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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

Low-Tech Activities from Around the World

When was the last time you played a game or explored a new hobby? As children, we constantly play games. Research even shows just how crucial games and playing are to children’s development. As we get older, though, we lose interest in games, and we no longer have time to explore new hobbies. Too often, we default to screen-based entertainment, such as TV shows, movies, and video games.

Unfortunately, this can cause an array of consequences, especially for children. Studies have shown that too much screen time can cause children to have mental health problems, display poor emotional regulation, argue, and develop an inability to finish tasks. Children who had an hour or less of screen time per day had better mental health and self-control. They were also better able to demonstrate curiosity.

A picture of seven boys and girls running through a field.
Let's give kids a childhood they'll remember.

As a society, we use screens so much that we run out of time to spend on non-screen activities, such as hobbies. It’s a shame, though. Hobbies have a lot of benefits, even for adults. They allow us to relax, break up the day-to-day monotony, make new friends, and have fun. All of these benefits can increase your overall happiness and well-being. As a result, it’s crucial to incorporate hobbies, games, and other activities that you enjoy into your schedule.

It can be hard to find games and hobbies that are enjoyable, especially if you have children. As a parent, you’ve probably heard “I’m bored” or “that’s boring” more times than you can count. It’s easy to get into a rut and stick with extra screen time. Fortunately, you’re not limited to the games and hobbies in your country. You can take some inspiration from around the world. There are plenty of low-tech and screen-free activities available. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

Today, we’re going to go around the world and discover what people do for fun in other countries.

Please Note: An age range is included with each activity to give you a better idea of what activities would be suitable for which age group. Some of these activities have complex rules or require the ability to perform demanding skills. However, these are merely suggestions. You know your child best. If you think that your child would enjoy an activity, then you can let them try it out.

Here are some activities to try with your kids:

  • Mancala. Mancala is a two-player game with hundreds of variations around the world. It’s a two-player game that’s played with a wooden board. The board has two rows of small divots and two large divots on either end. To start the game, each player puts an equal number of seeds in each of the divots.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of Mancala and other related games in present-day Ethiopia, dating back to 500-700 AD. There are references to this game that go back even further, but there is currently no archaeological evidence documenting its origin.

Estimated cost: $15-$50 for a set. You might be able to find a less expensive used game, either at a thrift store or online. You can even play this game for free online or with a mobile app.

Estimated time: about 15 minutes per game

Age Range: 8 and older

  • Origami. Origami is the ancient art of paper folding to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. It’s most commonly associated with Japan. Since paper degrades, it’s hard to determine where it originated. Some experts believe that it was invented by the Japanese around 1,000 years ago, but it also has roots in China. People likely folded other materials before the invention of paper, such as cloth or leather. However, paper was the ideal material since it could hold folds more easily. Traditionally, people construct origami using special Origami paper. However, you can use any paper you have around the house, such as printer paper or construction paper.

Estimated cost: less than $10 for around 200 sheets

Estimated time: Anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the difficulty.

Age range: 7 and up without help, six and under with help.

A black and white origami cat.
With some practice, you can complete complex projects.

  • Amigurumi. Amigurumi is the art of crocheting or knitting small stuffed toys, food, or objects. Even though its origins are unclear, it has strong roots in Japan. It’s theorized that the knitting and crocheting techniques arrived in Japan either through the Chinese or Dutch arriving in the country. However, modern Amigurumi dolls would not appear until the 1970s. The bulk of its popularity would come after the art form reached the United States in the early 2000s. With the help of the internet, amigurumi soared in popularity, resulting in a fusion of eastern and western art forms.

Amigurumi is popular because it is quick and easy to make, even for beginners. They vary in complexity. The materials are easy to find, and you can even buy a kit with everything you need. That way, you will have the correct supplies. If you have younger kids that want to make amigurumi, find a child-friendly kit to help them develop their skills. If your child needs practice, start with a simple project, such as a coaster or a washcloth.

Estimated cost: $15-$25, depending on the size of your project. You can find free amigurumi patterns and instructions online. YouTube has video tutorials if you need to see someone demonstrate how to do the stitches. Some supplies, like crochet hooks, can be reused. If you stick with it long enough, you will build up a stash of yarn. Both of these things will drive down the costs of further projects.

Estimated time: anywhere from a few hours to several weeks, depending on the project.

Age range: 8 and up with minimal help. 5-7 with assistance.

