Noughts & Crosses has been around since the Ancient Egyptians, and it’s still a fun way to spend half an hour. Children as young as four or five develop multiple skills by playing this simple game. This version is called Sticks & Seedpods because we started playing it at the beach, using found objects to make the ‘noughts’ and the ‘crosses’. Young children seem to grasp the idea better with physical objects than they do by drawing on paper, or in our case, sand. And making their own game pieces teaches them that you don’t have to spend money to entertain yourself. Anyway, we didn’t have paper.
The kids, when directed, found four straight twigs to form the grid. They then had to find two groups of five objects to use as tors. Seedpods from the Casuarina overhead were an easy choice. There were no shells on this particular beach. Finding five small, chunky sticks to use for the other tors was more difficult, but that’s kind of the point. Making the game is as important as playing it. By the time we’d made the articles, the kids were on the way to understanding the basis of the game. You have to make up a new name of course, since there are no noughts or crosses.
Then it’s about turn-taking, observation, and realising when three pieces line up. Or are about to line up. There’s a lot going on, and kids are usually planning their next move, not watching yours. So you may have to prompt them: ‘Are you sure you want to put that there?’ They get a thrill when they see a line forming and block it without prompting.
This is a great game to turn to when you’re at the beach or a park, or even in your own backyard. It also involves children with the natural world. Inside, you could use buttons, chickpeas, pasta, etc. Once they have a bit of experience, you can start teaching them about strategy. Then it’s only a matter of time before they start beating you.