Preschool Years at Home

Laughing, Loving, and Learning Together

Summer Vacation With a Side of Algebra

It’s 102 degrees outside.

The local splash pad feels like an outdoor sauna. Playground equipment is too hot for comfort by mid-morning. And the last time we were at the local zoo, most of the animals were hiding indoors in a desperate effort to escape the TX sun.

So what’s a kid to do over summer vacation when it’s too hot to do anything outside?

Why, learn some algebra, of course! Yes, even at the ages of 8 and 5.

Balance Beans

ThinkFun’s Balance Beans

I’m not a slave driver, I promise. (Well, except perhaps when laundry is involved …) I simply volunteered my kids to test ThinkFun’s new Balance Beans Game. I waited for it to arrive, opened the box, explained game play, and left the kids to entertain themselves. … They’ve been “playing” (aka “learning”) daily since then.

The concept behind the game is straightforward. Children arrange select pieces on a 7 x 3 balance board according to the design shown on a puzzle card. They must then strategically place designated pieces to balance the two sides of the board. Pieces positioned on the center row (Row 4) effectively have a value of 0, altering neither side of the equation. Pieces positioned on the two rows closest to the center (Rows 3 & 5) have a value of 1. Pieces positioned on the two rows next to the outside (Rows 4 & 6) have a value of 2. Pieces positioned on the outside rows (Rows 1 & 7) have a value of 3. Therefore, a single bean on an outside row can balance out a group of three beans on an inner row (x=3y).

Children do not have to understand the math behind the game to play. Through simple hands-on experimentation, young players will quickly discover that beans placed farther from the center lower the balance board more than an equal number of beans placed closer to the center. The first level of puzzle cards may easily be completed purely through play and experimentation.

DSCN1630My 5-year-old, who is at the bottom of the recommended age bracket, quickly grasped the basics of the game, but primarily relied on trial and error to solve the puzzles. Still, she was able to complete all ten of the Easy puzzles in short order, and with each success her confidence and enthusiasm grew.

My mathematically-inclined 8-year-old quickly deduced the formula behind the game and used this knowledge to her advantage as she tackled the Hard puzzle cards.

Even our 2-year-old wanted to get in on the fun. Being two, he wasn’t thrilled with the concept of copying designs shown on puzzle cards and using only designated pieces to solve puzzles. (Two-year-olds aren’t big fans of rules and regulations …) He did, however, understand that both sides needed to balance. With that understanding, he created several symmetrical designs of his own, then branched out and began discovering how fewer beans far from the pivot could balance out a greater number of beans closer to the pivot.

By the end of the first day’s play, all three kids deemed Balance Beans a favorite. With us actively parring down our family game library in preparation for an upcoming move, the older kids were quick to ask, “Can we keep it and take it with us? Please???”

Yes, kids, we can … at least until you’re ready to move beyond elementary algebra, logic, and physics.

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