I have the utmost respect for teachers. How they can take information and knowledge and impart it to another person leaves me in awe! I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see when the “spark” of understanding hits a child, and it’s always one of the most wonderful sights to witness. You can see the light bulb practically turn on! That “Aha!” moment, when everything falls into place and makes sense. Sometimes it almost knocks you out with its force.
Case in point, the other day when I was playing a game with a bunch of six-year-olds. It was a dice game, and really pretty simple -- unless you don’t understand the notion of evens and odds. Then it gets tricky.
I realized that I was in trouble right away from the blank stares I received as I explained the game. I knew the kids would enjoy the game, but the question became how to explain what was an odd number, and what was an even number. The notion that 1, 3, and 5 were odd and 2, 4, and 6 were even, was confusing to the guests. I could see them shifting from foot to foot in anxiety. I sensed that I was about to lose them, but then I pulled out my dice and it hit me: odds have “belly buttons” (on dice), and evens do not!
I was able to explain this concept easily by using the dice itself as a prop.
“Look,” I said as I held the die to my stomach so that the number one side faced them. “The odd number is a belly button!” The dot that adorns the “one” side of the die did indeed look just like a giant belly button on my tummy. I saw the glimmer of recognition in the birthday girl’s eye. I pushed on.
Turning the die to first 3, then 5, I showed them how each of those sides also had a “belly button” dot smack dab in the center. To explain further, I rolled the die to the 2, the 4, and then the 6, explaining how the straight rows of dots lacked one in the center, in other words -- no belly button. I saw it click. They got it.
I quickly changed the game from “Odds and Evens” to “Belly Buttons and Straighties,” and it became a huge success. We’d roll the giant dice, and the kids would scream out “Belly button!” or “Straighties!” in glee as they hopped forward a step.
I must pause a moment to also applaud the learning abilities of children. Their minds are so flexible and absorbent! It’s unbelievable how much knowledge they can suck up from something as simple as a game.
If you want to try out “Belly Buttons” (as it’s now called) it’s quite simple to play. You will need a die -– we use a big giant foam one that we bought at Oriental Trading company, but you can use a little one if it’s all you have -- and a playing field.
1. Divide your group into 2 teams, the “belly buttons” and the “straighties.” Designate a starting line and have the teams line up, shoulder to shoulder, behind it. You may want to mark the teams with bandannas or hair scrunchies (we use these around the wrist to designate team members), just so you can keep track of each team’s progress.
2. Designate and mark the ending point. You may want to mark this with cones or boxes, or simply make the ending point a big tree or chair. The ending point should be at lease 10 to 15 feet away from the starting line.
3. Kids love to roll the dice, so make sure you let everyone have a turn. Don’t have the kids come to you to roll the die, just take the die to their place on the field so they don’t lose their spot.
4. Have the first child roll the die. If it’s an odd yell out “belly button!” Everyone on the belly button team then gets to take one leap/jump/hop/step forward. If it’s an even yell out “straighties!” and those on the even team move forward.
5. Keep playing until one whole team has made it over the finish line (this evens out those players that have larger strides and jumping abilities).
It’s a simple game, and once the idea settles, a simple concept. All I know is that once that connection was made, the kids had a great time.
So to you in the teaching profession: I salute you, because that one little experience has made me realize just how hard you work day in and day out to make the magic of learning special and real to our children. Thank you -– from the bottom of my belly button!