The games we play

When we were children, board games used to be the mainstay of our holidays. So when my five-year-old was given a game of snakes-and-ladders, I gladly introduced him to the world of rolling dice and colourful counters.

Initially, he just went along with the game, fascinated by the yellow ladders and twisting serpents. I was delighted that he picked up addition of numbers while playing. Slowly, laboriously he would count the dots on the face of the die and move the counters on the board. When we used a pair of dice, he added all the dots and made the moves. Finally, he could add the number of dots to the number on which the counters stood and move them in one go. Our math lessons went off very well.

But the games did not. Peals of laughter and sounds of delight accompanied my tumble down a snake or his ascent up a ladder. However, if he slid down or I climbed up, the dice would be hurled far away, the counters scattered and the board would have to be saved from certain mutilation. I doubt he appreciated my explanations of ‘you-win-some, you-lose-some’, but after several tantrums and gallons of angry tears, he reluctantly accepted the downs with the ups.

That was many months ago. We now play one game before bedtime or till he wins so that his day doesn’t end in disappointment. The smile on his sleeping face is proof of time well-spent. Was learning the math as important as learning to enjoy the game?
When he plays the game of life, I’d rather he remembers to shrug nonchalantly when metaphorical snakes pull him down, to be modest after successfully climbing a ladder of achievements, patient when a series of ‘ones’ makes progress frustratingly slow and to be happy for friends who have achieved more. Since that would be asking for the moon, the least I could hope for is that he doesn’t forget to keep rolling the dice and moving on — which is far more important than reaching the ‘finish’ first.

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