and physical stimulation and that they could practice their fine motor skills, teamwork, and creativity. One year, I decided that every week we would “travel” to a new country. At the beginning of each week, I would introduce the country and ask the kids to guess on a huge map where that country was. It was a great way to practice our geography. We talked about what language was spoken there, what kind of food gets eaten, and games that are played. While I no longer get to play with a huge group of children every day, I figured someone out there may be able to implement these games for the daycare they work at, a birthday party, or just if you have a bunch of kiddos at home! Here are some of the games we played and how to play them!
- Old Woman Kutsia
This is a Ukranian game which is basically Marco Polo, but played in an open field, gym, or other large area. Someone gets blindfolded and the blindfolded person gets spun around. The other children begin to clap their hands together and make noise while trying to avoid getting caught/tagged. The first caught gets to be blindfolded for the next round.
- Acoocoolu (the voice of the chicken)
This is an Ethiopian game that is a spin-off of hide and go seek. One child starts by looking at a wall and covering their eyes. This child is the “seeker” or the “hen”. He or she will start to say “acoocoolu” which is the sound a hen makes, while the other children hide themselves. The seeker will continue to say “acoocoolu” until the rest of the kids are all hidden. If the kids are not hidden yet, they reply “alnegam” (it is still not day), but if they are all hidden, they will reply “nega” (the sun has risen). The seeker will start to look for the hiders and the hiders will stealthily try and get to the wall or the “hen’s house”. If a child makes it safely to the wall, they kiss their hand to be “safe”. The winners are those that make it safely to the wall.
This is a fun game played outdoors among the rocks and trees in Zambia and Zaire. The title of the game is from the African word meaning ‘the snake’.
The object of the game is to finish the obstacle course before the other team(s). The obstacle course can be made with trees and rocks if playing outside, or you can use furniture, boxes and toys if playing inside. Get creative! Divide the kids into groups or teams and have each child hug the waist of the person in front of them. This will form a snake or “banyoka”. Each ‘snake’ moves together and cannot disconnect from each other. The first team to cross the finish line wins!
Boyars is a Russian folk game that is similar to Red Rover. Children are divided into two teams, facing each other. With their hands linked, they yell across to the other team, selecting a player from the opposing team by saying “Boyars, we have come to you, dear boyars, we have come to you for _______ (name of player) … Boyars, open the gates and give us the bride forever.” (Boyars were upper nobility in Russia from the 10th through the 17th century.)
The person chosen to be the “bride” runs forward and tries to break up the opposing team’s chain. If the attempt is successful, the player returns to his or her team. If not, he or she has to join the other team. The game continues until all the players have joined one team.
- Catch The Dragon’s Tail
For this traditional Chinese game, you will need a large group of children – at least 10, but the more the merrier!
All players form a line with their hands on the shoulders of the child in front. The first in line is the dragon’s head, the last in line is the dragon’s tail.
The dragon’s head then tries to catch the tail by maneuvering the line around so that he can tag the last player. All the players in the middle do their best to hinder the dragon’s head. The children cannot become disconnected, otherwise the dragon’s head wins! Once the tail is caught, the players all shift one spot forward until everyone has had a turn to be both the head and the tail.
- Dandy shandy
Physical energy and speed are required for this game from Jamaica.
Two kids who are the pitchers stand facing each other about 16ft apart with a third kid standing in the middle.
They hurl a softball (a very soft ball!) at the middle kid, trying to hit him. The kid in the middle tries to stay in the game as long as possible by jumping, hopping, spinning, etc.
The onlookers cheer him on until finally the ball hits the kid in the middle and he is out. One of the pitchers take the middle, and the game continues.
During midsummer, when fresh apricots are in season, Israeli kids play games with the small, smooth pits known as go-gos, which are plentiful and perfect for tossing. They tote customized boxes and challenge their friends to toss pits for points.
You’ll need two or more children and apricot pits, small stones or something else for tossing and each player gets a shoebox. You will need to cut various holes in the shoeboxes. Each one should be a different size. The smallest holes will be worth more points and the larger holes will be worth less points.
The game begins with children standing about five feet away from the shoe boxes (or closer if that’s too difficult). The children try to throw one of their go-gos into another player’s box. If he makes it, the point value of the hole determines how many go-gos that player must give him. If he misses the box entirely, he loses one go-go. Kids can also personalize their shoe box by decorating it if desired. The winner is the child with the most go-gos.
8. Mbube Mbube
Pronounced “Mboo-bay Mboo-bay,” which is a Zulu word for lion. The Zulu tribe is based in what is modern-day South Africa. The game is good for groups of six or more.
In this game, children help a lion, or mbube, locate and capture an impala (a deer-like animal with antlers). Players begin the game standing in a circle and two blindfolded players start the game. One player is the lion and the other one is the impala.
Both players are spun around. Next, players in the circle begin calling out to the lion, “mbube, mbube!” As the lion gets closer to the impala, the chants get quicker and louder. However, if the lion is far away, the chants decrease and get softer.
If the lion fails to catch the impala in a minute, a new lion is chosen, and if the lion catches the impala, a new impala is chosen.
Sambunot is a game from the Philippines which may be played outdoors by ten or more players, but not to exceed twenty. The goal in the game is to get a coconut husk out of the circle.
A circle is drawn on the floor, big enough to accommodate the number of players. A coconut husk is placed at the center of the circle. The players position themselves inside the circle. At the signal ″GO!″ players will rush to the center to get the coconut husk. Similar to steal the bacon, players may steal the coconut husk from another player in an attempt to be the one to take the husk out of the circle. A player who is successful in getting out of the circle with the coconut husk wins, and the game starts again. If you have a lot of players, you can give them numbers to limit the number of children in the circle at one time.