“Sure,” I replied while losing again to his ten-year-old brother. Admittedly, I agreed through gritted teeth, since I like to win just as much as I like to be right. However, my sons’ growing prowess with words delights me, wordsmith that I am. At the start of our homeschooling experience, science and math ruled the house. Looking back, I can see they dominated our plans and energy at home mostly because they weren’t as easily available in school. For years, science, math, and history were our subjects of focus. I worked language arts into the edges for many years. However, in the last year, there’s been a swing toward all things wordy. My younger took up writing and discovered a love of literature, vocabulary, and grammar. My older has embraced crossword puzzles, Scrabble, and Quiddler. While he’s not as naturally inclined to enjoy vocabulary study, he’s made some gains in that department via these games.
Quiddler, by SET Enterprises, is a card game of word creation. Played in eight rounds with two players or more, the goal is to use all the cards in your hand to make words. Speed is not a requirement, and neither is a vocabulary of long words. A larger vocabulary helps, as does knowledge of large number of two letter words, but a word master may find herself at the mercy of a ten-year old with a fine vocabulary and a good ability to anagram. It’s happened to me three times this morning. We play with the Scrabble dictionary on the table. Consulting the dictionary to confirm that your word is indeed a word is legal in our game. Dictionary delving (searching endlessly for the best word) is verboten, mostly because it slows the game down for everyone.
Scrabble is another favorite around here. Soon after Facebook entered my life, I discovered the joys of online Scrabble. I was not the best speller, and live, in-person Scrabble just emphasized my spelling woes. I’d played some as a child, but this was my first go at the game as an adult. In addition to boasting an online dictionary and two-letter-word list, the online version won’t let you play a word that isn’t a word. Now we’re talking. My older son soon found a new reason to stand behind me at the computer, and he discovered he had a talent for word placement and seven-letter word finding. When he was old enough to have his own account, he started playing with my friends online. He’s good, but he forgets to play, sometimes for weeks at a time, or just loses interest. He prefers to swoop into my games and save the day. I’m good with that.
Scrabble played on a real Scrabble board occurs in fits and spurts around here. My younger took to the game a few years back, at a time when his spelling was, well, unconventional. Competing was out of the question, so we tallied our scores together, creating one giant score that we tried to best as a team. He learned some spelling and vocabulary. I learned a good deal of patience. We both had fun. My older and I played as well, although with individual scores. He was spelling-challenged at that time, too, so I allowed dictionary checks. I also permitted a fair amount of dictionary delving, which taught him plenty of new words but substantially lengthened the game. (I’d read, check the laundry, or check my email between turns.) While my younger’s lost interest in Scrabble now, my older enjoys playing, especially with a larger group. As he’s become a stronger player, I’ve insisted on less dictionary involvement (and none if the rest of the group nixes it).
There’s more going on to our word games than just words. Plenty of kids struggle when playing game. Losing is a risk of playing most games, and while my younger and I circumvented that minefield with combined scores in our early Scrabble games, at some point, it has to be faced. Winning can be just as problematic for some, with gloating and showboating hardly the behaviors parents want their children to exhibit when they meet success. Around here, however, are fairly gracious winners. Losing? Well, we’ve come a long way. I’ve not seen tears with a game loss in some time, although tension mounts when reaching the end of some games. More and more, my younger is managing the losses with a moderate amount of grace. It’s a skill well worth learning.
Rule following is another skill honed in game playing. My Aspie ten-year-old loves rules. They anchor his life and provide comfort in a shifting, unpredictable world. I’ve always cursed the rule writers of children’s games instructing that the youngest player go first (note games for adults NEVER mention age when indicating order of play). He extrapolated that rule to include all games for all time, a pattern that does NOT go over well with groups of kids. As he’s matured, he’s less likely to pull the “youngest first” card, but unless the rules to a game mention a specific way to determine order of play, he feels strongly he should go first. We’re working on that
Before my rule lover came along, I never realized how much is omitted in the instructions of many games. “Show me that in the rules!” is a famous battle cry at our house. Often, the questioner is my younger son, and just as undoubtedly, the rules are silent about a matter at hand.
Often, I’ll refer to precedent. “This is the way we do it in game X and Y,” I’ll explain. Yeah, like that’s going to work. This is obviously not game X or Y, so why would that matter, his expression reads. In the interest of raising a child who can be flexible when losing (far more rule questions are raised by this child when he’s not winning), I hold pretty tightly to written and implied rules. I’ll wonder sometimes if I should lighten up, letting him make the call, but in the interest of fairness all around, I tend to be a bit on the rigid side. Sometimes, upon a rule-read, we discover we’ve both been forgetting a rule. On those occasions, we generally make the adjustment on the next game. Overall, rule adherence is improving, so between my coaching and his maturing, something must be going right.
Vocabulary expansion, spelling improvement, rule adherence, flexible thinking, game manners. These are just the start of what we’ve gained on our word game binges. Most importantly, we’ve having a whole lo of fun.