It was a quiet rainy morning with the 4-year-old. His brother was at school, he was playing quietly by himself (this is true!), and I was sneaking downstairs to tidy the house. Yes. I was really excited about tidying the house. This is what has become of me. I look forward to quiet moments so that I can clean.
Thank goodness the 4-year-old saved me.
As I was walking downstairs, I heard his sweet little voice…
“Mom. Let’s play checkers. Will you play checkers with me, and teach me how to do it?”
Oh, c’mon kid! I had a plan! Don’t you know how excited I am to clean the house?? (While I’m being somewhat silly about my desire to get the house in order, think of this as anything you have your mind/heart set on doing…when along comes a kid to derail it.) It’s fine to feel derailed, it’s not always fine to express that to the kid. So, my response was…
Sometimes you have to fake it ’til you make it.
He pulled out the checkerboard. I poured a cup of tea for me and mug of water for him (see Board Games, Not Bored Games regarding the importance of a cup or mug of happiness when settling in for a game.) In addition to having a cup of tea or coffee, it’s also a really good idea to put away your cell phone when you’re playing games with your kids. Mine was available so that I could snap some pictures, but I made it clear that I was only taking pics, and I resisted the urge to check messages while we played.
I wasn’t expecting the game to last for long. He had never played it before. I think his interest stemmed from hearing that he could maybe join his older brother at chess and checkers club next week. We set up the game board, and I figured we’d get as far as noting the black and red pattern and maybe shuffling some pieces around.
But he was focused.
“Tell me what to do, Mom.”
And so I did. I told him how the pieces move. I told him about jumping. I generally let him move his pieces as he wanted, and I only periodically suggested other moves to him. When he seemed unsure of his next move, I listed his options and suggested he think about what MY move would likely be after HIS move. Sometimes I pointed out that he had placed himself in a “poor situation”, and I’d let him try again, sometimes I didn’t. (I’m a little torn in this department. My aunt was a ruthless competitor, and anytime we played games, she took full advantage of our youthful naivete to trounce us. I don’t remember being upset. I remember loving playing games with my aunt. I wasn’t ready to do this with my 4-year-old…until later in the game when he proved to be doing pretty well.)
I was surprised when I realized how intent he was on the game. Maybe this was because he had in mind the goal of playing with his brother. Maybe it was because I was focused on him rather than being distracted by the phone or cleaning the house. Whatever it was, that’s when I found myself in this position…
Yeah. How did THAT happen? (I’m red.) I certainly wasn’t trying to throw the game! I let things continue without too much concern, and before I knew it, he had 4 kings, I had 2, and all the other pieces were off the board. I decided it was time to play offensively, and if the kid got into a “poor situation”, he would feel the repercussions. So, I jumped his king. Then I jumped another. Then a few moves later, when it seemed that we were at a stalemate, he made a silly move and I jumped his last king. And though I won the game, I didn’t say it, and I didn’t remove his last piece from the board. He announced, “WE BOTH WON!!”, and I let that declaration stand because it was true after all, wasn’t it? Then we shook hands, because good sportsmanship is more important than board games AND math.
By the way, I’m really happy that I have this memory of playing checkers with my son now. Cleaning the house, in comparison, is forgettable.
(Mathematically…you cannot go wrong with board games. Checkers is a simple, classic game. If you don’t know it or don’t feel comfortable with it, make it a project to learn alongside your kids. The experience will be all the more authentic as they watch you go through your own learning process. The game itself is full of strategy, planning, and patterns. Let it unfold as you go – there is no need to force the “mathy moment” when you’re playing a game like this. It just happens. It’s also important to note that while my son was able to focus on the game and remain interested in it until the end, that may not be the case with him tomorrow, and it may not be the case with your child. THAT IS OKAY. Roll with it. Maybe you end up stacking the checker pieces as high as they go. Maybe you make patterns on the board and move pieces any which way. Adjust your perspective so that you are not upset if the game does not go the way you think it “ought” to go.)