Marvelous Math Lessons from Monopoly

We’re still early enough in our home education to allow basic games to form a substantial part of our “work.” For instance, UNO was a great help to us in committing numbers to memory for easy recall. Moreover, as Tater was an early reader and has already advanced to chapter books with minimal assistance from us, we’ve recently begun to use basic instruction books to teach him how to follow written directions.

Enter our new friend, Mr. Monopoly and his colorful land where fate and skill are both challenged.

Created way  back in 1934, the dapper little fellow has been prancing about Boardwalk and Park Place for 77 years. Reportedly over 480 million people have played the game. More than five billion of those little green houses exist.

Over time the beloved game has become a bit of joke. Many adults will roll their eyes at the prospect of slinging dice for hours on end. Did I mention yet that the record for the longest game last 77 days? Did that make you cringe?

If so, try to remember when you were a kid and those metal avatars, er, pieces were shiny and new-looking, the game was sort of irresistible. It felt grown-up to own property and hold all that cash. Play it again today, and your kids will be hooked on puzzling through all kinds of things like: conducting basic monetary transactions; addition and basic multiplication (“If one ‘Utility’ is owned, rent is 4 times amount shown on dice.”); and subitization.

Sub-it-i-what?, you’re thinking. Unless you’re a math teacher, then you know the answer already. Collect $200.

For the rest of us, subitization is the word coined back in 1943 to explain how you and I can look at these two dice and think, “Oh, that’s 8!”:

In other words, subitization is the ability to make confident, accurate judgments about the value of small numbers. Games like Monopoly can be a great way for children to be exposed to representations of 1 – 10, all organized in such a way as to be easily memorized. Those pips in the dice are learning tools!

Although home educators may start out educating their kids and wondering, “How will I ever teach algebra and pre-calculus at home?,” the reality is that it’s basic math literacy skills like subitization are learned at home through games and visits to shops and such. Other skills such as counting and the ever-slightly more complicated skill of estimating with larger numbers are also demonstrated and practiced as part of everyday life. Mastery of these skills make the foundation for higher-level math, but they also comprise the majority of math one undertakes managing a home or on the job.

In other words, when your kiddo is ready (and some younger children will need more assistance than others), playing classic family board games can be a great, inexpensive and fun way to drill basic math facts and teach essential skills, too. It’s not fancy or even expensive, but as we’re learning here… the best learning experiences seldom are.

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Update (10/25/11) Looks like subitization is even more important than I realized when I wrote this post. Check out this story:  Math Disability Linked to Problem Relating Quantities to Numerals. Here’s the gist:

Children who start elementary school with difficulty associating small exact quantities of items with the printed numerals that represent those quantities are more likely to develop a math-related learning disability than are their peers, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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