Mancala Games – How to Promote Math and Strategic Thinking Skills

Quick Summary

The games of Mancala have been entertaining young and old for thousands of years . Essentially these 'count and capture' games have proven to assist in the development of strategic thinking and mathematics in kids.  

I bet you’re wondering just what the heck a Mancala game is and how the heck can it help you teach your child math skills? Mancala is a collection of games that comes from Arabic decent; it’s not one single board game or critical thinking game, but rather a way of naming this type of learning games.

This is a nearly ancient form of learning and game play with over 800 known naming conventions and over 200 types of actual game play! Imagine the possibilities to help your child learn with such a unique learning tool! Let’s look at some of these amazing math and strategic thinking games to help grow your child’s mind and sense of discovery!

Earlier version of Mancala games used primitive tools such as simple game boards, usually constructed of wood or clay, or carved in stone. These versions of the game typically contain holes which house marbles or rocks, seeds or beans, or other small round objects called “seeds”. The number of seeds and the number of holes featured depends on the type of game. This also depends on the region of the world the game is being played: it is different everywhere you go.

mancala games early version

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Today, Mancala is modernized with mass produced board games available from mass retailers all over North America, Europe and Australia. These games are reminiscent of checkers, backgammon, and Chinese checkers: all with the goal of collecting your opponent’s game pieces.

Throughout the evolution of Mancala, especially in the Americas, there has been doubt as to whether paying a game can actually sharpen your math and critical thinking skills. More and more evidence is being produced that points to game play as the best way to learn – especially in the technology and education sectors. Like many technology-based learning games of today, Mancala is a game of strategy – like Chess. Moves have to considered and thought out before they can be made. This gives children – and adults really – the opportunity to think about the consequences of their decisions and formulate plans for long term decisions and moves. This obviously is a nice parallel to real life in the sense that forecasting moves and considering consequences can have a real impact on your everyday decisions. Children can easily make the connections between game play and their real-world decisions when you point them out.

kids mancala

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Players need to determine moves in which they can “capture” their opponent’s seeds, but this has to be done using legal moves and these moves can get tricky. The strategic thinking comes into play when players have to determine which moves are considered legal and move the game forward. It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon and a great game for competitive personalities as the object of the game is to “capture” the most seeds.

Mancala can also be played by more than two people: there’s no reason why it needs to remain a singles game. In Europe, Africa and the Middle East, large families play together and games can last hours while participants try to determine the most strategic move to help their team along.

LAdies playing mancala

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Several studies have been conducted on the psychological effects of playing Mancala given the high degree of tactical play that is required; like other board games and traditional learning tools throughout history. Children learn to excel their understanding of math skills by engaging in games like Mancala, adding and subtracting, future planning and loss. Mancala is often called a math playground because of the skills it promotes. The game is also incredibly addicting for children and adults who need to feel that sense of accomplishment. You get the feeling that the game can be beat if you just keep trying different tactics and making different moves. You start to try to reason with the game board and see it as a pattern of obstacles. It’s really incredible when you see a child starting to reason their next move or plan their tactical defense.

Children can make their own Mancala games at home with egg cartons and beans or pebbles. Simply cut an egg carton in half and be sure to have someone to “store” your seeds after they have been captured. There are even online version of Mancala where you can play against a computer – which always seems to win! – or against other players online. It’s really a fun way to pass the time and tweak your problem solving skills without realizing it. The challenge comes in clearing your side of the game board while collecting the most seeds in legal moves.

Pinterest Make a mancala

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Children have to count the seeds and determine how to empty their side of the game board. In order to do this players need to think critically about their moves and the consequences of their moves. It is really an amazing game with limitless potential to help your child reason and become more skilled at math and problem solving. As with everything else in life, there are multiple versions of Mancala games online and for mobile phones. Online play is also a great way to get your child engaged in learning a new game – especially when they think it’s a game and not a way to work on math skills.

A few fun websites to check out are and, as well as These fun, colorful and interactive learning games are sure to grab the attention of everyone: from the awkward toddler to the stubborn teenager, to the senior citizen and everything in between. Games bring us closer together and challenge us in a way that we enjoy being challenged.

Be sure to check out the different varieties of Mancala games to find a version that you enjoy and everyone will be well on their way to improving their math and strategic thinking skills!

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