Are you game?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about childhood games and has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s game or rhyme. I think she chose this topic just for me. Thank you, Charli.

I love games and am a strong believer in the use of games to enhance learning. I have memories of playing games that span my lifetime, from early childhood until the present, and have visions of playing games far into the future.

Johnny Automatic, cartoon of a girl and boy playing with a ball https://openclipart.org/detail/721/playing-ball

Johnny Automatic, cartoon of a girl and boy playing with a ball https://openclipart.org/detail/721/playing-ball

One of my earliest memories of an organised game was of “Drop the hanky” played at a birthday party. I was about five years old at the time. I think that perhaps, until this event, I had only ever played imaginative games with my brothers and sisters. I was obviously not familiar with the rules or the ethos of the game. I’ll let my flash (non-) fiction explain.

Plum pudding

We sat in the circle chanting,

“I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it.”

“It” skipped around the outside, waving a handkerchief.

“One of you has picked it up and put it in your pocket.

Not you. Not you. Not y-o-u!”

Suddenly “It” was running and children were scrabbling behind them.

“Run,” they called.

Then “It” was beside me.

“Plum pudding!” they all screamed hysterically.

The adult pointed to the centre of the circle. “We’ll have you for dessert,” he grinned.

I cried, wondering what it would be like to be eaten alive!

© Norah Colvin 2015

© Norah Colvin 2015

Obviously I was traumatised for the memory to be so vivid and almost nightmare-like since the memory ends abruptly with the fear. Obviously I wasn’t eaten for dessert, I survived the trauma and, to complete the fictional narrative, I guess you could say “I lived happily ever after.”

But games don’t need to be traumatic. Games are better when they are fun; and I have many more memories of having fun with games than I do of being traumatised by them. Some of my “best” memories are of the laughs shared playing games like “Balderdash” and “Billionaire” when we (hub, son, daughter and partners) set aside traditional holidays for playing games together as a family. My house may have shelves laden with books, but they also have cupboards bursting with games.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

We didn’t always play purchased games. Sometimes we made up our own. It takes some skill in problem solving to think up a new game that will be fun to play with just the right amounts of challenge and competition, and an equal chance of “winning”, if there is a winner. Games without a winner, played for the fun of playing, are just as enjoyable.

I have always included games in my class program. As well as being fun, if carefully chosen they can also progress learning. Games can be played at the beginning and conclusion of sessions; at transition times to reenergise, refocus and refresh; and as part of the teaching/learning program with whole class, small group or individual participation for targeting practice of particular concepts.

One obvious benefit of playing games is the development of social skills such as:

  • Sharing
  • Taking turns
  • Cooperation
  • Dealing with competition
  • Accepting a loss
  • Accepting a win graciously

In their book “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change”, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown talk about ““arc of life” learning, which comprises the activities in our daily lives that keep us learning, growing and exploring.” They say, “Play, questioning, and — perhaps most important — imagination lie at the very heart of arc-of-life learning.”

Throughout the book they talk about the importance of collaboration in engaging online in multi-player games and say that When understood properly . . . games may in fact be one of the best models for learning and knowing in the twenty-first century . . . Because if a game is good, you never play the same way twice.

monopoly

Robert Kiyosaki in his book “Why “A” Students Work for “C” Students and Why “B” Students Work for the Government” talks about the importance of learning through games and explains how he learned, and was inspired to learn more, about finance from playing “Monopoly”. He says that Games are better teachers than teachers.” While I prefer to not agree with that statement in its entirety (I don’t even like playing Monopoly), I could understand his reasons for making it.

Rarely a day would go by that at least one game wasn’t played in my classroom. We would play games in literacy groups that required children to read and think critically. We would play games in maths groups to practice skills in fun ways or to solve problems cooperatively. We would play games in science to try out ideas or research information. Some of the games involved physical as well as mental activity. Some were played with the entire class, and some on their own.

One game we used in maths groups as well as an activity in the last few minutes of the day was a problem solving game that I was involved with from its inception, The Land of Um or, as it is known in the UK, Scally’s World of Problems. (Also available as an app.)

http://www.greygum.com.au/nebula/index.php/the-land-of-um

Scally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was asked for an idea for a program, I suggested something that required children to explore to find out “what happens if” and “how things work”, much as they learn from their exploration of the “real world”. I also suggested that what they learn be consistent and apply at the next level. From that small seed and through the collaboration and synergy of a small group of creative people the “Land of Um” was born.

Because, in my recollections anyway, it was “my” idea, I am very proud of “Um” and enthusiastic about its potential to encourage children to develop the thinking skills involved in solving problems.

