"Good game"

Please tell me you remember this awesome board game:


Maybe this serves as early evidence of my future math-geekdom, but I was a HUGE fan of this game as a kid. Naturally, I was delighted when my girls received it as a gift from Grandma last year.

This is one of the first games I can recall that gave me the opportunity to handle money. I have vivid memories of counting my dollars and cents, scheming about how to avoid the "SPEND" squares, and wondering: "Is it really worth it to deposit $2.00 when I land on the bank space?" I've been reading a book called How Children Learn by John Holt. He believed that "a child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing." Maybe this is why The Allowance Game is so memorable for me!

After school yesterday, Grace pulled it out of the closet and asked if we could play before dinner. I inhaled and considered it: I'm almost nine-months pregnant with a busy 22 month-old who jumps at the chance to annihilate any board game, Lego tower, or craft we might set up for the big girls. All these things considered, at 4pm I typically send the kids outside or turn on a show so I can put up my feet for a few minutes.

But as I mentioned, I LOVE THIS GAME. I couldn't say no.

We set up the game board on the patio table in the backyard, hoping that Megan could more easily amuse herself outdoors while we played. We decided to share the role of "banker" and all was well for the first few turns. Eventually, Grace ran into a problem...

GRACE: I need to buy bubble gum for $0.45 but I don't have any more coins. Here's $1, I need my change.

ME: How much change do you think I should give you? 

GRACE: I don't know, Mommy. 

ME: Can I show you how to figure it out?

GRACE: No. I just want to give you the money and you give me the change. 

ME: But look, if we just lay out some coins together, I can teach you how to figure it out.

GRACE: (losing her patience now) Mom, this game is NOT about learning! It's just to play and have fun!

ME: (trying really hard to suppress an eye roll)

GRACE: Someday you can teach me Mommy, maybe when I'm 7.

It took willpower to swallow my teacher pride in that moment, and let Grace be where she was at. John Holt reminds us that children will "learn what they are ready to learn, when they are ready to learn it." 

Around 5 o'clock we moved the game inside, so the girls could continue playing while I finished cooking dinner. (Side note: longer days are coming! It was awesome to be outside between 4 and 5 o'clock, without jackets, still enjoying some sunshine!) I didn't really monitor their gameplay or intervene at all—there was surely some banker corruption and/or pilfering going on while I wasn't looking. After fifteen minutes or so, I heard a shriek...

GRACE: I won! I have $21!

AMY: Good game, Grace! (Mommy's heart bursts)

GRACE: But Amy, I actually don't care how much money I have, I just want to keep playing. (heart bursts again)

Today, Grace wasn't interested in learning how to make change for $1. At first I was frustrated (and a little hurt) about missing what I felt was a teachable moment. After thinking about it some more, I see that the lesson here was in my restraint. I took off my teacher hat and let Grace enjoy the game in her own way. Clearly the fun of it wasn't in the "learning" or the "winning," but in the handling of money and feeling like a big kid. She's still building all kinds of skills, even if making change for $1 wasn't one of them today. Had I pushed on with my teaching, I may have spoiled the game for her.

So what's the moral of the story? It's okay to trust your kids and let them "just play."

Eventually they will be ready for the HOW and WHY things work, and they'll let you know. Grace says, "when I'm 7."