Games We Love: Mancala

Mancala is an ancient game of strategy, but we love it for the fine motor work it requires. The board consists of two rows of six holes, with two larger goal holes on each side. Four marbles are placed in each of the smaller holes. Play begins when the first player scoops all of the marbles out of a hole on their side of the board, then deposits them one at a time around the board in a counterclockwise fashion. If the last marble lands in that player’s goal, they get to go again. Play continues back and forth until one player’s side is empty. Whoever captures the most marbles wins the game. There are more complex rules for older players, but elementary school aged children can play this basic method with some help. The best part about this game is that while it encourages planning ahead and visual perceptual skills, it is a fun way to address the fine motor skill of translation. The child needs to move the marbles into their palm, then use their thumb and index finger to maneuver the marbles, one at a time, to a pincer grasp before releasing the marble in a hole, all while maintaining grasp of the remaining marbles in the ulnar side of their hand. Translation skills are used for functional tasks such as picking up coins, and the ability to separate the two sides of the hand is important for activities like writing and cutting. Who knew a simple game could work on so much!

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