Um app

In my class the children worked enthusiastically and collaboratively in small groups on an interactive whiteboard, taking turns to control the “Um” while working together to find the solution to each puzzle. As the level of difficulty increased the children needed to plan ahead, to visualise steps and predict what would happen and the effects of different actions. At each new level and in each new world, while the basics remained consistent, there was always something different to learn and explore. The children never tired of the using the program and were always eager to be the one to suggest the solution to the next problem. It was/is a joy to know that I had a part to play in the design of this program that has so many benefits to learners, not least of which is the fun of working together to solve problems.

How significant are games in your life? What special memories do you have?

If you are interested, there are many more stories about games to read on Charli’s blog.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts on any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

 

 

29 thoughts on “Are you game?

  1. julespaige

    Especially before the advent of computerized gaming…board games were not boring. Some can get away with ‘house rules’ and others are sticklers for the instructions that come with the box. I’ve gotten my grandson a few games that can grow ‘rule-wise’ as the child grows.

    I’ve haven’t heard of ‘Drop the hankie’ but I do remember ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ and the ‘Cheese’ having to stand alone. We all have to learn sometime. Thanks for a fun read.
    And glad about the implied happy ending too!

    Thanks for stopping by the second room of ‘Rumors’.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Jules. I really appreciate your stopping by to read and comment.
      “House rules”. I had forgotten them. I agree that most games have a bit of room for the flexibility of house rules.
      We all used to pick on the cheese in the farmer’s dell, didn’t we? Talk about stereotyping. I guess the game probably isn’t played so much anymore. Maybe that’s not a bad thing! 🙂
      Thanks for your positive comment re my flash. 🙂

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  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    What a delightful post that has given my memory multiple paths to follow. My mother was and still is a big games player. After Sunday lunch we would often play games whether it would be cards or a board game. School holidays at the beach always had games which we played. Balderdash if I am remembering correctly is the dictionary game. My father was good at making up words and definitions and always won but it was so funny we loved to play it with him.
    That was funny (in retrospect for you) that you thought you would be eaten after your drop the hankey game.
    Congratulations on you game of Um. I think it is a game that I may even enjoy not being very good on the maths side of life. My parents bought me quesinere rods (don’t know the correct spelling) to help me with my maths but I can’t recall becoming hooked on it and whether it taught me anything at all.
    Great flash.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your detailed comment Irene. Sounds like games were played in your family just as often as in mine. I guess for me, in the days before television (yes, really!!) games and reading were how we entertained ourselves. Playing games was very social and a lot of fun.
      Balderdash is the dictionary game and to play you have to not only be good at making up definitions, but good at bluffing as well. We always had loads of laughs playing it. I never remember who won (so maybe not me!) but always remember the laughs we had.
      I think you are probably not the only one who didn’t learn much from Cuisinaire Rods. I think it was quite an abstract (though meant to be concrete) concept to think one rod is worth five or ten ones white ones, for example. Think the MABs are a much more effective tool for developing an understanding of number.

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        We didn’t get a television until 1966 or 67 and I too remember the days of games and singing songs around the piano and best of all the radio. Even when we got one we weren’t allowed to watch it during the week apart from the news and on weekends we were allowed to watch the odd movie and programmes like the Avengers.
        Glad I wasn’t the only one. When I wrote about them to you I couldn’t even remember what they were supposed to teach us. Thanks for the reminder.

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          1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

            Yes. I was always fascinated with my grandmother as she was the generation to see all modern inventions arrive. That must have been mind boggling to go from horse and cart to man landing on the moon not to talk of all the household changes. Children today could not conceive of a time without these gadgets that they have.

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  5. macjam47

    I can remember playing games from, well, from my earliest memories. When my middle son was in kindergarten, I watched one of the kindergarten teachers help a few students who had trouble with numbers, learn through doughnut math – simple problem solving using wooden doughnuts. The winners (those who got the answer correct) got to eat a real doughnut. To be fair, she kept working with each child until everyone got a doughnut. Within weeks, all of the children were up to speed with the rest of the class.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased to hear the doughnut strategy worked for all the students. Sometimes intrinsic motivation may not be enough! We wouldn’t be able to give that type of reward any more. Doughnuts would be considered “red” foods and allowed on only rare occasions! No more jar of jellybeans on the teachers’ desks either!

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  6. Steven

    I had a curious toy called “I took a lickin’ from a chicken”, which was quite interesting. The player would play against the chicken, which was motorised and could move left to right and bob forward and backward. The chicken was encased in clear plastic in front of the “board” (lights under the numbers 1-9 in a square grid) and then the players equivalent keypad under the board. It was quite a versatile and complex device for its time in that it could play several games. I remember that it had a memory game (where the player and chicken had to remember a progressively longer list of numbers) and played noughts and crosses. It probably played an adding/maths game as well, although I don’t recall it. I preferred it over my Little Professor.

    Mahjong is also an interesting and metaphorical game, although way outside the scope for youngsters. I barely know how to play it but quite enjoy it and think of it much like a Chinese version of Poker (although I barely know how to play that either).