  • Karaoke. Karaoke is a form of entertainment where an amateur singer sings along to instrumental accompaniment. It originates from Japan, where the first Karaoke machine was introduced almost 50 years ago. Japanese inventor Daisuke Inoue was working in coffee shops as a backup musician. One day, a client requested that he join him on a business trip. Inoue couldn’t make the trip, so he gave the client a cassette tape with recordings of his performances. The client was so happy with the results that he asked for more cassettes. Inoue invented a machine with a microphone, speaker, and amplifier that played music for people to sing along.

By the 1990s, Karaoke swept through Asia. Karaoke bars popped up throughout Asia, and the original machine became better. The sound technology improved, and after the invention of Laserdisc video players, the machines included screens to display the lyrics. The technology had become more accessible, and it allowed people to enjoy Karaoke from the comfort of their homes. Today, you can enjoy this activity, either with a karaoke machine, mobile apps, or online videos.

Estimated cost: Karaoke has a wide price range. If you’re on a budget, you can do it for free using Karaoke videos on YouTube or free Karaoke mobile apps. If you wish to buy a Karaoke machine, you could spend up to $300 on a high-end one.

Estimated time: anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on how many people take part and how many songs each person sings.

Age range: 4 and up. Children under four can try it, but they might not have the attention span to complete the activity.

This is a picture of one black women and two white women. All three are smiling, as if they're having fun. The middle woman has a microphone, and the woman on the right is leaning close to her. The Black woman is standing up straight and smiling into the camera.
Karaoke is a fun activity to pass the time.

  • Lotería. Lotería is a Mexican game similar to American Bingo. After originating in Italy, it went to Spain. Eventually, it came to Mexico in 1769. The Mexican elite played it initially, but it quickly spread to all social classes. When it was first popular, people would play Lotería at fairs set up near ranchlands and small towns.

In American Bingo, an announcer draws a ping pong ball with a letter and a number, such as O-64. If a player has that letter and number combination on their bingo card, they place a chip over that spot. Once they have five places in a row marked off, the player yells “Bingo.”

In Lotería, there are a few differences. First, the Lotería cards have images instead of letters and numbers. Second, the announcer draws a card from a deck that has matching pictures. Once the announcer draws a card, they must say an improvised short poem or phrase that alludes to the image. For example, the announcer could say, “The coat for the poor” for the sun. Whoever fills their game board first will either shout “Bingo” or “Lotería” and win a prize.

The experience will depend on the announcer and the setting of the game. The announcer has a significant amount of poetic license, so their success and popularity depend on their cleverness and style. Their approach also depends on the context of the game. For example, if the game takes place at a church function, they will use clean humor to make the game family-friendly. In adult settings, the announcer can use more risqué innuendos. The announcer will often use satire and references to contemporary events and politics in their hints.

Today, Lotería continues to be popular, especially in Hispanic/Latino communities.

Estimated cost: $10-$20

Estimated Time: Around 45 minutes-1 hour, depending on the number of players.

Age range: 7 and up can play independently. Children 6 and under can play with an adult or older sibling.

  • Pachisi. Pachisi (or Parcheesi, as it’s known in the United States) is a popular board game in India. It evolved from a game called Chaupar, a more complex version of the game that the aristocracy played. Experts believe that Pachisi originated in India around the 4th Century AD. The game arrived in England in the 1860s, and it later spread throughout Europe. The game then made its way to the United States between the late 1860s and early 1870s. Ownership changed hands during this period until it ended up with Hasbro, the current owners. Even though there are many similar games, only Hasbro uses the name Parcheesi.

The game has two teams of two people. Each player has four pieces, which they move around a cross-shaped track. Each player moves their pieces around the board after rolling dice. The pawns begin in the center space. From there, they move down the closest middle track to the player and counterclockwise around the outer path of the board. The goal is for the partnership to get all of their pieces back to the center space.

Estimated cost: $15-$25 for a new board game. For a less expensive option, consider buying a used board game. You can also play a game online or on a mobile device.

Estimated time: around 45 minutes

Age range: 5 and up.

  • Go. Go was invented in China more than 2,500 years ago, and it is one of the oldest board games in existence today. It is a strategy game for two players. The object of the game is to surround more territory than your opponent.

Go was recognized in China as early as the 4th century BCE. At first, the game used a 17X17 line grid, but a 19X19 grid became standard when the Tang dynasty came to power. It spread to Korea between the 5th and 7th centuries AD, and it was popular among the elite. The game then reached Japan in the 7th century AD, and it spread to people of all classes by the 13th century. Despite its popularity in Asia, it did not become popular in the west until the end of the 19th century, when it spread throughout the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. Edward Lasker’s book, Go and Go-moku (1934), spread the game to the United States. As a result, the American Go Association was formed the following year, and the German Go Association was founded in 1937.

