Counting cows and selling elephants

Last year I took pictures of all my sons Schleich plastic animals, printed and laminated them, my son gave them an individual price and we turned them into a “product directory”. This became the core item of a roleplay that we’d played a lot of times since. We split the animals (trading goods) between us, and some Mancala beads to represent money. We also use an abacus to count the final price when the deal contains more than one animal.

Then the trade begins! He immediately looked for the prefered animals and tried to buy them, but finds out, that he can’t afford just to buy, he needs to sell in order to release capital for further “investments”.

The abacus is a wonderful tool! My son loves it. Sometimes fingers and toes just isn’t enough to keep track of a huge equation. I can feel that soon he will learn to count ten at the time and skip those in the middle. If it wasn’t for the abacus, I believe this would take much more time. The abacus’ physical appearance, with ten beads per series, sends an implicit message to the child, that ten is THE NUMBER, making counting a lot easier. Furthermore, when combining more units (animals) each series can represent a unit, which enables more complex calculations.

Another feature we added last time, was the change of value of the beads. Plastic beads was still worth one “krone” (Danish currency) per bead, but the glass baubles was worth five “kroner” each. This requires a lot more from the child. My son immediately cherished the baubles more than the mancala beads, which made it difficult for me to get them into the trade. But the lack of mancala-money forced him to use them in the end.

The rules:

- Make an index of the toys you want to use as trade goods with pictures and prices. Make sure your child is a part of this!

- Choose a currency. I used plastic beads (worth one per bead) and baubles (worth five per bead).

- Split the money and trading goods between you before start.

- Start trading! As the game evolves, the children will realize that they cannot only buy or sell…they will need to do both. Hopefully this will maintain the experience of flow. Let the children involve other items in the trades and give them a price.

After the game, all the animals needed a cage. And then little sister came along. It then became a battle of constructivism vs. deconstructivism. Guess who won?

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