I still remember a time when the power went out for a few hours. To make the most of the opportunity, my folks went into the closet, grabbed flashlights and the board set for Othello. We played for a couple hours before heading off to bed for the night. It wasn't a massive tragedy because we were perfectly content with each other's company and a little friendly (mostly) competition.
As we've grown up, newer (and more challenging) games have been brought into the family. Most notable are Phase 10 (even made up a spreadsheet to track your phases and points) and Trains, which is often called "Mexican Train Dominoes". I'm not a fan of the latter term and don't know its origin, but it's a fun game regardless of who's playing it. Once we send the kids (who are 4 and almost 2) off to bed, we'll break out the case of dominoes and begin the game.
This time, it was a lot different. My oldest son has a case of Hand/Foot/Mouth, which is a gnarly looking rash that covers his, you guessed it, hand, foot, and mouth. To a non-medical person (me), this looks like it would be painful and pandemic-ish. To my wife (a nurse), it's nothing to worry about, so I defer to her feelings on the matter. Rather than going outside and potentially making matters worse, we hung out inside during his younger brother's nap (aka peace and serenity time) and dumped the box of dominoes.
This was either going to be a huge test of patience or a fun learning and playing opportunity. We played open hands just to make it more of a fun experience and let him in on all of the rules. He was very aware and caught on pretty quick. The cool stuff started happening immediately, knowing that he is learning to count and understand the difference between identifying whole numbers in school. To throw this in here, I am constantly inspired by Christopher Danielson's work with "Talking Math With Your Kids". Check it out.
From here, things got fun. I asked him how many dots were on the first domino, and he proficiently stated that there were eight. But wait, there are more than 8! He was able to keep the two sides separate from each other. Maybe it was the black line, maybe it was the different colors, but he knew what I meant when I asked him the question. Great start.
Before we really got going, my wife asked him which row would be the best one to play. In other words, which one had more dominoes. He reverted back to his counting skills, but no longer the dots. Instead, he was counting whole dominoes to determine which one had more. We were all happy when he chose the middle row. Why? "Because it has more in there". For now, I'm super happy with that justification. Later on, we'll tease that out.
We started to play the game and shared the rules along the way about waiting your turn, playing on your own train unless someone else can't go, and a few others. He was alert and looking around the board at the whole time. Now, a quick disclaimer: I'm not the dad that always lets my kid win for the sake of his feelings. He needs to earn it. Well, not long into the game, he proved his prowess of the board.
At first, he just reached for the closest one, but we stopped him and asked him to think about it. Count the dots on both and see which one you would rather use. Once again, he disregarded the 11s on both dominoes. Did he already know that those were irrelevant? Equal? I wish I could see in his thought process during that portion. Either way, he counted. "...7, 8, 9 and ...3, 4, 5". Once he had his values, 5 and 9, we asked which one he would rather use. He promptly perked up and replied "I want to play this one (holding up the 9)". When asked why, he said that "it has more dots". I'm just oozing with joy, even still, that this was processed in his head without assistance. Sure, I should have asked him how many more dots there were, but I was just excited that he could conceptualize a count being greater than another. One thing I do regret is not asking him to explain his reasoning a little bit more. Oh well.
Either way, it was another fun conversation to talk about zero and zero plus zero. He wasn't as amused with it as I was, but he still played along with my silly math game.
As predicted, the game ended with a waking giant, his almost 2 year-old brother, coming by and wreaking havoc on the playing board. That's perfectly fine, though. I look forward to the days where we can sit around as a family and play board/card games to build camaraderie and that element of family that I hold so close to my heart from my own childhood. Until then, we are stuck looking for the missing domino in the house: