Blokus

Players: 2 or 4
Ages: 4 and up
Cost: $15-20 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Spatial Reasoning
Questions to Ask
    Which pieces are hardest to put on the board? Why?
    Which of your pieces could fit in this space?
    What shapes and designs can you make with your pieces?

My son never lets me pick the games we play. But if he did, I would pick Blokus

I love Blokus because the rules are easy enough for a 4 year old to grasp, but the strategy is complex enough to challenge any child or adult. I would just as happily play this game with three other grown-ups as with three kids.

How to Play

blokus.jpg

The game is intended for four players, although the two-player version is just as fun.

Each player begins with 21 pieces that look like variations of Tetris blocks. Some pieces are composed of only two or three squares, while others have four or five squares. The board is a blank 20x20 grid. Starting in the corners, each player takes turns placing one of her pieces on the board. The only rule is that each player's pieces must touch another of its pieces at the corner, without overlapping sides.

Players take turns until they can no longer make a move. Once all players are stuck, everyone adds up the total amount of squares that they were not able to play. The lowest score wins. Mattel has made a quick gameplay video tutorial that you can check out.

Where's the Math?

Blokus is a fantastic game to help kids develop their spatial reasoning. In layman’s terms, spatial reasoning is how people make sense of objects, their shapes, and how they relate to each other. If you’ve ever navigated the mall using a map or tried to assemble IKEA furniture from a set of instructions, you’ve used your spatial reasoning skills. Your child is using those same skills when she tries to jam a puzzle piece in the wrong spot before rotating it and finding its home.

spatial reasoning task.jpg

Researchers have spent a lot of time studying spatial reasoning using tasks like the one above, and they've learned some interesting things. First of all, spatial reasoning is predictive of later success in math.  Not only that, people in STEM careers show a higher level of spatial reasoning than equally intelligent peers in other careers. Fortunately, spatial reasoning is not some innate trait your child is born with. Instead, it is a skill that can be learned over time.

So spatial reasoning is important. But how does Blokus help kids develop it? As kids play, they will become more comfortable mentally rotating and flipping shapes around to test whether they will fit in a given spot on the board. Each mental rotation is an opportunity to strengthen their spatial reasoning skills. 

The end of the game, where players count up their point totals, is the only time when numbers are used in the game. But rest assured, this whole game is deeply mathematical. 

Questions to Ask

IMG_7118.jpg

In my experience, the best way to get kids thinking spatially during the game is to simply narrate your thoughts out loud as you play. Let’s take a look at an example:

“Let’s see, which of my blue pieces can I play here? I can’t fit this one because it has four in a row. Maybe if I rotate this other one, I could fit it sideways… What do you think?”

This bit of narration is rich with spatial ideas and mathematical language (rotate, four in a row, sideways). By inviting your child to help you pick a move, you make the game a cooperative experience where their ideas are valued.

Also, once you're done playing the game, you can let your kids mess around the game pieces and ask them questions as they explore. Recently, I played with my son J and his friend F, both four-year-olds who loved the game. Once we finished, the two boys decided to try to fit all the game pieces onto the board at the same time. As it turns out, this was quite a challenge! The boys worked on their puzzle for about twenty minutes, clearing the whole board at one point in order to start fresh. The level of spatial thinking and collaboration they experienced during that time was potent. I didn't even need to ask them any questions - they were having a whole spatial conversation by themselves!

IMG_7101.jpg

While they played, I thought of some other challenges that older kids might find fun. Can you use the red pieces to make a big square? What about a rectangle with sides of 4 and 6? What is the biggest shape you can create from all the game pieces?

blokus mario.jpg

Even if your kids aren't bowled over by my geometric challenges, they might appreciate using the Blokus pieces as a creative canvas. You'd be amazed what your kids can build when they are given the opportunity to think, reason and create spatially.

Buy Blokus on Amazon