Children and Scrabble: the Perfect Match

Posted: May 11, 2010 – 2:07 pm

Scrabble was a tradition in my family. From the time I could barely see the board from my vantage point at the edge of the table, I witnessed the subtle strategies used by my older brother and sisters at play. I dreamed of the day I was old enough to play—how I’d dazzle them all with my victory! But that day was long in coming. If there’s any game that makes kids feel left out, it’s Scrabble. Because it requires reading, spelling, and vocabulary skills, many parents think Scrabble isn’t for the very young. Think again! Parents these days can easily introduce the game to a child as young as four or five years old. With a little time and effort, they can help children even develop advanced skills that many adults don’t know.

After the Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, the best Scrabble tool introduced by Hasbro in recent years is the Scrabble Junior Edition. This by far is the best way to introduce Scrabble to your four year old. Play resembles regular Scrabble, getting children accustomed to the flow of the game. First, children draw seven tiles from the pool. In turns they lay down tiles from their racks to match the letters on the board. Letter by letter they eventually spell out entire words, winning points. By game’s end, they will have used over a hundred tiles to work a variety of different words. Few preschool teachers could match that for reading practice!

Children who have mastered this simplified version can then “graduate” to the next level of play by flipping the game board over to reveal another basic version of the classic Scrabble game. Using this board and modified scoring rules, children progress in difficulty and skill level.

By eight years old, most children will be ready for regular Scrabble. Don’t get caught up in talking rules and strategy at first. Just jump right in and let your child experience the game for him or herself. Even better, you might play an opponent as a team, allowing the child to suggest plays and explaining tactics as the game goes on. Even if it’s not the best play, use your child’s suggestions occasionally so that he or she feels like a valuable member of the team and experiences first-hand the triumph or failure of a move. Having a teammate to share the disappointment will help when moves aren’t successful, or when the child doesn’t win.

Particularly in their early years, allow children to use a dictionary while playing. One rule variation used in my home while growing up was that players were allowed to “browse” the dictionary for word options as long as it wasn’t their turn. This way, young players didn’t get bored waiting for their turns, while they acquired a great learning skill! Dictionaries are a terrific safety net and their use can help children broaden their vocabulary base.

Outside actual play there are a few games you can teach that will help children sharpen their Scrabble skills. Using the Scrabble tiles, have your child spell out his or her name. Add up the score. Then spell out the other names of friends and family members, cities, states, countries, or other favorite words, adding and comparing the scores of each. Play for fun, taking off the competitive edge, and allow the child to explore the value of different word options.

Few skills are more important than anagramming to a Scrabble novice, and this is a skill you may want to explain as your child progresses. Give them a word and a time limit, and challenge them to find five, ten, twenty, or even more words using only the letters given. As they improve, encourage them to find lengthier options, maybe even offering a reward for using all the letters. I’ve used this game frequently in the elementary classroom when my class is waiting in line, and I haven’t yet found a youngster who doesn’t like it. Students especially love comparing their lists. If they’ve found a word nobody else found (or a word I didn’t) it is especially rewarding.

You may be surprised how fast your child picks up on more advanced strategies after introducing Scrabble this way. More importantly, he or she will develop an interest in word play, which is infinitely more valuable than alternative interests in TV and video games. Go ahead, invite your child for a game of Scrabble—it’ll be a perfect match!

Emma Snow

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10 Board Games Which Can Make Learning Maths Fun

Posted: March 29, 2010 – 10:14 pm

Board games plus children add up to a winning equation. Research has determined that number board games can increase a child’s ability to learn necessary math facts that enable them to get a solid head start in this vital subject. Preschoolers who played a board game with a spinner for 20-minute sessions over a two-week period demonstrated a greater capability to count, identify numbers and conceptualize the value of those numbers.

Educators and parents are recognizing the importance of using games to teach key facts to young children. There are many fun and exciting games to choose from, and this quick overview of some of the more popular ones can help in the selection process.

Chutes and Ladders is perhaps the best known of the bunch and has brought a lot of laughter and learning to children. Recommended for children ages 4-7, this action-packed game uses a spinner to advance. No reading is required, although the players will be introduced to simple counting.

Tip Top Tally Game made by Purple Pebble Games is geared for ages 4 and over. Friendly penguin characters lead players across the board, while trying to avoid the Slippery Slide and Icy Icicle. Children will use math concepts to add and subtract the numbers on the dice. The game is competitive enough to keep the interest of the players while encouraging them to use numbers.

Math Animals Game, by Aristoplay, is recommended for ages 5 and over. The very colorful game board and the animal playing pieces raises the interest level. Players roll the dice and move around the board in an effort to land on the animal that represents the highest number. Math skills like addition, subtraction and multiplication are introduced.

Totally Tut Board Game from Learning Resources is best played by children 6 years and older. Players move through rows of pyramids by using number and operation triangles to solve math problems. Basic math skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are used. Children must also guard against their opponents which also introduces strategic thinking.

Head Full of Numbers Game is also created by Learning Resources and the recommended age is 7 and older. This fast-paced math games involves dice and a race against the clock. Players roll the dice and have to create math equations using those numbers. There is a high level of competition involved which provides an exciting encouragement to develop math skills.

Counting and Numbers Quizmo by World Class Materials can be used by children ages 3-8. Young players will be introduced to a variety of game experiences to help them associate the numbers one through ten with both their names and their values. To conceptualize the value of these numbers, the game uses concrete and abstract methods which significantly improves the child’s ability to understand the meaning of these numerals.

Sum Swamp Math Board Game is produced by Learning Resources and is best played by children ages 5 to 7. Players journey through the swamp by adding and subtracting the numbers rolled on the dice. The Crocodile Short Cut and the Endless Loop add a level of danger and excitement and keep the players’ interest.

Conceptual Money Bingo Game uses math skills to recognize the value of money in dollars and cents. Addition, subtraction, counting and story problems help players understand the concepts of money in a fun and meaningful way. The game is recommended for children over 5 years old.

Smath Board Game, for players 6 and up definitely makes math fun. This crossword puzzle type game uses numbers in a clever way, while encouraging children to succeed with bonus point squares. The players start with what they know about math, and easily add to that knowledge as they go along.

Hi Ho! Cherry-O Board Game is for younger children, ages 3 to 6, and this time-tested game introduces and reinforces counting. No reading is required and children have been enjoying this game for over 30 years.

Sandy Naidu

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