Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Things We Take For Granted

I work with a group of teenagers three mornings a week in an arts program for community youth leaders. If I tried to explain the kind of education they receive at their public schools, this would be a very long post: rote learning, brain-dead teachers, perilous infrastructure... It's a very economically challenged community, so most of the kids don't have much more than the family T.V. for indoor entertainment. Most of them graduate high school without ever having read a book.

I've always loved board games and my son
has been playing them since he was 2yo.

But most of my 16yo students
don't know board games, so I decided to use our games in class today.

My son helped me by teaching UNO and pick-up sticks in small groups of four. I taught Jenga and Memory.

It was painful to see how much the kids struggled with Memory and the seemingly simple skills involved (like knowing not to pick up the same first card every time), skills that one would assume the average young adult has. I realized how easy it is to take the development of logic and strategy in such simple games for granted.

On the other hand, in Jenga and pick-up sticks, the skills learned naturally by being raised around weavers and builders were clear. The patience and precision with which they proceeded was, I'm pretty sure, way beyond what could be expected from the average western teen (given that the western teen had never played before either).

So don't forget to play lots of games!
They might be teaching your kids much more than you realize.


  1. We love board games and card games. I have very fond memories of growing up playing both with my family and friends, and made sure to include them in my son's life from an early age.

    But, we know many kids - even affluent ones! - who have never played a board game or card game.

    I would love to know about how and where you work with these kids. I've been wanting to do group creative writing and group art classes. Having trouble finding a public space to use, and not sure about using my home (we live in a 1 bedroom apartment...). Thanks in advance for any thoughts...

  2. The project's website is
    and has a pretty good description of how we started and how we run our programs.

    I know it's a lot more difficult in the US to run activities like these because of laws and liability. We don't have to worry about that here. Are you working through an organization, or independently?

  3. I work independently. I'll check out that site and maybe can get some ideas...yes, the issues of liability are the biggest roadblock here.