Tiny Polka Dot Part 2: Two New Games

One of the first games I ever recommended on this newsletter was Dan Finkel's fantastic game, Tiny Polka Dot.

The game is actually more like a deck of cards that was designed to get your young child thinking about math as much as possible. As a result, you can actually play dozens of games with these simple cards.

Just to recap: the deck is make up of six colorful "suits" of cards that display the numbers from 0-10. Each suit displays the numbers in a distinct way, which allows your child to build flexibility with different representations of numbers.

But even once they're totally confident with counting and basic addition, there are still a ton of fun games to play. Today I'd like to share with you a couple of my favorites.

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The Witness - My Favorite Puzzle Video Game

I don't often recommend video games or applications. That's intentional: part of the fun (and learning) that kids experience when playing games is the physicalrelationship between real objects. Building a tower in Minecraft is a poor substitute for building a tower with wooden blocks or Magna-Tiles. 

But there are a few games that I stand by. One for the younger set is Dragonbox Numbers, which I recommended last year.

For older kids, I recommend my favorite puzzle game of all time, The Witness.

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Kent HainesComment
Number Patterns

Different contexts call for different games. Some of my favorite board games, although fun, require a lot of time and space to play. 

We don't often have the ability to take over the whole kitchen table with a multi-hour Monopoly session. As parents, sometimes we just need something to keep our kids distracted in the car for a few minutes so they'll stop arguing about which song from Moana to listen to next.

Number Patterns is a perfect mini-game for these situations.

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Machi Koro

Because of this newsletter, I tend to try out games with a frenetic pace. I find a new game, try it a few times to see how fun and mathy it is, and then I move along.

My kids, however, don't move on as quickly. Sometimes they get fixated on a game I love (like Kingdomino) and I'll happily play a round any time they want. Other times, they insist that I play one more round of a... less engaging game (like War).

Fortunately, my son's latest obsession is a game that falls into that first category: I think it's a great game that combines strategy and luck in a satisfying way. The game is Machi Koro.

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24 - Make the Order of Operations Fun!

This week I'm sharing a game that is a mainstay in math classrooms all across the country. 

The reasons are obvious: the game gets kids to use their knowledge of operations to solve problems, but in a way that feels much more like a creative exercise or a puzzle than most classroom activities.

While it's perfect for the elementary or middle school classroom, it's also a fun brain teaser to play with your kids.  As long as they are decent with their multiplication facts, they're old enough to play!

The game is called 24.

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Wits and Wagers (and Wits and Wagers Family Edition)

As the game nerd of my extended family, I often play the role of wrangler, trying to get my siblings and cousins to sit still long enough to learn how to play this game they've never heard of. 

So I love when a game is intuitive and quick to explain, while still being fun enough to justify the attention of six or eight family members at a time.

A couple of weeks ago, I introduced my family to one such game: Wits and Wagers. The gameplay is straightforward, but the game comes with moments of surprise and turns of luck that my family really enjoyed. And of course, there is a ton of fun, accessible math to consider while playing.

Anyway, let's find out how to play!

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Number Grid Tic-Tac-Toe

This week's game is an invention by one of my favorite math teachers in the country: Joe Schwartz.

Joe has been writing beautifully about elementary math teaching for years at his blog Exit 10A. In fact, his writing was one of my first gateways into the wonderful world of early math. 

Anyway, a few years ago he posted about a game he had invented called Number Grid Tic-Tac-Toe.

The second I read his post, I knew he was onto something special. 

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Guest Post: What Skills Do Games Help Your Child Learn?

Today we have a guest! A couple of months ago, I got an email from Kyle DeBoer, a math teacher at Advent Episcopal School here in Birmingham. We met up in his class to chat about math, games, and whatever else came up.

The second I saw the game closet in his classroom, I knew I had met one of my people.

(Here is picture of part of it. I mean, come on! Amazing.)

Kyle runs a strategy games club in the afternoons at his school, so he's seen firsthand the ways that board and card games can help kids develop skills that can lead them to success in math. And he's here to tell you all about it.

So take it away, Kyle!

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Garbage - A Perfect Pre-School Card Game

Last weekend, my wife and I took the older two kids up to New York City for the first time. For a couple of kids who think of downtown Birmingham as The Big City, this was quite an experience!

Specifically, we were all struck be how much walking we ended up doing. At one point, on the way to MoMA, my four-year-old daughter just had to stop. We found our way to Bryant Park and sat at a table to rest up for a few minutes.

Fortunately, I had happened to bring a deck of cards with me! I pulled them out and taught my kids a new game that I had just learned the week before called Garbage.

I think Garbage is the perfect game for these sorts of moments - you need your preschooler occupied with a game that is easy to learn and fast to play. Not only that, but the game hits that sweet spot of number recognition and counting that my daughter is at the perfect age for.

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Spot It!

If you have very young kids who can't recognize numerals or read instructions, then some of the games I recommend are just a little too advanced for your kids.

But this week's recommendation is absolutely playable by a three-year-old, while still remaining fun for older kids. I liken it to an even more accessible version of SET. Big groups can play, the instructions are incredibly simple, and there are a ton of fun variations that you can try.

The game is a simple little card game called Spot It!

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Mirror Drawing

I'm particularly proud of this week's activity: My son invented it himself!

A couple of years back, my son found some chalk at a birthday party. He took a piece of chalk in each hand and started drawing on the driveway in symmetrical lines and curves; he almost looked like a conductor of a symphony, swinging his hands back and forth in time with each other. 

The math teacher in me immediately saw an opportunity to build an activity out of this artistic idea: Mirror drawing!

Now, of course, my son isn't the first kid to happen upon this idea. But that's just a testament to its power as a fun way to get kids thinking about symmetry. 

Since that time, I've come up with several variations on mirror drawing and tried them with different age groups. No matter the age, kids seem to love mirror drawing. Frankly, I think it's pretty fun myself! Below are some of my favorite activities to do with mirror drawing.

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Among board game folks, Carcassonne is known as a gateway game. The gameplay is very simple to pick up, the game plays well with 2 or more people, and people of all ages can play.

I was introduced to the game by my friends the Schmarpenters (names have been changed to protect the nerdy). We didn't play with kids the first time around. But the game, which involved no reading and very basic math, felt like a perfect fit for some parent-child math conversation.

So I picked up my own copy and, sure enough, my son loves what he calls "The Castle Game." My older daughter, who is 4, has even enjoyed playing with the tiles, although she's still a couple years from playing the game in full.

I think Carcassonne is going to be a mainstay in the Haines household for quite some time.

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