To celebrate Native American Heritage Month here’s a game to play with loved ones during the holidays.

The origins of many Native American games are related to spiritual beliefs. Games were played ceremonially to bring rain, ensure good harvests, cure illness, expel evil spirits, or please the gods by demonstrating physical fitness. 

With variations and modifications, many traditional games are played by both adults and children. Though games are entertaining, they also play a role in the education of children by helping them develop skills necessary to be successful adults. Traditionally, many games are played by boys and girls separately, though they may play the same games with slight changes in the rules.

Native American games fall into two general categories: games of chance, the outcome of which depends on luck, and games of skill. Games of chance are played with sticks, dice, or involve guessing.  Skill games require physical and/or mental abilities.  Games of chance are played in connection with traditional ceremonies, to promote communal relationships, and for fun!

Let’s make the Bean Game!

Bean Game

Versions of this game are played by many Native American tribes. This version comes from the Cherokee people. For children, this game is played for fun or to win a prize. It is also good practice for young children who are learning to count.

You will need:

  • A shallow basket, bowl, or paper/plastic plate
  • 6 flat-sided beans or other flat objects (wooden or plastic discs, bottle tops)
  • Something to mark one side of the game pieces: markers, paint, stickers
  • Something to use as counters: toothpicks, popsicle sticks, beans, corn kernels

To make the game pieces:

Each game piece should have one plain side and the other side should be marked, painted, or decorated.

decorated game pieces

Play the game:

  • This game can be played with two people or a group. The object of game is to toss and catch beans flipping then from unmarked side up to marked side up.
  • Before play, decide how many turns each player will take. 
  • Players alternate turns, but scores for each turn are totaled. 
  • All 6 beans are placed plain side up on the bottom of the basket.
  • Holding sides of basket, carefully toss beans up and catch them trying to flip beans over during the toss. 
  • Count the number of beans landing plain and marked sides up for your score. 
  • If any beans fall out of the basket player gets no points and loses next turn. 
  • After all players have taken the designated number of turns add the individual scores. 
  • Highest score wins. 
  • Toothpicks or corn kernels can be given to children as scoring pieces. 
  • Each child can count his markers at the end of the game. 

How to score:

  • All plain sides up = 6 points
  • All marked sides up = 4 points
  • Five marked sides and one plain side up = 2 points
  • Five plain sides up and one plain side up = 2 points
  • Three marked sides up and three plain sides up = 1 point
  • Other combinations = no points
  • Lose beans = no points

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