Learning and playing a board game is a great way to learn about a culture. Teaching kids a board game is great way to expose them to the culture and language of peoples from across the world. This can form the basis for a social studies project. As kids learn the rules and strategy of a new game they are also exposed to a different culture. Playing board games is also a good way to learn social skills such as fairness and being able to cooperate with one another.
Board games vary in complexity. There some with simple rules such as Tigers and Goats, Shisima, Puluc, and Yut which come from India, Kenya, Guatemala and Korea respectively. Others involve a significant amount of strategy such as Chess and Go which are more suitable for teenagers.
The game of Senet dates from the pre-dynastic days of ancient Egypt around 3500 B.C. It is the oldest known board game in the world. The Senet board consists of 30 squares which represent the 30 days of the month of Thoth, the first month in the ancient Egyptian calendar year. Over fifty Senet boards have been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians along with the game pieces and the knucklebones that were used as dice.
Mancala is an example of a board game that is played widely throughout the world. Mancala originated in Africa and spread to the Middle East, India and south-east Asia through Arab trade. It also was also taken to Brazil and the Caribbean by the slave trade. You can see the connection with ancient agrarian societies by the fact that the players sow counters or seeds into two, three or four rows of holes on the Mancala board. The board is usually a piece of wood with the holes carved into it but in also played in holes scooped in the ground. Mancala has many rule variants and names. It is called Warri in the Caribbean, Endodoi by the Masai in Kenya, Otjitoto by the Herero of Namibia and Chonka in the Philippines, as well as several hundred other names by different peoples across the world. These days it is played in western coffee-houses.
There are many resources for board games on the web. Some sites have board templates that you can download and print. Don’t buy the board games, instead you can make your own board and games pieces. Imagine what ancient societies used for the game pieces: shells, beans, seeds, twigs and translate that into modern life. You can use bottle caps, buttons or poker chips. These boards can be constructed with simple tools and materials, a pencil, ruler and paper will suffice in most cases. More elaborate construction may involve sewing swatches onto a cloth board or a wood-working project to build a Mancala board by carving holes on a wooden board.
Suggest to your students that they start a games club. Get them to research games on the web, find the rules for the game, construct some different boards and play the games. Each month you could focus on a different region of the world. Each club member could research one game, construct the board and game pieces and then introduce the game to the other members of the club. The club can be started with a minimal amount of expense.