Go retro: traditional Singapore kampong games for kids

Kampong games
We're revisiting the retro games and memories of our childhood with these kampong games...

What with National Day just around the corner, we’re in the mood for some nostalgia. So, after reading some lovely local stories and going old-school playground hopping, we decided to go three for three and hunt around for some of our favourite traditional Singapore games and toys. Some of us might not have grown up in a kampong, but whether at parks or indoors, much of our childhood was spent filling the time with these games. We must have gone through at least fifty boxes of Bestman Balloons in our attempt to shove our younger sibling inside one. Here are some of our faves…

Kuti Kuti

Kampong games

Now that they’ve started making kuti kuti the size of flag erasers, there’s no need to fear the choking hazard. Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

These little gems were brilliant for whiling away rainy days. Just flip your piece until it lands on top of your opponent’s and you’ll win your opponent’s piece. Keep playing until you’ve cleaned them out or broken even. The trick is to pick a piece that flips really well; flat ones won’t do. This game can also be played using bottle caps or flag erasers.

Paper balloon

Kampong games

A balloon with no strings attached. Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

Blow it up or deflate it any time you like. The best thing about it is that it won’t pop or fly away, leaving your shocked kid behind. Hours of cheap and cheerful fun, for sure.

Five stones

Kampong games

You can win Five Stones…but we’ve never gotten that far. Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

It’s like juggling one-handed and requires a lot of hand-eye coordination. You throw a stone into the air and then, using the same hand, pick up another before you catch that stone. Keep going until you’ve got all the stones in your hand. Then, follow the progression until you’re picking up four stones at a time. Check out how to play five stones here. Fun fact: five stones used to be played with real stones. Ouch! We got ours from Jelly Bean Attic.


Kampong games

How about racking up those footie skill points with Chapteh? Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

Once used to train monks and soldiers in ancient China to strengthen their martial arts skills, Chapteh is a game of keepsie-upsies with a feathered shuttlecock (an act that would get you penalised in a badminton game, but is perfectly fine here). Whoever keeps it in the air the longest without using their hands wins. You can build up some pretty great foot-eye coordination with this.

Pick-up sticks

Kampong games

Top tip for pick-up sticks: Don’t be greedy, be sneaky! Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

Historically, this game has had many names including mikado and jonchets. Some say it originated in China, some in Native America. Maybe it came about because some kids were messing about with kindling (who knows). The rules are simple: pick up sticks without touching any of the others and whoever has the most number of sticks at the end wins.

Bestman Balloons

Kampong games

No one really knows the true chemical makeup of this gel but some say, it’s the stuff of dreams. Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

These plastic balloons are a true relic of days gone by. Where once you could buy a whole box of the tiny tubes for a dollar, you can now only get a tiny packet of the stuff for the same price. The gel you squeeze out of the tubes is a viscous plastic that you stick onto a straw and blow into malleable bubbles. You can make the bubble bigger by adding more of the gel onto the straw or the bubble, but a word of warning: it gets really messy really fast. 

Chinese chess (Xiang Qi)

Kampong games

The key to winning Chinese Chess is to never challenge anyone over the age of 50 at this game, especially the retired folks who hang around Chinatown Complex. Photography by Sheralyn Loh.

Like English chess, the point of the game is to capture the king. The pieces and rules mirror English chess, but there are entirely different strategies due to the presence of the fortress, to which the king and his counsellors are confined. There’s also the small matter of the river, where the pawns gain more power after crossing, while confining the minister to one side. Check out all the rules and how to play here.

Top image: Photography by Sheralyn Loh

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