The Making of a First-Grade Data Hound

My son’s first-grade teacher recently held an open house to tell the parents what their kids will be learning this year, and how they’ll be going about it. I have to say, it was pretty impressive. My favorite part had to do with turning the kids into first-grade (if not first-rate) empiricists.

The teacher, a wonderful veteran from Texas named Barbara, described an upcoming project: collecting data on some or all of the 22 playgrounds in Central Park.

First, the kids will vote on their favorite and least favorite playgrounds in the park. Then they will collect data on a variety of metrics: number of swings, amount of open space, shady vs. sunny areas, etc. Then they will try to figure out the factors that make a good playground good and a bad playground bad. They will also consider the safety of each playground, and other measures.

We did not do this kind of project when I was in first grade; frankly, I am envious.

I recently played a game with my kids in Central Park that is along these same lines. We sat on one of our favorite rocks overlooking the Loop, a six-mile road that runs through the park, and I asked if they thought there were more runners or cyclists going past. Both kids were certain that there were more cyclists — perhaps because, since the cyclists are so much faster than the runners, they make more of an impression. So we made a little bet (I took runners, they took cyclists), and started counting to see which would pass us first: 100 runners or 100 cyclists. I won, but not by much: 100-87.

That was early on a weekday evening. But a few days later, we played the same game on a weekend morning. The kids stuck to their guns and picked cyclists. This time they were right: the cyclists blew away the runners. I guess there are a lot of people who aren’t willing to unpack their bikes for a weekday evening ride, especially as the days are getting shorter, but are willing to go to the trouble on a weekend morning. It was a good lesson for all of us, and it has us on the lookout for other things to measure.

What fun and games do you all employ to help make your kids reality-aware?


I'm not impressed by your child's first grade teacher. Teachers are good at making up crap and passing it off as learning. I'm a teacher and see it all day long. Ask your kid what s/he learned and you might get, "I'm not sure...but it was fun."

You can dress up basic learning skills and impress anybody: "This year we will investigate how one uses a diverse group of multiplicands and multipliers in order to facilitate our understanding of repetitive addition in a more efficient manner that will ultimately lead us to work faster and apply our newly acquired skill to authentic situations that we may encounter in a real life situation - in other words, we will learn how to multiply".

Education standards written as such and teachers who endorse them without question are rather dull folks. Do a quick search of elementary state standards and you'll find they read like a college syllabus.

Your kids are better off acquiring the basics, cultivating good work habits, organizational skills, and learning how to be a good friend to others. First grade ain't what it used to be.



We play a lovely game called "Don't Expect Me to Buy You Stuff because You Blew Your Chore Money on Chocolate." There are, of course, many variations.


"Reality-aware" - I like it. It's a rosier alternative to "science-illiterate" - which most of our nation, nevermind their children, is. Kudos.

I don't have suggestions for games to play with children that young, but when I was in the third or fourth grade, a visiting school official played a game that drove me nuts with excitement:

He first had me describe concepts I'd learned in science class (atoms, molecules, etc.) using none of the terms I was fed in class ("atoms," "molecules," etc.), and using descriptive terminology (i.e. no "stuff," "sort of," etc.). In other words, to quantitatively and qualitatively describe a concept, rather than repeat a lesson.

Granted, I was infamously the school geek back then - but nonetheless. Stuck with me.


My child is 2 years old. When I go shopping I make her pay. When I buy ice cream I make her tell me how much it the board says it cost. Since it is 1 dollar it is easy. (money doesn't grow on trees lesson)

If she wants something from target that is a want not a need, she has to read the name on the label so we can get it.(she knows her alphabet lower and upper case)

I make her go and turn on the TV for me and put in the DVD and push play. She brings me the remote and gets me yogurt from the fridge.( Adults are too lazy to get their own remotes lesson)

Whenever I lose TiVo remote, I have her find it. (Things get lost and they must be found lesson)

When she wants to read I ask her the name of the book and the name of the author that wrote it. (I am trying to teach her that books don't write themselves)

I have a lot of more games we play together. She knows all her colors and shades of. She can count to 27 and can add up to 7. She can spell 5 words I guess I must do something right or tramautizing her for life. I haven't decided which one yet.



I would guess that those things which you do not consciously teach your children are much greater than the ones that you can consciously teach them. The Greeks called it 'doxa,' or that which goes unsaid and is implicit in culture, in norms, in institutionalized values.

Then again, am I just being cynical or ignorant because I'm not a parent?


Vacation = License plate state game.


