Our family has a new nightly ritual. Between dinner and Bedtime Business my girls and I play two or three games of Uno. Just months ago I couldn’t have imagined sitting around the coffee table with my three and five year old daughters, laughing at the hands we’d been dealt, marveling at their use of strategy, and looking forward to the day I can teach them to play poker.
It started on Christmas. Amara was eager to play with the deck she’d received as she had some experience with the game already from playing with her teacher at school. After watching Amara and I play a few games Terra was interested in learning how to play as well. I started by showing Terra the cards and explaining to her what they were and/or meant she could use them for. She already knows her numbers and colors, so she quickly picked up on the use of wilds, reverses, skips, draw twos and draw fours.
Once Terra knew the basics she became a phenomenal player; she won games 5-9 with little assistance although her cards were lying face up on the table (she has difficulty holding them in her little hands). Not only is she doing wonderfully with the rules, but she is also learning when it’s alright to be compassionate toward another player and when it’s necessary to worry more about saving herself from defeat. Amara is an aggressive player. She gets very competitive and isn’t bothered by how another player is going to feel when she whips out skip after skip after draw four.
The first couple of games that each of them lost was very difficult. I wanted those players who didn’t win to not feel completely defeated by the outcome of the game. I wanted the winner to be able to enjoy her victory without gloating. I wanted everyone to be empathetic toward the other person’s position. There’s this song that I like to sing, “Played hard, played fair, treated other kids with care. No matter what the scoreboard said that kid came out a winner! Always won the game.” It really helps the girls to keep their focus on enjoying the game instead of being the first person to run out of cards.
I lead by example. When I win I smile and say “Yay! Go me!” or something similar, but I stay in my seat, and I compliment the girls on how well they played. When I lose I congratulate the winner and compliment her play, but I also tell the other player who did not win that I think she did a great job playing fairly and being a good sport. Then we tend to discuss what might have happened had cards been played differently, or if more had been drawn, just for fun.
The games run smoothly without tears and without jealousy now. Terra still plays with her cards face up, but since Amara began using Terra’s handicap to her advantage I let Terra start using a box to shield her cards from her sister. We have all won and lost so many times that it’s no longer worth counting. Now, instead of the number or wins vs. losses we marvel at each other’s strategy.
Who knew? Uno has brought a new sense of unity to our family.