Playing Poker Promotes Literacy!

Nope, not a Weekly World News headline! (Am I completely dating myself by remembering the “Bat Boy” headlines at checkout stands when I was a kid? Google or Wiki it you whippersnappers; it used to be a print weekly periodical…) I observed something that once again taught me:
1) never to underestimate young children’s literacy
2) to stop being literal and narrow minded
What exactly did I observe? I just watched what occurred completely organically after my husband spent the summer playing poker with our 5 year old twins…
Setting the Stage
So, my husband is a big poker player. Not like he goes to Vegas and loses (or wins) our rent money, but he’s been playing in casinos since he was 15. He takes it seriously. So when I say that he spent the summer playing poker with the kids, I don’t mean a kiddie version of poker. I mean that Molly and Jacob now have a thorough understanding of 5 Card Draw, Texas Hold-‘Em, Seven Card Stud and Low in the Hole, and a working knowledge of what hand beats what. (They also have a whole slew of adorable sayings they whip around throughout a game: “Ante up, everybody!”, “Cut ’em thin, make me win!”, “I got three bullets – beat that!” and others, but that’s a different story…)
So the fond mom in me just smiled to see my kids and husband playing and sharing something and just enjoying each others company.  And then the proud mom in me started to notice how much they were talking about math  in relation to poker while they were playing: relative rankings of the cards and what was higher, and how to get a straight. That made sense.  I didn’t really think anymore about it.  Then a few days later, in a bathroom at the beach…

Noticing Literacy Poker

As they’re taking turns in the bathroom, they look around and chatter to each other.  It’s ofter that twin chatter – not in a different language, but definitely something that only they understand, as it’s usually a complicated game no one else has been told (or would understand if they had) the rules.  I tend to tune it out and focus on the mundane – getting whatever task is at hand done.  But I started to listen.  “I got  pair of Kings, beat that.”  Yeah, I got three Aces.  I win the pot.”  I thought they were randomly making up poker hands – how cute!  Then I looked that they were pointing at something.  The baby changing station, called Koala Kare.  Two “K”s stood for a pair of kings.  Three “a”s in it made the three aces.  I heard them doing it on parking signs on the way to the car.  “P for Parking, and the A and the K… Mommy, I almost have a straight.  I have an ace, and a king and a prince – that’s what I’m calling a jack”…It was so cool!  In the car, freeway signs on each side of the car became the kid’s card hands.  Sentences, words, signs, titles of books – anything with letters could and would suddenly be dissected and turned into a game.
And it’s a game that never seems to get old, can be played anywhere, and isn’t actually winnable – since if you don’t like the “hand” you found, you just look for a better one.  Both kids love it, and I love how much they opened my eyes and mind to see that when you’re ready to read, anything becomes a literacy tool.  Even poker.  Hell, maybe especially poker!

Have you ever noticed anything bizarre and interesting (that then makes perfect sense, once you think about it) that young readers use as a way of extending their literacy?  Would you tell us?  I’m wondering what other amazing things my kids are doing that I’m probably tuning out…


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