Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chutes and Ladders

I love games.  All sorts, all kinds.  So we play a lot of them.  Chutes and Ladders was the game of choice tonight.  You remember Chutes and Ladders, yes?  You spin the spinner, then move ahead that number of spaces.  There are pictures all over the board.  When you land on a picture of a child who has done something good, you go up the ladder.  The better the deed, the higher the ladder.  When you land on a child who has made a poor choice, you go down a slide.  The worse the choice, the longer the slide.  After a lot of hopping, climbing and sliding, someone gets to 100...and wins!  Hooray!!!

As we were playing, I found myself viewing it throught the eyes of a kindergarten and first grade teacher and thinking how wonderful it would be if my students played this game at home with their parents.

The most obvious skill learned is the idea of actions and consequences.  As parents we try hard to teach our children that their choices carry consequences, both positive and negative.  We seek to discipline with natural consequences and guide by positive examples.  But when do we visually display what this means?  What opportunities do we give for our children to objectively look at the consequences of their actions without being in the action.  We had some great conversations while playing tonight, conversations that subtely helped to integrate right and wrong into her consciousness. 

In addition to the character building piece of Chutes and Ladders, there are a lot a really important math skills. 

A key part of kindergarten is developing number recognition.  This game uses a spinner printed with numbers 1-6.  The squares on the board are numbered 1-100.  When playing it is very easy to periodically check in about what number your child is on.  If they don't them out!  Every number they identify is helping to build their knowledge of numbers.

The squares on the board are numbered so you go first in one direction, then the other.  This back and forth pattern of movement makes for a game board that need to be focused on very carefully.  You need to look at the numbers to see in which direction they are getting larger, so you know which way to go.  This is a more advanced skill that your first or second grader will really benefit from practicing.

The layout of the board also helps to build skills necessary for addition.  When you move forward in Chutes and Ladders, you "count on".  You start with the number you are on, then move forward the number of hops that you spun on the spinner.  For younger children playing, this helps create a conceptual understanding...start on a square and jump forward.  Don't count the one you are on.  For older children you can actually tie in number sentences to the game play.  "I am on 32.  I rolled 5.  Now I am on 37.  32+5=37". 

There is even a little bit of algebra that comes into play.  In anticipation of a spin you can look at the board and determine what would be a good number and what would not be.  "Where I am + X more = Big Ladder.  I want to spin X."  You probably wan't be conversing in algebraic terms, but that is what is going on.

There you have it.  A simple game from a teacher's perspective.  So if you are wondering how to prepare your pre-schooler for kindergarten...board games!  Want to support and extend your elementary school child's math understanding and performance...board games!  Have fun!

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