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!