As I attempt to respond to the edits on the infant-toddler curriculum for school readiness I wrote back in September, my 3-year old asks me to play Candy Land. I strongly dislike the new design of Candy Land and pause to reminisce about the version I knew from my childhood. I consider how I have promised my editor my responses by this evening. I think about the laundry and the dishes waiting for my hands. And, then, I say “OK, one game.”
My nearly 3-year old, Sam, cheats the whole way through. He tosses back into the box the cards that only have one colored square and searches for a “double card,” as he calls them. If he has to go back with a picture card, he discards that one and picks again. If I insist I might be winning, he cheats even more by choosing two cards on his next turn. His mind is set on one thing: to get to King Kandy’s Candy castle before I do.
Although some parents and professionals may disagree, I allow every bit of his cheating. Not only will it allow me to get back to my work faster if he wins (I don’t have time for bouncing back and forth between decorating time in the Cupcake Commons and missing the frosty fun at the Ice Palace!), but I know his cheating is allowing him to develop crucial school readiness skills. He is expressing his desires and ideas, practicing his understanding that two is more than one, discriminating colors, and scanning visual information in front of him. He is learning to coordinate his senses of looking, listening, and doing as I point and tell him “Move to this red square and then this one” and he seamlessly hears my words, picks up his gingerbread boy and moves the boy to the correct red square.
If I had chosen to use the opportunity to emphasize the rules of playing the game, he would have gotten frustrated. The game would have become “not fun” (to use a phrase he uses frequently when things aren’t going his way), and all the learning possibilities would have ended abruptly as he sulked. In the moment, knowing that I would have plenty more opportunities to teach social etiquette and appropriateness, I chose to keep the game fun so that Sam had multiple chances to learn crucial skills.
Plus, if I had won, he would have insisted we play again so that he might be “the winner.” I would have had to convince him I needed to work (and we all know how that goes with kids) and the entire situation would have ended poorly. In the end, I was able to return to my work within 6.5 minutes feeling that I, too, had reached King Kandy at the drawbridge to his castle.