Monopoly (Part 2)

Players: 2-4
Ages: 6 and up
Cost: ~$20 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Addition, Decomposing, Subitizing
Questions to Ask
    What bills add to $80?
    If I owe you $24 and I give you $40, how much change do I get?

    How do you double rent in your head?

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Here I sit at home with my kids on what is known as an Alabama Snow Day (pictured): A chance of 1-2 inches of snow is predicted, so every school system shuts down, the governor declares a state of emergency (seriously), and Walmarts from Fairhope to Muscle Shoals are raided of their bread and milk. And then: it rains. 

In other words, today is the perfect day to play Monopoly.

Last week, I shared some of the math inherent in the structure of the board and dice. This week, we'll dive into the heart of the Monopoly math: its money.

Making Change

When you play Monopoly with your kids, let them be the banker. Yes, I know, this will make the game even longer. It's worth the wait.

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Kids today need as much exposure to handling money as possible. Maybe you're unconvinced: with credit cards and Venmo, kids don't need to learn how to make change and count bills anymore, right?

I fully disagree. In fact, I think the opposite is true: In previous generations, parents and kids had numerous opportunities to talk about math while paying for groceries or settling up at the pharmacy. Kids naturally gravitate to these shiny coins and green slips of paper, and their questions gave parents a chance to talk about how pennies convert to nickels and how $1 bills compare to $20s. 

But as we move into a more cashless society, those opportunities to teach math using money are becoming less and less frequent. Which is why we need games like Monopoly to make up for those missing moments. 

Sometimes when I owe my son $14, I'll give him $20 and ask for the change. Sometimes I'll give him $24, just to see how he responds. I deliberately get rid of my small bills so that I can hand him a $100 and ask him, as the banker, to make change.

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Like I said, he struggled with these tasks, which add time onto an already-lengthy game. But to me, they are the reason we're playing the game. 

I knew I had used our time wisely when, a couple of weeks ago, I watched my son count the money in his piggy bank. He grabbed a few ones and a couple of fives, and started counting. "One...two...three..." then he grabbed a $5 bill, paused, and put it back down. He reached for some more ones. "Four...five...[grabbing the $5], ten..."

This moment showed me that he was starting to understand how to count money efficiently. Without the hours (and hours) of time we'd spent playing Monopoly, there's just no way he would have picked up that idea so soon.

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There's a version of Monopoly, by the way, that uses debit cards instead of cash. They just slide the card to pay for their properties. Don't buy it. If you have it, burn it. What a wasted opportunity to teach kids about money!

Double Rent and Other Math

Of course, the simple act of making change is the heart of the math in Monopoly, but there are so many other chances to have a great math conversation.

When you own a monopoly, you get to charge double rent. The "problem" is, they don't list the double rent on the cards! You have to figure it out on your own.

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Finding doubles is a great skill to practice, and the strategies that your kids develop will be a great foundation for future multi-digit addition. 

Typically, to double a number like $16, your child might try to start at 16 and count up another 16. But that's time consuming, and what if they make a mistake? So instead, maybe they could add 16+16. Well, if they ignore the 6s for a second, they know that 10 and 10 make 20, and the two 6s add to 12, so 20+12 is 32.

That process might sound straightforward to an adult, but it's a revelation to a kid. Ask your kid "How did you double that rent?" and be sure to praise their innovative approaches!

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If you land on your child's utility, you have to pay four times the value of the dice you just rolled. Well, here's a chance to learn an advanced strategy: multiplying by four is just like doubling, then doubling again! Suddenly, your child has learned the secret to the fours multiplication table! Years from now, when they find themselves easily multiplying 350*4 in their head, they'll use a strategy they developed all the way back in the living room with Mom or Dad.

Click here to buy Monopoly on Amazon!