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Traditional Games

With a focus on the classroom setting

KIN 366
Instructor: Dr.Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

In order to really understand what a traditional game is, it is important to acknowledge some of the key definitions that make up this broad term:

Game: “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure “(Merriam-Webster, 2014).

Tradition: “a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time” (Merriam-Webster, 2014).

Game play: is the particular way in, which players interact with a game. It is the games pattern and constitutes of; rules, the connection between the player and the game in regards to its challenges and plot (Salen, 2003).

Traditional game: Games played informally with flexible rules which are usually passed on from one child to another within a specific culture throughout time (Nichols, 1996)

Characteristics and Classifications

Games can be classified in a variety of ways. According to Crawford (2003), a game can be characterized by its elements - tools, rules and purpose - that constitute gameplay (see definition above) and so it is important to start off by defining them. These two elements are then combined to create a variety of game classifications. Seeing as the focus of this page is on the classroom setting, I have found the following at categories to be most relevant.

1.Solitary vs. non solitary 2.Knowledge vs. recreational 3.Competitive (sports) vs. non competitive (puzzles)



Games are frequently characterized by the components required to play them (e.g. a ball, cards, board or a piece of technology). Certain tools are more readily accessible in certain cultures and so games will develop in accordance to those resources. For example, in places where leather was readily accessible, the ball was developed leading to ball games such as soccer to be one of the leading games in that region (Bick, 1976). Other tools are more particular to a certain region. For example, many countries in Europe, have unique standard decks of playing cards (Bick, 1976). Many game tools are pieces used to represent other things such as a pawn on a board, pretend money or an item used to represent a point scored. There are games such as grounders that do not require any tools, rather they depend on the environment. The game will have slight modifications and be experienced differently based on the environment it is played in.


Rules are also a key characteristic as they are used to define the game. Seeing as they are subject to modifications, new games are able to emerge from older ones. Traditional games are those that were not affected by a lot of change. Rules generally determine the duties of the players, turn order and each player’s goals.


Every game is created with a purpose whether it is to gain knowledge or just for purely for entertainment. The purpose of any game is first to benefit all the players in at least one way. Even though the game may be perceived as a loss from the outside, the players all get something from participating. For example, the winners will gain feelings of achievement and confidence and those who lose will learn a lesson on how to better strategize next time. There is thus always an underlying ulterior purpose.


Individual vs. team

Games can be classified in terms of how many players are needed to complete the games. Some games can be played individually such as solitaire or with a team such as football Traditional games consist of both individual and team games. It is important to incorporate both individual and team games into the classroom as they both offer benefits. Participating in an individual game, players progress on their own without relying on others for guidance. Self directed learning is a crucial part of intellectual development and so it becomes beneficial to include it in the classroom setting. Team play on the other hand is also accompanied by many benefits such as learning to work with others, developing social skills and improving communication. . According to Cooper and Kagel (2005), when players play in a team, they tend to strategize more than when they play individually. Such efficiency in strategizing leads to more positive results in games of higher difficulty (Cooper & Kagel, 2005). Cooper and Kagel (2005) state that the dialogue between team members is the cause of the increase in strategic play.

Knowledge vs. recreational

Games can be classified based on whether or not they are meant to be “educational”. Games can be used as a way to learn a range of subjects. They provide a great opportunity to improve your mental agility and acquire new knowledge (Bick, 1976). For example, crosswords ,help with the expansion of ones vocabulary. On the other hand, there are games that do not appear to be “educational” however, they also help with development of certain skills. For example, the game of basketball helps with spatial awareness.

Competitive vs. non competitive

Games can be classified based on whether or not it involves comparisons among players. Competitive games usually involve opposing sides whereas non competitive games are focused on the ability to work together or individually without having to focus on comparison. In the classroom setting, non competitive games seem to be more beneficial as competitive games are usually accompanied by feelings of failure. Taking into consideration the variability in abilities , setting up a fair competitive game becomes difficult. According to (2014), non competitive games create a sense of unity, cooperation and support as they allow everyone to participate without having to focus on winning.


Games in general can benefit us physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically. Traditional games in particular have been found to benefit children in terms of cultural preservation, interpersonal skills enhancement and learning how to cope with failure.

Cultural preservation

Traditional games are a way of preserving ones culture through the transmission and reflection of cultural values (Nichols,1996). According to UNESCO, traditional games are part of ones heritage and a symbol of cultural diversity . They are also an effective way to communicate values of unity, diversity, inclusiveness and cultural awareness (UNESCO, 2014). Traditional games can be used to create bridges among cultures and so their preservation and promotion is crucial for maintaining cultural heritage (UNESCO, 2014). A good example of the preservation of traditional games within cultures is displayed at the Olympics. Many of the games have been around for years and passed along generations. They are now used as a way of bridging cultures together and fostering world peace.

Enhance interpersonal skills

Traditional games have also been found to foster communication among children (Nichols,1996). Seeing as majority of the popular modern games such as video games, revolve around technology, children tend to isolate themselves to such machines and avoid interactions with others. Traditional games provide the opportunity to interact with others and develop communication skills. Asides from communication, we can gain in conflict resolution and management, negotiation, working well with others and learning about how people can work together (Innerspace, 2014). According to Casbergue (1998), through competition and playing based on agreed upon regulations, children will engage in cooperation, understanding the functioning of others and developing sensitivity to each others view points.

Help build a realistic sense of failure

Losing against real opponents, will provide with the opportunity to learn how to cope with failure appropriately in a social setting (Innerspace, 2014). Asides from learning how to cope better, one will receive the support needed from other to help with the coping process. Technology can not provide such guidance and support. Overall traditional games, lay the foundation for the development of a strong self-concept.

