Cousins, Number Games and Photobombs!

By: Beth Van Derslice

This week, our family (we have 2 children, ages 1 and 4) hosted our cousins from South Carolina, including three boys, ages 13, 11 and 4. It is hilarious and fascinating to watch how these kids interpret the numbers that are all around them. Here are a few observations:

1.) My 4-year-old thinks I'm 6 or 10 years-old depending on when you ask, which are both really old, apparently. The 11-year-old thinks I'm 60. I'm really 38.

2.) Playing Connect 4 with 2 toddlers is about patterns, colors and making shapes in the board and not at all about strategy or even winning. Also, taking turns can be a difficult concept.

3.) Quite the contrary for the 11 and 13-year-olds where strategy and winning is everything, and taking turns is expected. "Rotten Fruit" was the perfect game for them (we posted a variation of this game in our second newsletter.)

4.) Time. Setting limits with a timer, for instance, can be very effective. When I set the timer for, say, 10 minutes and then it's bedtime, my 4-year-old usually gets it. Just be sure to let him turn off the "beeper" before heading up to bed. Ever since we've started using this tactic, he's taken an interest in the clock, asking "what time is it?" and identifying numbers on our digital oven clock. BTW, this strategy also seems to work on the older kids, in particular, when setting time limits on screen or video game time.

5.) Somewhat related, it comes as no surprise that kids like to be silly. They like to rhyme and make up nonsense words. They like to make funny faces. They like to photobomb. Number games can definitely be silly.

During the cousins visit, I had some time with the two 4-year-olds to play with the materials in our prototype COCO Cache and they had fun with them. But what they really loved was the experience, the process, the way it enabled them to play creatively and talk about the pieces ("that dinosaur is red and goes ROAR!") with a grown-up. They explored concepts in sharing 'things-that-go' counters and took turns rolling the dice. They counted the counters and played tug-of-war with rubberbands (sharing can be hard.) They giggled at a one minute timer when the older boys started counting backwards from 10 in silly voices as the sand slipped through the hourglass.

Our time together playing was just that -- PLAY. We had fun and there was no pressure to win or get the right answer. Just as easily as we started exploring the Cache materials, after about 20 minutes the boys drifted off into a game of trains and went about their exploration of toys, as I quickly cleaned up the materials with a grin. They didn't even know their eager brains were laying the foundation for learning math. Ha!