I win! I win! We win!

Dictionary.com definition of win:

“…to achieve first place in a competition; to gain or receive (a prize, first place, etc) in a competition; to succeed in or gain (something) with an effort: we won recognition. Win one’s spurs.”

As my colleague Aileen Rizo and I introduced a new math game to young pre-k students, the excitement could not be contained.  The object of the game was to roll a die and move the game piece, taking turns until someone reached the end. We had interviewed these children and determined their current progress in learning the number word sequence and 1:1 counting.  We then assigned the 24 students into one of six groups. As the children sat in front of the game board, Aileen and I explained what they needed to know to play the game.  As we observed, we tried to see the game through the children’s eyes, and so we were ready to adapt the game to the ways we saw children playing.  

The children were so eager to play, to learn, and to win.  They learned to roll the die gently on the table, away from the game pieces.  They learned to read the top of the die and not the sides. They learned to move the game pieces forward after each turn and not count the space they were already on. They counted the number of spaces to reach the end. They learned to read the finger patterns, dot patterns or count the dots on our custom-made paper dice.

Math concepts were explored in a math game. Children quickly knew that 3 was larger than 1 and 2, and it would be advantageous to roll a three rather than a one.  As the first student, “Matt”, reached the end of the game, he exclaimed, “I win! I win!”  The game continued until the next student reached the end. At this point, “Matt” exclaimed, “You win!”.  Soon all four students reached the end and all were exclaiming, “I win! I win! We win!”  The children experienced positive feelings about math, engaged in cooperative play, and explored many important number ideas.

According to researcher, Anita A. Wager, there are three opportunities early learning teachers can take advantage of when incorporating mathematical play in the classroom:

  1. Intended: Daily routine during circle time, transition time, instructional time, “aha” moments-where a child’s natural curiosity discovers a mathematical concept.
  2. Seeded: Games, interaction with manipulatives, interest areas to engage the students in mathematics.
  3. Child-initiated: Spontaneous or linked to a previously introduced mathematical activity.

Our game is a good example of a seeded opportunity that can also become child-initiated after children are comfortable with the game. When all the children were at the end of the game board and they were celebrating their “win”, the adults learned something from them.  When children are learning in a play environment, the word “winning” takes on a different definition. To a child, winning means that he/she had fun playing with others, everyone had a great time, and everyone reached the goal as they cheered each other on. The children were not competing against each other but the joy came from the individual accomplishment.  Let’s give more opportunities to play math games and let the children “win”. For in the long run, we all win when we have children “do the math.”

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