Scrabble was a tradition in my family. From the time I could barely see the board from my vantage point at the edge of the table, I witnessed the subtle strategies used by my older brother and sisters at play. I dreamed of the day I was old enough to play—how I'd dazzle them all with my victory! But that day was long in coming. If there’s any game that makes kids feel left out, it’s Scrabble. Because it requires reading, spelling, and vocabulary skills, many parents think Scrabble isn’t for the very young. Think again! Parents these days can easily introduce the game to a child as young as four or five years old. With a little time and effort, they can help children even develop advanced skills that many adults don’t know.
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After the Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, the best Scrabble tool introduced by Hasbro in recent years is the Scrabble Junior Edition. This by far is the best way to introduce Scrabble to your four year old. Play resembles regular Scrabble, getting children accustomed to the flow of the game. First, children draw seven tiles from the pool. In turns they lay down tiles from their racks to match the letters on the board. Letter by letter they eventually spell out entire words, winning points. By game’s end, they will have used over a hundred tiles to work a variety of different words. Few preschool teachers could match that for reading practice!
Children who have mastered this simplified version can then “graduate” to the next level of play by flipping the game board over to reveal another basic version of the classic Scrabble game. Using this board and modified scoring rules, children progress in difficulty and skill level.
By eight years old, most children will be ready for regular Scrabble. Don’t get caught up in talking rules and strategy at first. Just jump right in and let your child experience the game for him or herself. Even better, you might play an opponent as a team, allowing the child to suggest plays and explaining tactics as the game goes on. Even if it’s not the best play, use your child’s suggestions occasionally so that he or she feels like a valuable member of the team and experiences first-hand the triumph or failure of a move. Having a teammate to share the disappointment will help when moves aren’t successful, or when the child doesn’t win.
Particularly in their early years, allow children to use a dictionary while playing. One rule variation used in my home while growing up was that players were allowed to “browse” the dictionary for word options as long as it wasn’t their turn. This way, young players didn’t get bored waiting for their turns, while they acquired a great learning skill! Dictionaries are a terrific safety net and their use can help children broaden their vocabulary base.
Outside actual play there are a few games you can teach that will help children sharpen their Scrabble skills. Using the Scrabble tiles, have your child spell out his or her name. Add up the score. Then spell out the other names of friends and family members, cities, states, countries, or other favorite words, adding and comparing the scores of each. Play for fun, taking off the competitive edge, and allow the child to explore the value of different word options.
Few skills are more important than anagramming to a Scrabble novice, and this is a skill you may want to explain as your child progresses. Give them a word and a time limit, and challenge them to find five, ten, twenty, or even more words using only the letters given. As they improve, encourage them to find lengthier options, maybe even offering a reward for using all the letters. I’ve used this game frequently in the elementary classroom when my class is waiting in line, and I haven’t yet found a youngster who doesn’t like it. Students especially love comparing their lists. If they’ve found a word nobody else found (or a word I didn’t) it is especially rewarding.
You may be surprised how fast your child picks up on more advanced strategies after introducing Scrabble this way. More importantly, he or she will develop an interest in word play, which is infinitely more valuable than alternative interests in TV and video games. Go ahead, invite your child for a game of Scrabble—it’ll be a perfect match!
Emma Snow works a pragmatic puzzler at the Puzzle Place http://www.puzzle-place.net and Chess Strategies http://www.chess-strategies.net leading puzzle portals.
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