Expert Commentary: Grab a Game for Some Fun Learning

"It's my turn," says the four year old.

"Na uh," says the three year old.

"It's Brian's turn," says Miss Judy.

"But he had a turn!"

"So did you, Triston."

"But his turn was longer."

"That's because he rolled the dice off the table and we had to find them on the floor. You just sucked on yours and spit them onto the table. There's a big difference, you know." Some facetiousness clung to Miss Judy's voice, and Triston looked up thinking the problem over like a very young sage.


And so goes a game with very young children. Games are taught. It's not an open the box instant do-for-me toy. A good game is worth learning because a really good game teaches while it entertains. It's a Greek concept going as far back as Horace.


Out of the Box Publications makes just such worthwhile and really quite splendid toys for children of all ages. We have four Out of the Box games at school, that for the most part, stay out of the box. Each game is attractive to a child because the pieces are interesting to young children and allow a child to discover how the world works.


One of my favorites is Snorta. Now picture this: There are five beautiful young ladies quickly grasping a colorful animal and tucking it neatly into its sweet little barn. The pretty cards are dealt and each of the five beautiful youngsters waits with gracious intent while each other child carefully puts down a card. “Moo, I mean hiss, I mean baahhh!” they all cry out at the child with the lamb neatly tucked into the little barn.  It’s hilarious. 


"If you play your cards right," says Mrs. St. Louis with her tongue in her cheek, "You'll win."


Then there’s Squint. “This is a boy game,” says five year old Ty huskily setting out the large variety of clear plastic building cards. “Boys know how to build, and girls don’t.”  Ty’s father is an engineer. Needless to say, the girls don’t back down, and on the first round, Alexa whips out her design card, and quickly masters it drawing the building cards together in a satisfactory replica before the sand in the little hour glass is gone.


Now it's Ty's turn, and he procrastinates so long trying to organize the world and everybody in it, the sand in the hour glass is gone before he's half done. "No fair," he says. "I was just getting started. I need more time."


"I didn't," says Alexa and smiles sweetly." The teachers are laughing at the typical boy girl exchange, and the game proceeds with both children making and failing to make the designs. "Oh, I get it," they repeat over and over again, and teachers are satisfied the children are learning.


Squint teaches timing, precision, mathematical thought and neatness. It's a remarkable little game in a bright green box the kids really love and can play with or with out a partner or in a whole big group.


Cloud 9 is as much fun. As the pretty gondola makes its way into the dozen level cloud board, the children make matches with the dice and the cards. "Don't you know if you have a green card and a yellow card?"


“I can’t find it. It’s tucked in there someplace, I just know it is.”  The child puts one card down after another searching clumsily for two of six cards. It’s about a child’s learning to hold things properly. It’s part of preschool.


“Well, if you can’t find the yellow one, the balloon is going to fall,” says the card shark who has precociously learned to gently fan her cards. 


"Here it is," says the fumbler, and the children all cheer. And the cheering gets louder and louder as they watch the balloon rise and fall on the board according to their dice rolls and the cards in their hands, they learn to think things through, count and add and play with as many as five others and take turns.


"Can I play Wallamoppi?" asks five year old Hadley reaching for the box. "I can play by myself with Mayli. We know the rules. This is what you do," and the little beauty rattles on for five minutes telling Mrs. St. Louis every detail of playing.


The two girls make the beautiful chocolate and vanilla wooden pieces skillfully into a wall. When the wall is done, it’s a simple strategy of stacking the right color while in a separate box, a marble is descending a wall of marble tracks to the impending fall into the hole. Build the tower from the wall one disc at a time, catch your marble before it hits the hole, and you keep your turn. The kids love the action and the suspense of when or if the wall might come tumbling down. You can see it in their faces – emotion by the bushel full.     


Good games are just plain fun, sometimes educational with their studies of addition, subtraction, geometry, algebra and every good game has the multiplication of learning.