How to Teach your Kids to Play Mahjong - Oh My Mahjong

How to Teach your Kids to Play Mahjong

Mini Mahjer’s: How to get your little ones involved in Mahjong! 

The holiday season is in full swing, and as moms, we find ourselves amidst the hustle and bustle (and must I mention the extra time off from school) trying to combat the dreaded words, “Mom, I’m bored.” To avoid the inevitable sibling wrestling or excessive screentime, consider introducing them to your obsession, Mahjong!  

I’ve always been amazed at how kids of all ages are drawn to the game.  I remember by the time our oldest daughter could walk, she would waddle over to our Mahjong setup that we often keep out at one end of our dining room table, intrigued by all the pieces. Perhaps her young mind had an appreciation for the clink-clank sound and natural beauty of the color of the tiles. Or maybe it’s just because she knows it’s Mom’s favorite thing and she wants in on anything she’s doing.  Either way, I accepted early on that she too is in on the fun and simply started calling her my Mini Mahj-er. 

As she has grown a tad older (turning three next month!), I have used Mahjong to work on developmentally appropriate skills, often falling back on my days as a kindergarten teacher to come up with various activities.  Also throughout my career as a Mahjong instructor in Dallas, I have taught many Mini-Mahjer's Classes to engage as many littles as possible.  And I realized that on some level Mahjong is truly for ALL ages, just some tweaks may need to be made. In this post we are going to break down the game for various age groups and teach you how to get your kids involved!  Let’s get to it! 

The Early Years: AGES 0-2  

Musical instruments: Even the tiniest tots can join in the Mahjong fun.  Let them explore the tactile world of tiles, clinking them together and reveling in the sounds. It’s the little things that bring children joy at this innocent age!  

Toddler Adventures: AGES 2-4  

Find the Joker: This is one of my two-year-olds favorite, and luckily, it's very simple!  We dump all the tiles onto the mat and go on a Joker hunt!  When we find a Joker, we put it on the top of our rack.  We start by looking for ones that were naturally face-side up, then we begin turning the ones that are face-down to find the remaining Jokers.  Once all Jokers have been found, we count how many we each found!  We talk about who has more, who has less.  We also do this with other easily recognizable tiles such as Green Dragon, Red Dragon (which my daughter calls “Pink Dragon” in the Lilac Tile set), White Dragon, and Flowers (another one of her favorite tiles to collect!). 

Sorting: It’s amazing how kids even at this age can recognize similarities and differences within tiles.  For example, ask your little one to find all the tiles with circles on them (aka the Dots) and put them in a pile; place all tiles with bamboo in a pile, and so on.  If it’s too overwhelming to have all the tiles, simply grab a handful of however many would be appropriate. You’ll be amazed at how fun this is for kids and how good it is for their developing minds!  

Finding pairs/3 of a kind/4 of a kind: This is also simple!  Have your little ones look for identical tiles.  For example, you could show one 3 Crak and go on a hunt for more 3 Craks.  I’ll never forget the excitement on my daughter’s face when one day she found her first pair.  She held the two tiles up and exclaimed, “there’s two!” Once you find a set, practice counting how many there are to practice 1:1 correspondence (an early math skill that involves a child’s ability to count in ascending order one item at a time). 

Number Identification 1-9: Pick one suit and find one of each tile 1-9. For example, if using Dots find one 1 Dot, one 2 Dot, one 3 Dot, and so on.  Have your little one arrange them in chronological order. Or if that is too advanced, simply practice identifying the numbers on the tiles.  For example, show the 3 Dot and say, “This is a three!  You are turning three at your next birthday!” Then you can practice tracing that number in the air and say sayings like, “Around the tree, around the tree, that is how you make a three!” 

AB Patterns: Simple AB patterns are so fun and developmentally appropriate for this age! An AB pattern is an alternating pattern such as: Green Dragon, Red Dragon, Green Dragon, Red Dragon and so on.  Start the pattern on the top of a rack and say the name as you point to each tile, “Green Dragon, Red Dragon, Green Dragon, Red Dragon, Green Dragon..... what comes next?”  Then offer a choice between Green or Red Dragon.  

Memory Game: This is just like a memory card game but with tiles!  Find 4 pairs of tiles (8 tiles total) and flip them face-side down.  Taking turns, flip two tiles over at a time.  Say the names of the tiles you are flipping over.  If it’s a match, that player keeps those two tiles.  If it’s not a match, return face-side down in the same spot.  

Comparison (less/more, same/different): Being able to identify similarities and differences is another important developing skill for this age, and being able to verbalize these findings is even more advanced!  There are so many options with this.  For example, pick four tiles in which only one is different and the remaining three are all the same tile.  Ask, “Which one of these tiles is not the same?”  Then elaborate what makes that tile different (i.e. it has circles on it instead of bamboo, it is a different number, it is a Joker instead of a Dragon, etc.). You can also practice sorting and counting how many are in each group and ask questions such as, “Which group has more, which group has less, and how do you know?  Let’s count!” 

Primary School Prowess: AGES 5-7 

Messy Mahjong: Skip the deal and The Charleston at this age if your little ones aren’t ready for it.  Simply dump all the tiles onto the mat, flip them face-side down, give them a good shuffle, and start drawing.  Just like in regular Mahjong have one player grab 14 tiles and the rest take 13 tiles.  

Creating patterns: By this age, kids are able to start forming patterns.  If they are not ready for a full 14-tile long combination from The Card, you can start by creating your own simple patterns.  For example, Megan plays a version with her boys who are this age in which each player is trying to get a winning combination of any 7 pairs.  If a player discards a tile that would complete a pair a player is going after, the player can call and expose the pair.  The first player to get 7 pairs is the winner!  You can get creative with what your family wants to make a winning combination!  

Grade School Greatness: AGES 8-9 

Post-it's over non popular sections: As your kids approach double digits, they may be ready for the real deal, or close to it! However, the hardest part is picking a line (just like for adults too!). To combat this hurdle, I recommend covering many of the sections with Post-it notes because LESS IS MORE (in this rare occasion, if you know what I mean). The most common sections for Mahjong are in a “T Zone” - that being sections 2468, Consecutive Run, 369 and 13579. Therefore, you can cover the remaining sections so that they only have eyes for those within the T Zone (admittedly I used this trick while I was teaching my dad!).  This will help Mini Mahjers look for patterns without feeling overwhelmed by alllll the choices.  

Mini Mahjer’s Card: One of Oh My Mahjong’s incredible instructors, Kristin Erwin (insta: @crakbamkristin) created with @Joycreative a Mini Mahjer’s card with limited combinations.  It is the perfect segway into true gameplay.  You can message her on Instagram for more information!  

Tween Mastery: AGES 10+ 

Traditional Gameplay, with minor changes: By this age, your children may be ready for full-on gameplay... and they just might be beating you!  If they are ready for all the rules, go for it!  If they aren’t *quite there, here are some simple adaptations you may want to consider:  

Playing with extra Jokers and Blanks (dare I say the word) to make Mahjong easier

Allow calling for and exposing a pair

Allow Jokers in singles or pairs

Allow exposures in Concealed Hands

Mahjong is a loved game for so many reasons, but at the top of the list for me is its uniting capabilities that transcends generation. You never know what conversations could be had, what memories could be made, or what lasting effects this timeless game has on the people you play with.  Use this game to bring your family and loved ones together during this holiday season and continue spreading YOUR love of the game with whoever is willing to learn – even if it’s your littlest ones.  Just be sure to check the floor for missing tiles before putting everything away (as spoken from past experience!).  Happy Mini Mahjing!