Yahtzee

We rarely know how far our work goes, but once I got a glimpse—

I was working with some parents on producing a manual of family math activities (Family Math Fun!). We met twice a week for 11 weeks.

Jeannie (not her real name) only came to the first session, where I showed the group how to play Yahtzee, and gave them all dice and score cards to take home. We played a few rounds so that everyone got familiar with the game.

As the project came to a close a few months later, I asked all the participants to come in for a final interview, and Jeannie was happy to come.

Since she had attended only one session, I did not expect her to have got much benefit from the group, but I simply asked my first question, “Has coming to this group made any changes in your life?” She answered with a decisive yes.

She said that she and her husband got along better, as did the kids. “We have better communication. I see my daughters helping each other with school math by using a ruler or calendar, explaining, not just giving the answer.”

I asked what had made the change.

She said, “Yahtzee.” She told me that she went home after the first group session, showed her family the new game, and they began to play it every evening.

She and her husband always fought, she said, because he thought she was too soft on the kids. So they made an agreement that while they were playing Yahtzee, they would let the kids try to get the answers themselves, by counting the spots on the dice. She said she always wanted to jump in, to help the kids by telling them the answers, but she would glance at her husband, he would shake his head a little, and she would wait for the kids to do it themselves. If the kids asked for help, the parents would help them.

In her interview with me, she noted that the positive side of this family play time was “learning how to laugh together,” “developing teamwork,” and the pleasure of “watching the kids learn to help each other.” She said that waiting for the kids to ask for help “develops their self esteem and helps them ask questions at school.” She concluded by saying, “Last week, my husband sat me down and said, ‘I want to thank you for bringing Yahtzee into this house. It brought us together.’”

It was lucky for me that Jeannie was so articulate a participant, and had clearly done a lot of reflecting on her family dynamics. She showed me how far a set of dice can go!

9 thoughts on “Yahtzee

  1. Pingback: Life Changing | Working in Adult Literacy

  2. That’s a very beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

    I have a close friend who is not fully educated – actually, she works for me in the house cooking. She is a wonderful cook and has an exceptionally good brain but was not able to afford schooling when she was young. I have recently taught her to build websites! Can you imagine? She is very good at it but it is also hard to watch her struggle to find the answers, but she always does. It is amazing what a person can do when they are left to their own devices.

  3. Kate this story really makes me step back and realize that every task I do in my adult education classroom will have long lasting effects. I may never know about them, but they will nonetheless make some difference in the lives of the people connected to those in my class. I have for many years used games and humor to teach the lessons I deem most needed but never stopped to think that maybe my students would be taking them home and doing this as well in such a long succession of learning…how exciting!! One small step today….as the saying goes.

  4. This was SO true of my household growing up. My family played cards, dominoes, Scrabble, word scramble, etc. at least once a week. Many, many year laters all four “children” are avid readers, good at numeracy, and most importantly, know how to “win” and “lose.” Life lessons are so easily taught around the dinner table as well as the game table. And my memories of playing games with my parents and siblings are priceless! At the holidays we still talk about all our antics as kids. Thanks for the memories, Kate!

  5. Kate I love this story! Thanks for sharing. This is the way (back in the day) that literacy learning success and impact was reported to funders and the public – directly from the voice of students, their community/famly and educators. Although I see the purpose of matrixes and curriculum frameworks, etc for goal path mapping, for me stories like the Yahtzee story speak the truth and the real. Nancy

  6. Love this story Kate. Now this is how learning success and program value should be approached and if necessary related to curriculum frameworks and matrixes – learner self-reflection on the impact and value of the lerning experience. That is real! Nancy

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