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International Games: How to Play the Classic Game of Bekel

No matter how far technology has come, and how many ways there are for kids to entertain themselves, you still can’t beat an old fashioned, simple game. There’s really nothing better for kids than time spent with their friends, playing games together and getting a bit mucky. Yet many of the most loved playground games have declined in popularity over the generations.

The International Games series aims to highlight some of the best classic children’s games played around the world – like Leapfrog and Kho Kho! We hope that by teaching your child about these fascinating and entertaining games we inspire you to try them at home with your family! Today we want to introduce you and your children to the Indonesian game of Bekel, also known as Jacks.

This traditional children’s game deserves to bounce back and be played all over the world! Below you’ll find all you need to play this Southeast Asian variant of Jacks.

What you need to play Biji Bekel / Jacks:

  • Some floor space, just enough for all those playing to sit down
  • A rubber/bouncy ball of any size
  • Six small items (known traditionally as biji bekel), such as Jacks, or if you don’t have these small stones will do

How to play Biji Bekel / Jacks:

  • All the biji bekel (small items) are held in one hand, along with the ball, to start.
  • Throw the ball in the air. While it’s on the way back down, release all the biji bekel on to the floor.
  • Let the ball bounce once. Catch it before it hits the floor for the second time. Then bounce it again. While it’s in the air, pick up as many of the items as possible, and catch the ball before it hits the floor. This is all with one hand!
  • Keep repeating until all the biji bekel have been picked up. The aim is to get faster and neater in picking up all of the biji bekel between bounces.
  • To make this game a little bit trickier for older children add in a new rule that they have to pick up all items in three turns or less, this will really work-up a competitive spirit.

What’s so good about Bekel / Jacks?

Bekel is absolutely brilliant at improving your kids’ hand and eye coordination. It demands quick responses and sharp movements. They will need a steady hand as they attempt to pick, turn, and grab the biji bekel one at a time or all at once. Once they’ve got the hang of it, they will want to play over and over again to get faster and better at it, trying tocatch all the bekel faster than their friends. It can be played anywhere – it’s best to play it on the floor outside so that you don’t have to worry about the ball and bekel bouncing off the edge of a table.

Tales of tradition to share with your children

If your kids are curious about this game and how it came to be then it may surprise them to find out that bekel is actually believed to have been invented when the Dutch still occupied Indonesia, and that the name is derived from a Dutch word, bikkelen, meaning knucklebones. The ancient game was played with real sheep bones (that will make the kids squirm!). Whatever small items you choose to play with, it’s a lovely, simple game that will keep kids’ hands and minds occupied for hours, so it’s high time Bekel bounced back. Are there other classic games you remember from your childhood that deserve a rediscovery? Let us know in the comments below!