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It’s never been more apparent that we need to be both accepting and welcoming to students from all cultures and backgrounds than it is now in our society.

Children need to see themselves reflected in the things we do - in our literature, in our lessons, in the ways we interact. Classroom cultures should be places where all of the cultures represented are celebrated.

A great way to do that is to change the way we view integration of culture into the classroom. It needs to be a part of daily school life, not just something we focus on in February.

The best way for younger children to explore other cultures is to meet them where they “live”, showing them that the things that are important to them are important to kids everywhere. And what’s more important to kids than play?

These games are simple, require very little in the way of prep and materials, and once introduced, kids can play them on their own. It’s a great way to bring the world into your classroom. We’ve also tried to carefully select games with minimal person-to-person contact, and that work within social distancing guidelines unless otherwise noted. 

Outside Games

Kho-kho from India -
This is a really intense game of tag! It’s perfect for days when students are extra wiggly and need to run around.

The only downside to this particular game is that it would be hard to play with kids wearing masks, and because it is a version of tag, it may be challenging to play if your school has very strict outdoor social distancing rules. It’s a really fun game, though, if those issues aren’t prohibitive.

*One solution for tag games during the time of COVID, though, is tagging a person’s shadow instead of actually touching the person. The “tagger” would just have to touch the child’s shadow with their feet, then. This solution also naturally causes children to separate from each other so their shadows don’t intermingle because then it’s hard to tell who has been tagged.

Ampe from Ghana -
Ampe may be the perfect game for social distancing and fun. It’s simple, it’s quick, and you can play from six-feet-away from friends!

Before you start playing, each partner picks either “same” or “opposite”.

Basically, you do a jumping and clapping rhythm, then on the last jump, each player sticks out one foot. If both people kick out the foot on the same side, the person who picked “same” gets a point. If they kick out on the opposite side, the person who picked “opposite” gets a point.

First person to ten wins!

two-person version
multiple players

Oonch Neech from Pakistan -

This is another fun form of tag. “Oonch” means “up” and “neech” means “down”, so this version of tag is best played near playground equipment or something safe for kids to climb on.

When the leader yells “oonch”, “up” is base. Conversely, when they yell “neech”, the ground is base.

Everything in the game proceeds as a typical game of U.S. tag.

See the solution from Kho-kho which makes tag a bit safer during times of COVID outbreak. 

Hit the Penny from South America -

Lots of South American countries love this game, notably kids in Brazil and Chile. For this game, you’ll need a stick with a flat top (like one you’d use for yard sale signs or a dowel rod the diameter of a penny).

You’ll also need some coins.

Place the coin on top of the stick which you’ll put into the ground before game play. Also create a circle about three feet in diameter around the stick.

Kids take turns throwing their own coins at the one on top of the stick. If their coin hits the one on top and knocks it down into the circle, or doesn’t knock it off at all, they get no points. But, if they throw the coin and hit the coin from the stick out of the circle, they get 1 point.

The first person to 10 points (or whatever predetermined point you choose) wins.  

Pilolo from Ghana -

Ghana is a great resource for fun outdoor games! Another popular game is pilolo, a hide-and-seek/racing game.

The person chosen to be “it” gathers up a small group of pebbles, tiny sticks, or some other small objects (pennies can work well, too) and shows the grouping to the other players so they know what they are searching for.

Then the group hides their eyes while the hider finds a good spot to conceal the stash.

The hider returns to the group, who races to search for the hidden treasure. Once found, each player takes one item from the pile, and the game becomes a foot race to see who can reach the hider the fastest.

The first one to return with an object from the pile wins and becomes the next player to hide the pile of objects. 

Games That Can Be Played Anywhere


One very popular, highly portable, easy-to-play game is what we call “Jacks” in the U.S.. Just introducing the game Jacks is fun for many students because they may have never been introduced to the game before. (If you haven’t ever played, here’s a quick tutorial:

Sets of the game (with five jacks and a small bouncy ball) are pretty inexpensive. You could actually get a class set of bouncy balls and use anything as the jacks like seeds, rocks, dry beans, flat marbles, etc… Most dollar stores sell sets of jacks if you want to go that route.

The fun thing about this game is that it’s old enough that there are versions from all around the world.

In Somalia and India the game is called five stones and is played with actual stones or pebbles. Here’s a video explaining the rules for this variation:

In South Korea the game is similar but is played with cute little plastic pieces:

In Singapore they play with these adorable mini bean bags:

The version of this game from Botswana is a little different. It’s called Diketo. Instead of just picking the stones up each time, you either dig a little pit in the ground or draw a circle on the ground and use that to either sweep the stones into or pick the stones out of.

Any of these versions of the game jacks can be played with multiple sets of materials so that students don’t have to share. It’s even a fun game to play alone. That makes this a perfect time-filler!

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, paper, scissors is another very old game with lots of fun variations. Most kids know how to play the U.S. version, so here are a few other versions they might enjoy learning.

Semut, Orang, Gajah from Sumatra, or “ant, person, elephant”, is almost the same as rock, paper, scissors, but who doesn’t love the idea of an elephant being taken down by a tiny ant?

This version from South Korea involves two hands -

This school year, there are going to be lots of opportunities for stress. Don’t forget to make time for fun and games! It’s good for you, good for your students, and it also provides more understanding about the world around us, both geographically near and far. 

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