My children learned basic math by playing Bunco with my mother. They perfected their math skills by betting buttons in family poker games, and they learned the combinations of all number and face cards that add up to 15 by playing Cribbage. In addition to these card games, they played countless Gin Rummy and 500 tournaments late into the night on family vacations staying with their grandmother. Kings Corner’s taught them numeric sequencing and overall strategy. As grown women they have fond memories of the moment they realized they won fair and square with no help from Granny. So what were they really learning, besides family the secrets shared and how to beat your sister or cousin at cards?
Those games, seemingly silly and time wasting, are really tremendous opportunities for significant learning, not to mention the cross generational sharing of family history. Learning rules and fair play, as well as the math skills required to play; learning the basics of good sportsmanship; understanding planning and sequencing; creating a plan based on the resources you have – literally “the cards you were dealt” are all things that serve us throughout life. Visual memory, remembering who picked up what card, or figuring out what someone is saving based on what they discard, or calculating how long it will take you to go out if you pick up the whole pile of cards are skills that carry over to the real world activities. Playing games serves many purposes and is a wonderful way to bring family and friends together. It is educational, social, and even historic, not to mention just fun.
This past holiday season I spent some time with my niece and nephews in icy cold northern Wisconsin. When we were not outside doing the crazy things you can do in sub zero temperatures, we were in the house warming up and playing Kings Corners. Between my brother and I there was a bit of helping the younger ones to take advantage of all the plays possible, signaling that there was a red 10 that could move to a black 9 and open up a slot for another discard. But in the end, by game 4 or 5, we were all playing our own hands and trying to be the first with no cards left. We were all intent on playing. And ever so quietly with little fanfare, while we were all anticipating our next moves, my niece, the youngest of the family, took her turn. She picked up her card and then spent a few minutes moving cards around and with just right the amount of style discarded, and said “I win.” She had the smile that I recognized from seeing it on my own daughters’ faces – she did it on her own with no help. That’s another game playing can do – build a sense of achievement and self confidence.
Not bad for just playing a game!