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Thinking Out Loud

Monday, July 10, 2006

Papa Bear Sesion Report >> Or, "Why Kids Are Amazing"

Background: I recently purchased Papa Bear by Reinhard Staupe, published by Playroom Games. It's part of a line of children's games, mostly geared toward kids ages 5-8, which come in a similar small box and generally feature thick, sturdy cards. Other games in the line include Hear 'N Seek, Monkey Memory and Sherlock. It had sat around unplayed for a while, but then Saturday, as we were looking for a creative activity for Benjamin, our three-and-a-half year old, I finally opened Papa Bear up.

I am so glad I did.

Game Overview: Papa Bear is essentially a pattern recognition game with a slight twist. There are 12 thick, sturdy cards depicting Baby Bear dressed in various outfits. In each outfit, Baby Bear has a hat, jacket and boots, which are either red, yellow or green. Each outfit is a unique color combination, and clearly labled 1-12 for easy reference.

A second set of sturdy cards shows a number on the back corresponding to one of the 12 outfits, and when flipped over, reveals two items which Papa Bear wants Baby Bear to switch. For example, the back of the card might indicate Outfit 2, which might have a Green Hat, Red Jacket and Red Boots. When you flip the card over, it reveals that Papa Bear wants to switch the colors of the Hat and the Jacket -- so the player would then have to find the outfit card depicting the Red Hat, Green Jacket and Red Boots.

Trying it Out: It sounds simple, and it really is. For an adult.

When trying to explain the game and the concept to him from the rules, I could see Benjamin was confused and growing disinterested. So I put the rules away and quickly created a narrative to help put things into context.

Here was the story: Every day for a week, Baby Bear would get up and get dressed all by himself, just like a Big Bear (and just like Benjamin had started doing). Papa Bear was very proud (as I am with Benjamin) but asked Baby Bear to swap the color of two of his pieces of clothing. If Benjamin could help Baby Bear get dressed for an entire week, we would win the game!

Rather than being a competitive game of pattern-recognition and trying to identify the correct card as quickly as possible, we played it together as a brain-building exercise.

So the game started out on Monday, and I made up the story of Baby Bear coming down for breakfast, wearing his Red Hat, Yellow Jacket and Green Boots. And flipping over the card, told Benjamin that Papa Bear was very proud of Baby Bear, but wanted Baby Bear to change his Hat and Boots. And I asked Benjamin what color that would be if they swapped.

"I don't know," he said, with his big brown eyes looking puzzledly at the cards. "Can we play Snorta instead, please?"

I wasn't about to give up that easily. So for the first card, I showed him the proper outfit, and explained how it worked, then set the swapping card aside and said "Baby Bear got dressed on Monday -- now it's time for him to get dressed for ..."

"-- Tuesday!" Benjamin interjected, suddenly showing a bit more interest.

He identified the next outfit immediately, and said "It's outfit number 5! Baby Bear is wearing a Red Hat and Red Jacket and Yellow Boots!"

When I flipped the card over, I was nearly blinded by the proverbial lightbulb going off.

"Papa Bear wants a Yellow Hat and Red Boots! Right, daddy?" After scanning the table briefly, he squeals in delight as he points to Outfit #11, the correct answer.

"Now he needs to get dressed for Wednesday!!"

And with that, the rest of the week zipped past, with me flipping over the outfit-swapping cards, and Benjamin gleefully matching the right outfits and color swaps. I was amazed. I thought it was a pretty challenging concept, and wasn't sure if he'd be able to grasp it or not.

The Kicker: Benjamin loved the game, and we played it a few more times. Then on Sunday, when we reached a slow point in the afternoon, he asked to play it again. Trish was out running errands when we played on Saturday, so she missed the moment the day before.

As I opened the box and started shuffling the cards, he taught Trish how to play. We both just sat there, mouths agape, as Benjamin explained how Baby Bear needed help getting dressed and Papa Bear wanted to swap the colors, and how to look for the right colors on the cards... It was priceless.

And that, dear reader, is why kids are amazing.


  • And *that*, dear gamer, is how to teach a game! Great story. Thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger sodaklady, at 9:38 PM  

  • Great stuff Jason. I'll no doubt be looking up your recommendations for kids games as my Makayla gets older. I've got a bit of time on my hands though... currently at 7 months - not quite old enough for Java yet.

    By Blogger Jasen, at 7:01 AM  

  • 7 Months? I think Ben's favorite games at that time were Peek-A-Boo, Look Who's Drooling on Daddy and Guess What's In My Diaper!

    You've got some great times ahead of you!

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 7:44 AM  

  • I applaud your parenting skills. I didn't have the patience to play games with my children at that age. However, I don't think I waited too late. My kids (ages 13, 9, 9, and 8) and I started playing card games together a few months' ago and they can't get enough!

    By Blogger Dani, at 10:02 PM  

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