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How I was Saved from the Horrors of Candy Land

I never liked this game, not even as a kid. However, I recognize the positive benefits of playing games with my 3-year-old Elle, and I could never deprive her of this experience. No matter how painful. However, I’ve recently been saved from some of this pain. I must thank Geetha B. Ramani and Robert S. Siegler of Carnegie Mellon University for their article “Promoting Broad and Stable Improvements in Low-Income Children’s Numerical Knowledge Through Playing Number Board Games.” I’ll admit, I didn’t read the entire article. I skimmed large portions of it. Lots of edu-speak and statistical numbers. But it did get me to thinking about changing the way I use traditional children’s games with my daughter.

So I attacked Candy Land differently. I put aside the traditional cards with one or two colors indicating if one should move 1 red space or 2 yellow spaces, and introduced a squishy yellow die with dots representing the numbers 1 to 6. Elle thought the die was fun. Little did she know she was practicing the early math skill of recognizing dot patterns (or quick images) up to 6.

Try this with your own child. It’s truly surprising how quickly they roll and say, “five” or “four” without counting each dot on the die. With every roll, she also had to move that many spaces. This isn’t so easy for a 3-year old that doesn’t quite have one-to-one tagging down. She counts as she moves, but she doesn’t always move exactly one space for each number counted. So, when appropriate, I’d help her move or point to each space as we counted together. On my turns (when she wasn’t moving my piece for me), I’d model making my piece jump one space for each number counted. Elle absolutely loved playing the game this way, and I loved turning this into an opportunity to watch and learn from her. As a teacher, I was challenged to keep the experience light-hearted yet below her frustration level. As a mom, I just had fun teasing and laughing along with Elle.

The Challenges of Math Education for Your Child: Making Learning Fun

Other variations for using Candy Land with 3-6 year olds: I know Elle won’t be entertained by this forever, and I’ll want to challenge her more as she grows. Here are some twists I’ll use in the future. (Am I actually looking forward to playing more Candy Land?):

  • Change the die used. Use a die with numerals 1-6; or better yet, 1-10, 1-12 or 1-20. As a teacher, I have a collection of these. Dice are cheap. Make the investment.
  • Rotate picking a card with picking a die. The traditional cards make the game move a lot faster, unless you get sent back to the beginning!
  • Roll two dice. Start with two dice, each using dot patterns. Then, combine one die with a dot pattern and one using numerals. Finally, use two dice with numerals. This introduces adding to the game.
  • Roll two dice. Choose one to move. This adds strategy to this traditional game of chance.
  • Pick a card and a die (for a slightly older child). Let your child decide if she should use the card first or the die first. Again, this adds strategy to the game.
  • Let your child choose if she wants to use a die or the cards. Then, use the opposite. What happens? Does your child think one choice is better than the other? Why? Is one scarier or riskier? Why?