Accessible to all children

Seeing as many games today rely on technology, some children lose the opportunity to play as they cannot have access to such resources. Traditional games are accessible to almost any child with a desire to play, given that they are surrounded by someone who knows how to play a certain game and willing to share such knowledge. Personal computers and video games are becoming more common in the household among the middle class , however less privileged children are not as likely to have access to such equipment (Casbergue,1998). Such inequality can be minimized in schools as they can to ensure they provide a common ground for children of all backgrounds. Incorporating traditional games in the classroom will provide the children with knowledge needed to allow them to engage in play outside the classroom.

Traditional games in the active setting

There is a large number of traditional games that require movement. Majority of these games lend themselves to most skill levels as they can be modified and adapted to fit everyone’s needs. Many traditional games do not require much equipment making it a great way for children to get some physical activity while having fun! Games such as dodge ball and tag , are very simple and have been around for ages. These games alone can develop basic yet crucial physical benefits such as stamina, coordination and strength. Many traditional games such as tag can be played at young ages, allowing for a healthy way to engage in physical activity. Such basic games can serve as the basics for more traditional games such as soccer, basketball and volleyball. These sports have been around for quite some time and are still played in schools and by children all around the world. Sports such as these have shown to significantly benefit children physically and allow for a healthy development (Coté et al., 2009). Early participation in sport can also lead to participation in physical activity across one’s lifespan, reducing the risk of obesity which is something our generation is struggling with (Coté et al., 2009). With that being said, traditional games are a good resource to ensure children remain active.

History and the changing nature of children's games

Traditional games have been around for many years as they have been passed on from generation to generation. Some games like the game of jacks, for example, has origins in prehistoric times. Archaeologists found evidence of similar games in the ruins of Pompeii (Lankford, 1996). The game of marbles appears often in Roman literature indicating it has also been around for ages. According to Muller (1995), explorers brought dominoes from China to Italy in the 14th century resulting in the modern version being created in the 18th century. The game of checkers along with chess, are considered medieval. with far older roots. Non-competitive games evolved when there was a need for people to group together in order to ensure survival (Casbergue,1998). Competitive games on the other hand, such as tug-o-war, developed in cultures that placed emphasis on dominance as a means of survival (Casbergue,1998). As certain cultures, became more complex and developed hierarchical roles among social groups, games of strategy, such as chess, were developed (Botermans et al., 1989). These games are passed on through generations and are subject to various modification however, they still carry their main characteristics. Most of us gradually acquired the necessary knowledge and skills by watching others play and begging our way into games (Casbergue,1998). According to Casbergue (1998), children in todays society are starting to lose such education of traditional games through word of mouth. Seeing as games often reflect society's priorities and need, our generation is losing touch with traditional games as there is a great emphasis on technology hence, focusing on individual achievements (Casbergue,1998).

Practical applications for teachers

It is not recommended to remove modern day games such as video games as they also provide children with benefits and are needed to ensure they are up to date with the technological advances of today. Traditional games should be made available to children during free-choice activity time , when they are most likely to interact with their peers (Casbergue,1998). These games as mentioned in the benefits section above, will provide genuine opportunities for children to work together and develop positive peer group interactions.To start, teachers will need to introduce the games in order to spark interest. Starting off by discussing their history will be beneficial in developing the foundation of traditional games (Casbergue,1998). They will then be able to understand and appreciate their value. Following the brief history lesson, teachers should introduce the basic rules of each game and acknowledge the fact that these games may be subject to some modifications in order to meet the children’s needs. Setting aside some class time to let the children engage in traditional play may be beneficial to get some insight on whether or not the children have a good grasp of the concepts as well as encourage everyone to partake in such play.

Resources for teachers - includes history of some traditional games along with a game bank of many traditional games that can be incorporated into the classroom setting. - a variety of games that can be played at school - traditional games from around the world to create a diversity in the learning environment


Bick, M. (1976). The study of games . elliott M. avedon, brian sutton-smith. American Anthropologist, 78(3), 649-650. doi:10.1525/aa.1976.78.3.02a00200

Botermans, J., Burrett, T., van Delft, P., & van Splunteren, C. (1989). The world of games. New York: Facts on File. Erikson, E. (1963). Childhood and society. New York Norton.

Cooper, D. J., & Kagel, J. H. (2005). Are Two Heads Better Than One? Team versus Individual Play in Signaling Games. American Economic Review,95(3), 477-509.

game. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from

Jean Coté, Sean Horton, Dany MacDonald, & Scott Wilkes. (2009). The benefits of sampling sports during childhood.Physical & Health Education Journal, 74(4), 6.

Lankford, M. D. (1996). Jacks around the world. New York: Morrow Junior Books.

Muller, R. F. (1995). Dominoes: Basic rules and variations.

Nichols, D. (1996). Children's traditional games: Games from 137 countries and cultures. New York: Media Source

Non-competitive Games for Kids. (2013, October 21). LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from

Petersen, S. C., & Cruz, L. M. (2000). Using small-sided games in traditional activities. Strategies, 14(2), 19-21. doi:10.1080/08924562.2000.10591476

THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITIONAL PLAY. (n.d.). Inner Space. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from, R. M., & Kieff, J. (1998). Marbles, anyone? traditional games in the classroom

tradition. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved February 28, 2014, from

Traditional Sports and Games | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (n.d.). Traditional Sports and Games | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved March 3, 2014, from

UNESCO. (n.d.). UNESCO. Retrieved February 28, 2014, from