Higher and Lower - Asking Questions with Uncle Wiggily

The motto of Games for Young Minds is Play games. Ask questions. So far, I've spent most of my time recommending games that have innate mathematical ideas. But I firmly believe that your children will learn more when you talk with them about the math ideas you encounter in the games you play together.

Today, I'd like to share a mini-game I invented with my son that enriched his comparative thinking, while making game time more fun for me.

Uncle Wiggily

One of my son's favorite games is Uncle Wiggily. The game, much like Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, is a simple racing game where you move your piece along a path to the goal. Like those other games, there is absolutely no skill involved. You draw a card and move the specified amount of spaces.


Uncle Wiggily is perfect for a 4-5 year old who is focusing on number recognition and counting, and it is utterly boring for the adult who is forced to play along. 

As a result, I spent a lot of my Uncle Wiggily hours (and I mean hours) brainstorming simple mini-games I could play with J along the way. One of my favorites was Higher and Lower

Higher and Lower

Instead of drawing a card and showing it to J, I would draw a card and hide it from him. Then I would make him guess the value of the card, guiding his guesses by saying "higher" or "lower" as he went. To really sell the game, I would also beam when I drew a good card and pout when I drew a bad one, which helped J guess (and, secretly, helped him think about which numbers in the game were greater than others).

What's the benefit of this game? Well, most kids' early interactions with numbers are based on counting, where you always start at 1 and count up. Lots of little kids can count to 10, but if you ask them "what number comes before 6? What number comes after 8?" they are stumped.


In this guessing game, J has to think about numbers in relationship to each other. If J guesses "8" and I say "lower," he has to think about the numbers that are less than 8 and decide which one to guess. If he chooses 4 and I say "higher," now he has to think about which numbers are greater than 4 while still being less than 8. It's a real mental workout for a young kid.

As J got more confident in his guesses, I asked him to play the game with me. He'd draw a card and hide it from me, and then I'd guess. This was really tough for him! I made sure to give him plenty of wait time as he thought about my guess thought about his card, and decided whether my guess was too high or too low. 

One hidden benefit of this game is that there are a few cards that make the player go back 2 or 3 spaces. Once, when I drew that card, J kept guessing and I kept saying "lower" over and over again. After J guessed 1 and I insisted that my card was lower, he paused for a minute, then guessed "go back 2?" I like to think that this was his first interaction with the idea of negative numbers, which he won't work with formally until 6th grade!



Usually parents think of subtraction as taking-away, but subtraction is also the operation we use to compare. Think of the problem: "How much more is $12 compared to $7?" Nobody is taking any money away, and yet this problem can be solved with subtraction. 

In order for your child to become adept at comparison problems, they'll need to have a strong sense of the order and relationship between the numbers. Every time your kid determines which number is higher, she is building number sense that will pay off well into elementary school.

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Read more about Uncle Wiggily on my personal blog