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Playing Monopoly with a 5-year-old taught me a lot about STEM education

Posted by Kelley Williams on

Here is a story that I am sure will make you smile.

A few weekends ago, one of my long-time girlfriends needed a last-minute babysitter. I love kids, so I immediately agreed to help out.

I had forgotten—maybe never quite realized—how active young children are.

Leo was your typical 5-year-old: constantly asking questions, constantly exploring, constantly looking for new things to do and constantly looking new ways for me to entertain him.

Our day together included: drawing pictures, coloring, modeling dinosaurs, hula-hooping and batting around a tennis ball in my backyard. I decided that if I were to survive the day, it was time to find something for the two of us to do that required less energy consumption. 

Lucky for me, as soon as we got back inside, Leo spotted my board games.

I have a ton board games because my mom (who used puzzle pieces to get my sister and me excited about math and science) leveraged board games as a way for us to learn to count, add, subtract, spell, and good sportsmanship above everything else. My passion for board games followed me into adulthood.

Leo sorted through the stack of games on the shelf and pulled out my favorite board game: Monopoly. 

Leo had never played before so I began to explain to him how the game of Monopoly works.

“Just to let you know, this game requires a lot of math,” I said to Leo.

I barely finished my sentence, when Leo blurted out, “Math!? You mean this game is full of worksheets!?"

He dropped the Monopoly box like a bag of hot potatoes and then looked at me suspiciously like I was trying to perpetrate some type of hoax.

Leo completely took me off guard, and I froze for a moment.  

I realized that this bright, precocious child saw math only in one context: a litany of tedious operations printed on a piece of paper, not as something we count on everyday to bring meaning and value to our world.

"No. No worksheets," I reassured Leo. "You just have to count how much money you have to make sure you have enough to buy the properties, houses and hotels on the board. You also have to count the numbers on the dice, and count spaces."

“Oh. Okay. I can do that," said Leo in a matter-of-fact kind of tone. Just as quickly, he picked up the box and began taking out the game board and pieces.

As we played, it became crystal clear that Leo was more than capable of handling the math required to play well.

With very little effort, Leo was able to decide whether the price of a property was worth the expense. Leo understood how adding houses to a property increased its value, meaning that he was able collect more money from me when I landed on it!

Even more ironic, unbeknownst to Leo, it was the math that he professed to despise that made the game fun. He loved rolling the dice, counting the spaces, buying properties, collecting rents, and accumulating "wealth."

Leo even beat me at my own game!

Leo’s response was symptomatic of a huge problem in our educational system. There is a deficit of STEM education that makes math relevant, compelling and interesting to little learners.

This is our mission at Paige & Paxton.

Paige & Paxton books, curriculum and popup events introduce children, 4-7, to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts and careers through the lens of a child. Paige & Paxton provide context so that kids understand that math and science are an integral part of the world in which they live.

The newest kid on the Paige & Paxton block is Parker.

Parker is Paige and Paxton's cousin, and he loves math. Through Parker, kids discover that math is one of the primary tools that we use to make sense of the world around us. Kids connect math to the things that they do everyday and begin to enjoy and embrace the process of math as much as Parker does.

The Paige & Paxton math curriculum goes one step further. 

Kids see math's relationship to science and engineering. Shapes become building blocks of engineering design and patterns are a tool to help scientists predict outcomes.

At Paige & Paxton, we imagine the possibilities that will unfold for the next generation of "Leos."

We’re changing the trajectory of his generation by changing the way kids perceive and interact with math—this essential tool for play, work and life.

5 Ways You Can Join the Movement in 2016


Don't let these cute little faces fool you. We’re on a mission to change the course of a nation by making STEM easy to teach and easy to learn at the very beginning of a child’s educational experience.

  1. Give a Paige & Paxton gift to a child
  2. Spearhead a Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon in your community
  3. Volunteer at a Paige & Paxton STEM Make-a-thon 
  4. Tell a school about our K-2 STEM curriculum
  5. Don't be anti-social. Stay connected!

Written by Kelley O. Williams, Director and Co-Founder of Paige & Paxton (Twitter, LinkedIn)


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