When I notice that they have somehow come home with a toy from a fast food establishment, we play, what comes first:

The toy breaks or
Dad throws away toy because it was left unattended on the floor

As they get older I intend to introduce them to the Over/Under line and change it to "how many minutes will it take to break or get thrown away"


My son has loved to add up the cost of groceries since he was about 5. As we go through the store, we talk about which products we buy and why (quality, price, sales, taste preference) and he uses a calculator to keep a running tally. When we get up to the register, it just thrills him when our calculator is within $1 of the actual cost (a little tricky sometimes, especially if we're estimating the cost of a bunch of produce.) But, it keeps him busy and involved with the trip and helps him learn math concepts along the way.


Not science or economics, but maybe language arts. We had a blast with my high school children on a recent road trip, thinking up names for the football teams with the funnier town names along the way. Princess, Kentucky had us in tears!


I don't have kids, but I when I was a child my parents played TONS of games with me that were centerered around learning and imagination.

-I never had coloring books. They would just give me blank white paper and tell me to have at it. This gave me a lot of room to be creative.

-Before we would go anywhere they would say, "Now, if you are REALLY good, we will buy you a book." This made me think of reading as a reward, and not something I HAD to do.

-Everything in our house was labeled with the Spanish word, so I grew up speaking English and Spanish.

-Even the corners had little activities, like the alphabet and shapes. I was a good kid and was hardly ever sent to the corner, but my brother, he was ALWAYS in the corner.

This might sound like my parents were those crazy people showing flashcards to us out of the womb, but they weren't. They just saw the value in engaging our minds with learning instead of plopping us in front of the tv. Oh and, I only got to watch an hour of tv a day.

As a result, I am a VERY curious 30 year old woman. I love learning to this day. The world facinates me. I can find an interest in just about any subject and I can't think of the last time I complained that I was bored.


D. Johnson

The best game I ever endured as a kid was the "yes/no" paradox. It goes like this:

Older brother: "No means yes. Do you want me to punch you?"

The lesson: Some people are just jerks and it's best to keep my mouth shut.


OMG...coolrepublica, your kids head is going to are raising the next school shooter

Gaye Englund

When my kids were little they loved "The Geography Game". The idea was to tell a story and disguise the name of a country in with it and everyone guessed the country. For example: When we went to buy lunch everyone joined the queue bar (CUBA) Dad. Strange little game but we all loved it.



You are scaring me! She is a very happy child. Always smiling and she is independent. She actually wants to pay for stuff and she is a bit too good at turning on the DVD. When I want to watch a show and she wants to watch Maisy, if I say no she gets her Maisy DVD and puts in the DVD changes the TV component and pushes play.

I doubt she is going to be the next school shooter. She has no trouble learning these thing. I discovered that she spunges things up. She wants to learn. And all my games are fun. I don't go say you must learn or you die. As long as the games are fun kids can learn just about anything.


One begins to wonder if rebecca, like others is curious/inquisitive in life because of those games or because she shares genes with parents that had her play them. But of course the answer is both

Also, Deb, that's a little harsh don't ya think? I'm sure coolrepublica's will be wiser (and more resourceful) for it all


I can't remember which blog gave me the idea, but now I do this with my three kids (9,6 and 3):

When a commercial comes on they have to tell me what they are selling in the commercial. It helps the kids realize that the commercials are not there to show you what is cool or to entertain you but to sell you something.


You go, coolrepublica.

Two year olds are smart little buggers. It seems like all you've done is open up some more avenues for her to express herself!

I once babysat a little boy who was one-and-a-half and would bang his head on the floor in an appalling act of frustration and self-punishment because he was unable to express his wishes in a way that would make the adult world understand him. (He's a perfectly healthy ten-year-old now, btw.) It's too bad he didn't have the tools that your child has to aid him in his communication!

John B

I did the best thing for my kids, and for the world: I didn't have any. :o)



I think that you should have your child take an IQ test before she starts school. My guess is that normal schools might not be right for her.


"As long as the games are fun kids can learn just about anything."

Last famous words of a "fun" teacher who abhors testing children - someone might find out that the kid really doesn't know anything...learning is fun for those who enjoying learning. It's been my experience as a teacher that that notion applies to very few American children. Granted, the younger the kids the easier it is to play games - the content to be learned is rather simple. But, along the way, most kids realize that not every lesson can be a game but a requisite, and perhaps, a tedious skill that will allow one to better play the game of life. My daughter is at the top of her game, so to speak, but she knows that a lot of what she learns must be memorized, practiced, and used in order to think. Too many teachers ask kids to think before they've learned anything to think about, especially fun elementary teachers (3rd to 5th).