Last week, before I left for work in the morning, N. caught sight of a box on a high shelf that has long tantalized him because it has a picture of a train on it, and he asked if he could look at it. I told him it was a game called Monopoly but it was for older kids. He still wanted it, so I took it down and of course he immediately wanted to know how to play. I started teaching him the basic rules, and he was completely absorbed. It was all I could do to get him to pause so we could eat breakfast; I promised Daddy would take my place in the game after we ate and I left for work.
I called home to check in with Tim and N. later in the day, and heard that they'd played Monopoly for 3 hours, until they finished the game we'd begun. N. won!
It had been many years since I last played Monopoly, and looking at it through the eyes of my six-year-old, I was impressed by how much the game develops the main learning tasks N. is focused on right now: he had to work hard to read the property cards as well as the chance and community chest cards. He had to do lots of math as he managed his money. In the game he finally seemed to understand the concept of making change with bills, something that had been confusing to him in real-life situations. He learned about auctioning and mortgaging and rent. And playing with Tim, he learned about thinking strategically and logically because Tim is all about optimal play. As N. told me, he made a particular choice in the game because "that's one of Daddy's principles." A true card player, Tim plays games to win, partly because he likes winning, but mainly because he likes the intellectual challenge of figuring out the optimal move or play at any given moment and in the long term. It drives him a bit nuts that I don't generally play games this way but am much more haphazard (and am no card player). I suspect he and N. have many hours of games ahead of them!