Go’s spread stopped during World War II due to anti-Japanese sentiment. After the war, however, Go continued to spread. The Japanese Go Association facilitated this spread by publishing Go Review (an English-language magazine); establishing Go centers in the United States, Europe, and South America; and sending professional teachers to tour western countries.

Presently, the International Go Federation has 75 member countries, 67 of which are outside East Asia. There are over 46 million people who know how to play the game, and over 20 million current players, the majority of whom live in East Asia.

Estimated cost: $25 and up, depending on the quality of the game. You might be able to find an inexpensive used copy.

Estimated Time: Around 45 minutes to an hour. Depending on the style of gameplay, a game can last over one to two hours.

Age range: 9 and older due to the complicated nature of the game.

  • Tangrams. Tangrams are Chinese puzzles consisting of seven flat polygon pieces, which players put together to form shapes. The goal is to replicate an object based on the silhouette provided. The pieces can also create minimalistic designs.

The origins of Tangram puzzles are unclear. However, one theory was that it was invented around the late 1700s in China. Scholars had difficulty dating the Tangram puzzles after reading the popular but false history written by Samuel Loyd, a famed puzzle maker, in his 1908 book, The Eighth Book of Tan. In the book, Loyd made several whimsical claims. By 1910, scholars determined that Loyd’s claims of the Tangram’s inventor and the date of invention were “entirely baseless and false.”

The modern Tangram puzzles likely came from the older tradition of dissection puzzles from the Song dynasty. In the third century, a Chinese mathematician named Liu Hui made use of construction proofs. Some of these proofs resemble the predecessor of the modern-day Tangram puzzles.

Tangram puzzles made their way to the United States in 1802, and they exploded in popularity among Western audiences a decade later. They also reached England around the same period, and they soon spread throughout Europe. During World War I, their popularity resurged on the homefront and both sides of the war.

Today, Tangrams remain popular. These are highly recognized worldwide, and people use them for amusement, art, and educational purposes.

Estimated cost: $10-$20 for the puzzle and $15-$25 for a book with diagrams. You can also print off Tangram pieces and find online puzzle diagrams for free.

Estimated Time: a few minutes to an hour, depending on the number and complexity of the puzzles

Age range: All ages. You can adjust the complexity of the puzzles based on your child’s age and attention span.

This is a picture of tangram puzzle pieces arranged into a square.
Ready to develop your tangram skills?

  • Ampe. Ampe is a popular game amongst school-aged children in Ghana and neighboring countries. You need at least two people to play it, and there is no equipment necessary. To play the game, the participants choose a leader. The leader and another player face each other. They then jump up at the same time, clap, and thrust one foot forward before they land. If one person sticks their right foot out and the other person sticks out their left (or vice versa), this is known as landing “straight,” and the leader wins a point. If both players stick out the same foot (such as a right foot and a right foot or a left foot and a left foot), this is called a “bend.” If a bend happens, the other player (not the leader) becomes the leader and plays against the remaining players, and the original leader is out. If more than two people are playing, the last player out is the winner. If there are only two players, they play until the first person reaches a predetermined score.

Traditionally, Ampe was a form of entertainment that people enjoyed at organized events. It would either be an addition to a ceremony or its own event. It was reserved exclusively for girls, and there were traditional outfits for their gameplay. Girls would wear short skirts to allow their legs to move freely. Games like Ampe would unite girls from different villages. They organized tournaments, which encouraged the empowerment and unity of girls across many villages and towns.

Even though children still play Ampe today, it is in danger of being lost to modernity and other societal changes. As a result, young people have lost interest in traditional forms of entertainment. However, formal tournaments are trying to rekindle their interest in these sources of entertainment.

Estimated cost: Free

Estimated Time: 10-60 minutes, depending on the number of people playing

Age range: 6 and up. Children ages five and under can try it if they can understand the rules and jump on one leg.

Hopefully, you’ve seen that there are plenty of low-tech entertainment options around the world. These include Mancala, Origami, Amigurumi, Karaoke, Lotería, Pachisi, Go, Tangrams, and Ampe. Next time you’re looking to detox from screens, try out one of these activities. Who knows, you might discover a hidden talent, a way to have fun, and a new appreciation for cultures around the world. For more activities, click here, here, and here.

If you wish to delve more deeply into new cultures, consider taking a class with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer courses in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin for kids and adults. Online and in-person class options are available to meet your scheduling and learning needs. Our Spring virtual classes start on April 26th. For more information, please visit our website or email us at

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