Roxy Rules

A while ago a teacher told me that board games are excellent for children’s maths skills.  Players learn all sorts of things like pattern recognition from looking at the dice, addition and subtraction, strategising … all while having fun and beating their parents. This is not a problem for the six year old, who absolutely loves board games. But the little one … I don’t know. The little one just cannot follow rules, even when she wants to. I’ve tried to play a few games with her and they’ve all ended in tears (mine). She’s just completely lawless. She sees no reason to move around the board in one direction, preferring to skid sideways, jump over hedges, climb up snakes and down ladders … whatever it takes to get to the square she wants to be on. And she doesn’t even try to win. Sometimes she just wants to be on a blue square. Sometimes she wants to go over and make friends with someone else’s piece. Often she just wants to knock all the other pieces off the board.
Anyway, she’d recently been given a Ludo board as a gift and she’d been begging me to teach her to play so I thought I’d give it another try, in the name of Maths and all that.
“Listen,” I said, after ten minutes of playing and about seventeen rule violations. “You throw the die and count the number on it and then move this way round, that number of spaces.”
“But I want to be there,” she said, pointing to some random square.
“You don’t decide where you want to be. You move however many spaces the die says you can move. Otherwise it’s not a game, is it? Otherwise we’d all just go straight to where we want to be.”
“Let’s do that.”
“No! That is not Ludo!”
In reply, she told me that Ludo was stupid and knocked all my pieces off the board. Again.
So we landed up playing something called ‘Ludo Marriagement’. All the red pieces married all the yellow pieces and they danced around the board together in whatever direction they liked.
Still no maths involved, though. So onto Plan B. Luring her away from Ludo Marriagement with a handful of cash, I sat her down at the table. She loves coins and she loves singing, so I thought I’d hit on an absolute winner of an idea.
Together, we counted out ten coins.
Me: (singing) “There were ten in the bed and the little one said roll over. Roll over. So they all rolled over and the one fell out (flick one coin away) … how many are left?”
We counted. One, two, three, four … up to nine.
Me: “There were nine in the bed and the little one said roll over …”
We counted again, one to eight. It was all going swimmingly.
Me: “There were eight in the bed … so they all rolled over … and the one fell out … how many coins are left?”
She: “Eight.”
Me: “No. One, two, three … seven, eight … eight? Where did that extra one come from?”
She: “I put it back.”
Me: “No no no, we’re taking away. We have to take it away and not put it back.”
She: “It was lonely.”
Me: “It’s fine. It’s happy over there. Okay … bye bye number eight. How many are left? Seven? There were seven in the bed … they all rolled over … and how many is seven take away one?”
She: “Two.”
Me: “No. Count them. One, two … where are the rest?”
She: “Up my bum.”
A plausible statement, I’m sorry to say, but I wasn’t going to be distracted.
Me: “Okay. Here are five more. Now we’ve got seven. Take one away and … how many do we have?”
She: “Six.”
Me: “Yes! Well done! There were six in the bed and the little one said … so they all rolled over and the one fell out …”
I flicked one away.
She: (with a screech!) “No, not that one! Put it back!”
Me: “Why?”
She: “This one and that one are friends. You can’t take that one away. Her friend will be sad.”
I put the friend coin back and took another one away.
She: “Not that one either!”
It turned out that that one was the baby of those ones. It took me a while to work out the very complicated relationships between the coins but eventually we were ready to carry on.
Me: “Okay, six take away one. Let’s count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight … where did all those extra ones come from?”
She: “From up my bum.”
She might not be able to count but her sleight of hand would make a pavement hustler proud.
Me: “Here are six coins, take away one coin, what do we have left?”
She: “Mary and Dilla.”
Me: “What?”
She: “That one is Mary and that is one is Dilla.”
Me: “Five. We have five coins. One, two, three, four and? What comes after four?”
She: “Six.”
Me: “No …”
She: “Dilla’s a horse. She counts for two.”
Whatever her teachers are getting paid, it’s not enough.
Anyway, the story ends on a happy note because she’s actually perfectly numerate. I found this out the other day when her sister was sharing out grapes and shortchanged her by a few. Not only did she do that calculation faster than c but she remembered every time in the last month that the same thing happened. So it seems that not only have we taught our child to count … we’ve created an an accountant.