    My youngest played Land and Um and quite enjoyed it, however I’m afraid he much prefers playing Minecraft. I don’t care for the multiplayer hack-and-slash aspect, but other than this it is a surprisingly educational game. There are not many modern games that can get youngsters interested in mining, farming, industry, construction and commerce, all in the one game.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Steven. I am not aware of the ‘lickin from a chicken’ game. It sounds interesting. Like a precursor to some of the computer/video games perhaps?
      Mahjong is an interesting game. I haven’t played it for a long time. Like many card and board games, it requires that a lot of information be held in memory.
      I’m not surprised to hear that your son prefers Minecraft to Um. They are very different. Minecraft is a lot more involved and would definitely qualify for a rating as a “good” game by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. I personally haven’t played it but I have read some articles expounding its educational value, and I know my nephews had a wonderful time playing it. I think I would have liked to use it in the classroom had I worked with older learners. Why should the students have all the fun?!

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  7. Hugh's Views and News

    What a lovely post about games, Norah. Took me back to the days of ‘palor games’ we played before the days of board games. Such fun resulting in a lot of laughter and plenty of entertainment.

    I haven’t played any board games for such a long time now. My faviouite was ‘Cluedo’ which I am positive got me on to my love of writing short fiction. I would often imagine what the characters would be like if they came to life, and actually wrote and published a series of short stories, on my blog, based on the theme of the game. I may just republish them after reading your post today.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Hugh, Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.
      Cluedo was one of my favourites too. I always enjoyed the problem solving aspect of it. I imagine some short stories based on the concept could be rather interesting. I would like to read them if you republish them. 🙂

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      1. Hugh's Views and News

        I’ll republish them next week Norah. There are five in the series, all very short stories and each with a twist. Like any great detective, the murderer(s) are found out right at the very end when everyone is gathered together. All in true “Miss Marple: style 🙂

        I’ll let you know as soon as part one is republished.

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  8. Bec

    The FF recollection sounds very traumatic! It would be confusing to be in a game where you don’t know the rules, but many others are looking at you, yelling and laughing. I’d love to spend some more time in the Land of Um!

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  9. desleyjane

    We played that game too Norah. And Red Red Rover. And so many others. Plus board games as well. Monopoly was always my favourite. We played cards as well – my parents are of the vintage who used to play cards with their friends, canasta and 500 so I learnt those too. Such an important part of learning. I think – it’s fun, but there are rules, you develop strategy. All good things!

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  10. writersideup

    Hi, Noraaaaaahhh!!! 🙂 I’m sort of BAaaack 🙂 It’s funny—the only three games that were familiar were Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and Monopoly. I’m guessing ’cause we’re on different continents lol

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    1. Norah Post author

      Welcome back! I have missed you. It is possible you didn’ t recognise the games due to different continents. It may also be because there are so many games! 🙂

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  11. Sarah Brentyn

    Plum pudding? Hmm… Don’t know that one. I do remember Charli’s version now with the basket. That would be a traumatic first intro to the game so young. Geez.

    The Robert Kiyosaki quote reminds me of something I’d see on a silly t-shirt or sticker or something “All I Really Need to Know I Learned Playing Board Games”. 😀 Though I do use games a lot with my youngest (but only to supplement). So you created this “Land of Um”? What’s this all about? How cool!

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      When I Googled Drop the hanky to confirm my recollections of the game, it actually gave ‘dead fish’ rather than ‘plum pudding’. I think I’d rather be a plum pudding than a dead fish.
      I am a fan of board games and do believe that a lot can be learned through them. I know some who would love to wear that t-shirt!
      Um is a really fun program (if I do say so myself) and suitable for all ages. I have the app on my iPad and use it with my grandchildren too, though they can only solve the first few problems so far. I think there are 24 levels in each of six “worlds” and the higher levels can be quite challenging even for adults. Being involved in the making of this program is one of the most exciting work experiences I have had. I didn’t do any programming (not skilled in that area sadly) but was involved in the design and I wrote the teacher and student materials to support it. I think the software developer would have to take most credit though. 🙂

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  12. Charli Mills

    Wow! I just had a flash of memory rhyme:
    A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket,
    I wrote a letter to my love and on the way,I lost it…
    I lost it…
    I lost it…

    But I can’t recall the circle game it went with, I just remember the chanting and being in a circle. Amazing how games really do stick with us. I love playing cribbage and a somewhat new board game called Settlers of Catan, but my eldest has the game board in MI! Great post, explaining the power of game playing to learning. And thanks for the bonus half-memory, though I’m sorry that your version was scary!

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      I think A-tisket A-tasket may be played in a similar way to Drop the Hanky. I think Lucy Locket is another of the same ilk.
      I used to play cribbage years ago with my parents but haven’t done so for a long time. I used to love the little wooden boards and pegs for scoring. I haven’t heard of Settlers of Catan, and don’t even know what MI is! Am I out of touch?!

      Liked by 1 person

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