Don’t read this if your children are happily following their regular school math curriculum at home. Do read this if you need to be reassured that the activities your children prefer to do may actually have educational value.

Right now, my children prefer to play board games.** And not the board games I like.

Today we played Risk. This game confuses me. I didn’t play it as a kid. My adult brain doesn’t want to deal with this game right now. BUT my adult brain is also wise enough to know that it doesn’t really need to deal. Here’s what “home school” looked like today and why it was a great learning day…

The 11-year-old and the 7-year-old set up the game. I got myself a cozy blanket and a cup of tea. I let my phone rest in another room (except  when I noticed the mathy moment and needed to take a photo of it.) The last time we tried to play this game, we missed a key instruction, so this time the 11-year-old read the instructions very carefully and very thoroughly. (Boom! Learning opportunity #1: Reading comprehension practice!) Then he had to explain his understanding multiple times not just to me (I am very patient), but also to his younger brother (less patient.) (Learning opportunity #2: Communication skills!)

We placed our game pieces all over the board, which gave us the opportunity to talk about what the board actually looks like. Seeing a map of the world offers so many openings for discussion. Pick and choose what works for you. (Learning opportunity #3: Geography, World Politics, Map-making, etc. etc.)

As you play Risk, you must make decisions about how your troops will move into other territories. You need to decide how many troops to move and where to move them. In the process, you will be trading out infantry, cavalry, and artillery — representing 1, 5, and 10 troops respectively. The 11-year-old managed these exchanges with ease. The 7-year-old is not yet adept with how to add and subtract his number of troops. So, while he can do the paper math problem 5 – 3 = 2, he does not yet see the same problem when he places a cavalry down and picks up 3 of his infantry, leaving him 2 infantry to work with. (Learning opportunity #3: Numerical flexibility! Mental math!) If I just blew your mind with that un-illuminating explanation, don’t worry. You don’t need to understand what I just said (or tried to say…it’s not the best description) for your child to get the mental benefits from it.

Throughout the game you and your kids will be making all sorts of strategic decisions. Part of the risk of Risk is your decision about the likelihood of rolling particular dice combinations in defense of your territory. Again, you do not need to understand the math behind that in order for your child to experience its value. (Learning opportunity #4: Experience with probability and odds)

Are you convinced? I was. Perhaps it was just because I needed to be convinced…today my kids did not want to do “school math”, but they were excited to play a very long and complicated (to my mind) board game.

Until, of course, the inevitable happened…

The 11-year-old became discouraged because he didn’t like losing to both his little brother and his mother, and the 7-year-old saw his opportunity to inflict pain as his troops moved in. (Learning opportunity #5: Knowing when to stop.)

(Mathematically…if your children are asking to play a game, do it. There’s likely some math value to it. Or some other learning value. Or, at the very least, some family bonding value.)

**Untrue. They actually prefer to play video games.