1000 Subscriber Q&A!

A few weeks ago, the newsletter passed 1000 subscribers! To celebrate, I asked my readers to send in questions that I answered in a special Q&A email. If you have any questions you’d like me to answer, please email me! I’ll include sporadic questions in my future emails.

It's a big week here at Games for Young Minds!

When I started this newsletter back in October of last year, my only goal was to write something helpful every week. I had lots of friends who were confused about how to help their children learn math, and I wanted to create some simple methods for fostering mathematical conversations. Games seemed like the perfect avenue.

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Clearly, many of you shared this newsletter with friends and family members, and for that I can't thank you enough. It means a lot to me that you like the newsletter enough to share it and build the audience for these ideas.

So to celebrate you, my readers, I've devoted this week's newsletter to some reader questions! Honestly, I had so much fun writing this newsletter that I'd love to make Q&A a semi-regular feature of the newsletter. So if this newsletter sparks any questions in your mind, feel free to send them my way!

Tracy asks: 

I have a six-year-old and ten-year-old. My ten-year-old avoids playing games at almost any cost because she hates to lose. It doesn't matter if it's a strategy game or a game based more on luck. 

We've talked lots about good sportsmanship, forced her to play sometimes, modeled for her, encouraged her brother for good sportsmanship....all kinds of things with not much change. Any suggestions for helping her conquer her fear of losing??

What a terrific, and challenging, question!

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I distinctly remember playing a silly game with my son who was 2 at the time. We'd each grab a piece of pine straw and pull. Whenever the pine straw split, whoever had the stem won! After playing a few times in a row, he started crying, saying "I want to win every time!" It took him quite a while to get comfortable with losing, and there were definitely times when I just "let the Wookie win."

Since starting this newsletter, I've gotten to know a lot more about cooperative games, where the players work together to beat the game itself, rather than competing against each other. I think these games would be perfect for someone like your daughter.  In all of these games, the sting of losing is minimized since everyone is in it together.

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Younger kids can play games from Peaceable Kingdom such as Race to the Treasure (which I covered previously) or Count your Chickens. Since your daughter is older, I think the perfect game for her would be Forbidden Island. In this game, a team of players works together to collect four treasures and escape from an island as it slowly sinks into the sea. The game is beautiful, fun, and different every time. If she likes it, you might even try Pandemic, which is one of the most popular and most fun games of the past few years.

Having said all that, I don't think it's the end of the world to have a kid who simply doesn't like games. To me, games are a great conduit to mathematical discovery, while also being a way to connect with your kids. But it's far from the only way!

Maybe your daughter would enjoy making geometric artwork. Maybe she likes designing and building things. Maybe she likes squirreling away her allowance and budgeting her next big purchase. Any of these hobbies can be an avenue for mathematical discovery and conversation, just as much as games. So meet your kid where she is, and find the math in the things she already loves.

Howie asks: 

1. Do you have a go-to game for your kids? Or do you like to switch it up?

2. How often do you have your students play games in class? 

1) I have a voracious appetite for games, clearly, so I like to switch things up a lot. I've found that my kids are typically more interested in playing a new game than in playing a game they've played over and over. 

With that said, I do tend to steer my kids towards games that I enjoy and away from, well, War. I really do get tired of War. 

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But if I had to pick my desert-island games to play with my kids, I'd still go with SET and Blokus, two games that I profiled early on in this newsletter. 

2) I try to find games for my math classes whenever I can, but only if I can justify the value of the underlying mathematical idea. So I find that I do a lot of activities that are game-like, but not full games.

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Take Function Carnival from Desmos, for example (Click "Join" to try it out). Is this activity a game? Not exactly, but you can "win" it by graphing a function that matches Cannon Man's height. So it certainly feels more like a game than a worksheet on the same topic.

That said, I am not a fan of games where the math is pasted on, like Math Blaster from my childhood. That's just a fancy set of digital flash cards. Not my speed. I'd rather do an activity where the math is unveiled through the experience of playing.

Christen asks: 

Our 5 year old son loves building with LEGOs. He wakes up and first thing he does is run off to build dinosaurs, castles, dragons, etc., both using the instructions and just using his imagination. We are trying to figure out what we can do to encourage this interest, including any math concepts that tie into it. Step one is obviously to make LEGOs available. What else? Thanks!

Is it cheating if I just say "Keep doing exactly what you're doing"?

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What you are describing is the dream - a kid who is so invested in learning about his favorite toys that he doesn't even need anyone else in the room!

My only advice is to take interest in his interests. Ask him how he designed this particular part of his dinosaur. Ask him what other things he's interested in building, and then search on Google for other designs that other kids have made. Make your own terrible LEGO creations and ask his advice for improving them.

Your son is already doing a ton of mathwhenever he plays with LEGO. His spatial reasoning skills are sharpening, his counting is improving, and he is becoming familiar with all sorts of geometric constructions. This is the ideal opportunity to sit back and let him play.