5 Reasons to Play Traditional Games

So, a good number of us would have gotten our hands on the SG50 funpacks by now, which were stuffed with tasty old-school snacks like the Haw Flakes and nostalgic toys such as the multi-coloured paper balls and the 'Pick Up' sticks. We saw the excited faces of those who dug into their packs this year and the first things to disappear were of course the tidbits! However, although many were equally excited about the traditional toys, they were quickly chucked aside after some nostalgic recollection and a little bit of fooling around. This was hardly surprising as Singaporeans’ fondness of our traditional foodstuff is clearly visible through the TV shows, food blogs and even books dedicated to places that house our favourite delicacies. However, the humble playthings of the past seem to be receiving a less royal treatment. Is it because traditional games have become irrelevant and redundant in this day and age, meriting only a nostalgic moment or two in our lives? Do they lack enough benefits to keep us hooked?

Traditional Games vs Modern Games

Traditional games have been passed down from one generation to another and their origins go back centuries. Whereas modern games usually encompass digital games and relatively new game inventions. Modern games have their fair share of cognitive benefits ranging from improved problem solving skills to spatial navigation abilities. The digital games also get kids better acquainted with technology- a vital component of modern day living. However, modern games also tend to be isolating, victory-oriented and in most cases, sedentary. Hence, we feel that it is important to inject a few traditional games into your playtime to counteract these ‘adverse’ effects and better optimize the benefits of taking the time off to play!

Reasons to start playing Traditional games:

1. Remind us of our roots.

Traditional games are often linked to the culture and language of its land of origin. Hence, the games indirectly inculcate the moral and cultural values that were held important by the founding tradition and pass this heritage down to those who play them. This happens in the form of behaviour that is encouraged by the game (the mindset or actions which best facilitate winning) or even the songs sung whilst playing (as many comprise of folktales or historical stories). For example, a traditional Indian game called Pallanguzhi involves distributing seeds into pits on a board to accumulate as many seeds as possible in your designated pits. This game emphasises sharing (done strategically of course!), as no player will be able to hoard all the seeds in their own pits. Even if one attempts to do so, there will always be instances where they will be forced to distribute/share their seeds to keep the game going. In fact, grandmothers can often be heard advising their grandchildren to "share to win"! Hence, traditional games reemphasise the values that were held important by our cultures, allowing us to better understand our roots, giving us a clearer sense of identity and belonging.

2. Improve interpersonal and social skills.

Several traditional games involve group play (or at least with one other person, as you couldn’t challenge a computer back then). Hence these games readily encourage people interaction. Such social interaction greatly benefits child development as it teaches kids to work well with others when they learn to wait to play their turn and achieve group victories via teamwork. Perhaps the most important skill that children pick up is that of emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize, understand and express our emotions appropriately. It also involves perceiving others' emotions. Playing with others improves this skill as children get accustomed to picking out emotional cues from their friends’ body language and learn to react accordingly. Kids also learn to better handle their own emotions, as they can readily witness the effects of their actions within their play circle.

3. Improves physical health.

Many modern games are rather sedentary. Unlike traditional games, which usually involve a significant level of physical activity (e.g.s Kabaddi and Ghilli). Even traditional board games seem to have physical benefits! For example, Pallanguzhi benefits the nerve endings and circulation due to the their usage of tiny seeds, which require nimble finger movements.

4. Aid in development of mother tongue.

Traditional games tend to involve the usage of the language of their land of origin. This can be in the form of play songs or even through technical terms that are used during game play. Either way, children are exposed to their mother tongues when they play these games, which can aid in increased usage and/or development of this language.

5. Strengthens social bonds.

Most traditional games tend to be social activities. Unlike most modern games that are either solitary pursuits or exclusive gatherings of youngsters, due to the complexity of the games or the skills and technology involved. However, traditional games require less complex skill sets and basic amenities, making them more inclusive. Therefore, they encourage interaction with friends and family regardless of age or expertise. Such interactions allow us to get to know each other better and strengthen social and/or familial bonds that may otherwise be difficult to establish.

Images: Students from different academic levels enjoying various traditional games that were conducted by Brainworks Education.


1.Kumar, K. A. (1998). Tamarind Seeds and Little Children. Journal of Krishnamurti Schools (2).

2.Gill, T. (2012, 08 22). Traditional outdoor games:why do they matter? Retrieved 08 01, 2015, from 3.Rethinking Childhood: http://rethinkingchildhood.com/2012/08/22/traditional-games/

4.Salma, H. (2013). Children's Games of the 90's and Children's Games Today in Malaysia. Academia Edu

5.Bowen, L. (2014). Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits, review finds. Monitor on Psychology , 45 (2), 10.

6.Olson, C. (2011). 8 Reasons Video Games Can Improve Your Child. Retrieved 08 03, 2015, from 7.Parents.com: http://www.parents.com/kids/development/benefits-of-video-games/#page=9

8.Cultivating Culture. (n.d.). The Importance of Cultural Heritage. Retrieved 08 04, 2015, from Cultivating Culture: http://www.cultivatingculture.com/2013/04/05/the-importance-of-cultural-heritage/

So make the most out of your playtime by including a few traditional games in it. Who knows? You may pick up/strengthen a few time-honoured virtues such as patience, sharing and consideration along the way as well!

Interested to try your hand at some of these games or maybe organise a traditional games event? Contact Brainworks Education today! Our traditional games programmes will prove to be fun, exciting AND informative.

Feel free to drop us a mail at hello@brainworks.sg to find out more!

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