If you have read Table Talk Math, you know how much I loved playing games as a kid and how much I love them now. That is why this week's newsletter, written by Daniel Finkel, resonated to much. Check out what he has to share about Tiny Polka Dot and get your set today:
To help kids ____, we ____ with our kids.
There’s a question floating around in the background when people talk about how to help young kids get off to a good start with math. We know what to do with reading, after all!
To help our kids read, we read to our kids.
What’s the math version?
To help our kids math, we math to our kids?
It just doesn’t have the right ring. It’s precisely because we are not clear what math means as a verb that this is so hard.
There are a range of suggestions on what nurturing this mathematical instinct in young children looks like, including some, like Bedtime Math, that take the analogy with bedtime stories very literally. And I’m thrilled these ideas are out there! The good news is that children naturally are drawn to counting, and they won’t learn to dislike math unless someone teachers them to. But how do we help them have the opportunity to love math?
For me, the answer was games. I played countless hours of Sorry, Rummy, Casino, Yahtzee, Hearts, Backgammon, and so on when I was younger. Cribbage, especially, was a popular game in my house. My brothers and I played endlessly, and I learned, as all cribbage players must, all the ways to make fifteen. To this day, I can casually glance at a hand of 6 cards and instantly tell you how many fifteens are in there. It’s a skill developed through hours of play, and one that made school math in Kindergarten through 2nd grade nearly effortless.
So that’s my answer to fill in the blanks:
To help kids love math, we play math with our kids.
As I’ve understood more about how counting, logic, and reasoning develop, I’ve come to see virtually all card and board games as contributing to mathematical growth. Abstract logic games like chess, checkers, hex, go, Connect 4, and so on help build the critical “what if” creative/logical muscle in the mind. “If I go here, what will my opponent do?” I love these games, and there are plenty of great ones. But what about games to help with numbers, counting and arithmetic specifically? The games that exist in this capacity tend to have an academic feel, and play can be subordinate to “learning.”
Young kids come to understand numbers through a surprisingly complex process that takes years. Fortunately, playing and counting and exploring their way through this process can be a pleasure, as long as they are unhurried. Kinesthetic work with blocks and other objects is critical, but games can be harder to find. We wanted to provide a rich structure to explore how numbers work and relate. Essentially, we wanted to make a deck of cards that would allow all the play I’d had as a child, but that made the mathematical and counting connections even richer and more fun.
That’s why we built Tiny Polka Dot. It’s a mathematically enriched card deck with 16 games you can play with very young (3 year old) to older (8 and up) kids. There’s a ton of research that went into this game, but I think the most compelling case for its value is the fun kids have playing it, and how they engage with math and counting as they go.
Setting up Hungry Numbers
(more videos at tinypolkadot.com/learn-to-play)
One fascinating thing about the deck is that it has all the versatility of an actual deck of cards, albeit one with 6 suits from 0 to 10. I haven’t played Tiny Polka Dot cribbage yet, but I want to. Meanwhile, I keep hearing about innovations and child-created games. For example, this older student invented her own take on the Polka Loop Puzzle that blew me away.
And this, to me, is where play leads: to perseverance and ownership and curiosity and creativity; to pushing beyond the bounds of the puzzle into something new, for no other reason than it’s fun to explore. When we talk about learning to love math, this is what we’re talking about: not mere “mastery,” but ownership - the understanding that it belongs to you, and you can break it and put it back together again because it’s yours. That’s where play leads.
To help kids learn math, know math, and love math, we play math with our kids.
Thanks for joining the Table! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me on Twitter (@TableTalkMath) or comment below. Be sure to have your friends sign up for the newsletter at tabletalkmath.com for weekly updates.
Thank you for taking the time to improve math fluency for children, one table talk conversation at a time.