Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I guess I've been taking the kids down my own memory lane lately, first with Battling Tops, and now with Skittle Bowl, which is a pendulum bowling game. It was playing this game that I learned to keep score, which we did just the way one keeps score in actual bowling. I actually rather enjoyed writing those numbers into tiny boxes, making slashes and "X's" to mark the spares and strikes if for no other reason than that it gave me something to do while it was someone else's turn.

Sadly, I can't recall the last time I was actually charged with keeping my own score at a bowling alley since they all seem to have gone with automated scoring systems. Now, I reckon that most avid bowlers not only can keep score themselves, having learned it through osmosis, and are grateful to be spared (if you'll excuse the pun) the tedious task of doing it by hand, but for us occasional bowlers, and especially children, it robs the sport of some of it's educational value.

Over the years, I've come into possession of several small table top bowling sets to go along with my old Skittle Bowl game, which means that every now and then we set up a sort of bowl-o-rama in one corner of the room. It's never as popular as I hope or expect and yesterday I was working on the theory that it's because of the second automated aspect of real bowling: re-setting the pins. Frankly, that's what you spend most of your time doing, so it really doesn't surprise me when enthusiasm wanes after a couple frames.

Now, on the one hand, I'm all for kids doing for themselves and there's a lot to be learned about patience and being careful and one-to-one correspondence in the act of re-setting pins, but after having your handiwork immediately knocked down by a classmate or your own clumsiness as often as by your own ball, and even when all goes according to plan one must do it all over again, I understand that the reward just may not ultimately be worth the effort. Even in super old-school bowling allies, they wound pay people to reset pins -- the sport would have gone nowhere without that innovation. In other words, this set-up, although filled with potential, has rarely been a smashing success.

Still, I trotted the bowling set up out for the Pre-K class yesterday, not with a solution to the pin-setting issue in mind, but with an idea for how the kids could keep their own score. I suggested that they could use our little chalk boards to make "tally marks," demonstrating the idea at circle time before turning them loose, also suggesting that they might want to attempt to achieve a score of 10.

The idea of tally marks, keeping track of how many pins you knock down by simply making a small mark, is more challenging than our adult minds at first conceive, I think. It's a kind of abstraction of the one-to-one correspondence skills required to reset the pins on dots, and since we were attempting to keep track progressively, meaning adding more tally marks to our running total with each ball thrown, it became a hands-on demonstration of not just counting, but addition. The kids, at least, found it absorbing. I was thrilled to check in to find that most of them were concentrating on keeping score up to 10, counting, erasing, checking and re-checking, some actually doing it, while others pretended, coming up with their own methods. In fact, so popular was the activity that I had to run to the storage room to break out more chalk boards and chalk.

What was truly an innovation over our former Woodland Park table top bowling attempts, however, was that Connor's mom Tricia, the parent-teacher responsible for the station, was quietly and quickly serving as an automatic pin re-setter.  While the kids labored over their tally marks, she made it so that when they returned to their starting point, the pins were ready to go. Strike!

I should have come to this realization years ago, but I couldn't see the solution for my pedagogy of kids doing for themselves. Silly teacher. 

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