Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning with Chutes and Ladders

I was hanging with my favorite six year old last night, trying to put off the requests for Sponge Bob.  We sought out other options and lit upon this unopened Chutes and Ladders game. Immediately ripping off the plastic Lil' Buddy opened the box and started putting players into the little stands.  I was folding clothes in the laundry room as he asked me which piece I wanted. I asked him to describe the pieces to me.  He did so with great detail, describing the hair color, shirts, and pants, and even throwing in evaluative statements about the pieces he favored. (classifying, isn't it exciting?)

Then we needed to put the spinner together.  It was a struggle to snap the spinner out of the plastic rigging and then set it correctly into the cardboard. Yet we persevered and accomplished the task.  (objects can be made of smaller parts)

With the pieces selected and the spinner assembled it was time to play.  Lil' Buddy went first, according to the rules we read.  (that's right, reading informational text)  He spun a six and counted off six spaces. (one to one counting) Then I had a turn, but before I was finished moving my player, Lil' Buddy spun again!  That Lil' Buddy was turning into a Lil' Rascal.  I explained that when we play games the deal is you have to wait for the other person's turn to end before you start a new turn. (guiding principle: collaborative worker/ responsible citizen)

If you've ever played Chutes and Ladders, you will note the board has one hundred numbered squares to navigate through.  The squares move numerically left to right in one row, then right to left in the next.  Lil' Buddy was struggling to figure out which direction to travel.  I suggested he always move toward the largest number. (identifying numbers and then comparing numbers)

The game has advantages and pitfalls.  When you land on a square that shows a child making a good choice there is a ladder that advances the player to a square with a "reward" of sorts.  If you land on a square with a child making a negative choice there is a slide moving you backward landing on a picture with the consequence of that choice. For instance, the square with a child who ate an entire plate of cookies slides down to a square showing the child with a belly ache.  Lil' Buddy and I got buggered up on that one several times.  (wait for it...wait for it.... my two favorite words in education and life are coming up.... LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES as detailed by the philosophy of Responsive Classroom)

We had a super time playing Chutes and Ladders, giggling when we got caught eating the cookies and squealing when we mowed the lawn and went to the circus.  Then the Papa Bear came home.  He sat down and watched for a while, making the comment that teachers could exploit Chutes and Ladders if they were having a not so stellar day and needed to coast.  Ah, Papa Bear.....thanks for the inspiration for this blog.  I explained all the great learning that was taking place while playing this "simple" game.  Amused by my sincerity and looking at the clock ticking toward Lil' Buddy's bedtime he suggested we make it a little more interesting.  

His idea was to DOUBLE the number we spun to speed things up a little.  I tell you, that cookie square was really holding us up.  Now Lil' Buddy was spinning a four, and yelling EIGHT! (using strategies to add and subtract)  We finally made it through the last game, thanks to a last minute ladder, and Lil' Buddy scurried off to bed.

As Papa Bear and Lil' Buddy went through the nighttime rituals I sat back and thought about my upcoming class.  Sure, I make games available to my kids, but usually during inside recess.  This year I'll be playing these games with my class, using them as informal assessment tools to see which kids can recognize numbers, compare numbers, use addition strategies, etc.  These games have the potential to give me lots of information about my class with the added benefit of being able to PLAY!

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