One of my earliest memories of school was playing the game of mancala in class. I don’t remember most of the facts I was forced to cram into my young mind, but I do remember the satisfaction of scooping those smooth gems into my hand and distributing them around the board. My teacher had invested in several mancala sets for our classroom, and when we had downtime in class, we took time to play. The unwise would have scolded my teacher for not using this downtime to drill us on our multiplication tables. The wise would have seen the great value in taking this time to play as a way of learning. We were learning. We were counting the pieces, strategizing our moves, and learning how to interact with each other. For a shy kid like me, those interactions with my peers were far more powerful than most could understand.
Breaking Through My Shyness
I started out life as a painfully shy kid. I was so shy when I was younger that I’m guessing most of my teachers wouldn’t even remember the fact that I sat in their classroom. I was pretty much the equivalent of a mannequin in a store’s window, minus the fashionable clothes. I was definitely not a fashionable kid. I liked to do my best to not stand out. Life had taught me that was the safest option. Interactions with others were not easy for me when I was young. Having to talk to other kids and teachers made my stomach churn. There were teachers that sensed this about me, and seemed to make it their mission to break me out of my shyness. One of my earliest teachers used to call me back to her desk while the other students worked, and made me talk to her. Her intentions were good, but I left the experience with the idea that I was a bad kid. My young brain only processed the fact that I had to go back to the teacher’s desk, which was where the bad kids went. I don’t remember my birthday party from that year, or what I got for Christmas, but I remember those experiences with my teacher and how they made me feel. I spent most of that year, and the rest of my time in school, afraid of that teacher. She was not a bad teacher, in fact, she was most kid’s favorite teacher. I was just different than most kids.
As a shy kid looking back, I can admit, it’s not always easy to deal with shy kids in class. No, I didn’t really create disruptions in class, but I had to be poked and prodded to participate. As a teacher, there’s typically a drive to see your students grow and blossom. Shy kids like to stay below the surface. You can’t tell if they are just spending their time developing a strong root system, or if they failed to germinate. There is often a reason that shy kids are shy, and you may never know what that reason is. They may break out of their shell on their own, or they may fall deeper into reclusiveness. Shyness can be a sign that something else is going on, but it isn’t easy to pinpoint. Shyness can be a sign of trauma, but acting out can also be a sign of trauma. Shyness can be a sign of failing to understand things, but acting out can signal the same thing. It can also be easy to confuse that shyness, which I found to be detrimental to my development, and introversion, which is a perfectly normal characteristic of a person. All in all, we need to give teachers more credit, their job is difficult.
Games as a Way to Help Shy Kids
I remember playing the game of mancala so many years ago. The smooth, colorful pieces felt like some valuable gem I had the privilege to handle. I don’t remember how often I won, or how often I lost, but I do remember the experience. It was hard for me to just walk up to one of my classmates and make conversation, but when there was a fun task in front of me, such as a game, an obstacle was taken away. That time had a focus, and the focus was on a fun and enjoyable game. If conversations happened while we played, it was a great way for me to connect with another student. If conversations didn’t happen, it was okay because we were playing a game. I had a sense of humor, but it was hidden behind my general fears of socializing. When the game was there I could let down my guard and let my personality come out a little. There is often a focus in education on the obvious means of teaching. If you want to learn math, you do math problems, if you want to learn how to write, you copy letters and sentences. It can be harder to see the value in using education time to play games, but they can provide some of the most memorable lessons that students will remember for a lifetime.
The Game of Mancala Explained
The game of mancala is both a game that can be played in a short amount of time, and it is very easy to learn. The game simply involves moving pieces around the game board and trying to land in your storage area. The video below gives a look at how to play the game.
Make Your Own Mancala Board!
The best part of the game of mancala is that it can easily be made out of household materials. All that it takes to make your own mancala board is an egg carton, two bowls, and some dried beans or stones! This can be a neat craft project for classrooms, family projects, or other groups. Each person can decorate their own mancala board and take it home to enjoy it! This is also a great way to make the game accessible to large groups, without having to spend a lot to buy several copies of the game. If you are using this as an activity with children, you can also have each child create their own instructions for their game. This way they can practice their writing and explanatory skills.