Mar 4, 2016

#STEM Starts at Home: The Many Faces of Qwirkle

Qwirkle, made by Mindware, is like Scrabble with pictures. You build off the patterns of others, matching color or shape, and sometimes you get a complete set in the same line, called a "Qwirkle".
Searching for purple (image by Y. Ng)

It's a very challenging and fun game for adults, and children can play pretty competitively with their parents. Interestingly, the pieces themselves can be used with toddlers and preschoolers as well, to "scaffold" their abilities so they can build the skills needed to play the game as intended. Of course, at a very young age, the wooden tiles may just serve as payload for your little one's dump truck or purse.

If you have the game at home and your tyke doesn't eat small pieces, try these variations of the game to build up their pattern finding skills:
  • Finding the color: Invite your child to find all the reds, then the yellows, then the blues. As the variation in the pool decreases with each collection, you subconsciously build the idea that a large set can consist of smaller sets,an important concept in mathematics.
  • Finding the shape: When your child is able to distinguish shapes, invite him or her to find all the circles, squares (the diamonds may also be selected as a square for a very young child--and that wouldn't be wrong). The other shapes are more sophisticated, so observe which shapes your child thinks are similar to the one you are holding. I like to discuss with my son why he might have thought they were the same, tracing the similar features with my fingers, and also pointing out the differences. But, as he was only two at the time, I didn't get hung up on him actually learning then how to find the right pieces. And when he was more interested in being a crane and lifting up the pieces as payload, I let that be a sign that the activity had shifted gears.
  • Finding an exact match: Then there is the point when your child can find the purple circles. By finding the piece from the entire set, your little one develops scanning skills, which as a programmer, has been invaluable for me to find a pesky bug, but I know a number of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who rely on this ability in their work.
  • Building a matrix: While finding an exact match may be fun in itself, I found it quite boring. However, in order to be sure that some of the pieces weren't lost in a dump truck, I have a habit of laying out the pieces so that a single color is in a row and a single shape is in a column. If you have all the pieces, you should end up with three levels. If you do this "exercise in anality," you can have your tyke find the pieces "that go here". For example, I lay down the first level, and my son helps find the pieces that match to fill out the other levels. Later, when he can "see" which pieces should go there by using the idea of colors in rows and shapes in columns, he can help me build the first layer as well. When we are bored, we sometimes pull out trays of Mahjong tiles and create similar matrices. 
    organizing Mahjong tiles (image by Y. Ng)
  • Playing sets with repeated pieces: After the idea of color and shape are well understood, you can start off with a simplified version of the game. Each person has tiles and plays them in the row or column that has a matching color or shape. But in this case, don't worry about repeats in the same row.
  • Playing Qwirkle: And now, you have nurtured yourself a viable opponent. Good luck!
Great games or toys can be used at different levels of development and understanding. I'm happy to see that Qwirkle ranks among these.