How a Simple Pair of Dice Can Teach an Incomparable Lesson


These large wooden dice were handmade by the children and I. First, we sawed them from scrap wood, then sanded them down. Using the heated end of an egg beater, we burned the numbers in place. I was in no rush, so these tasks were tackled higgledy-piggledy over many days as other events came to the fore. In the meantime, the children got to know gnome plus (in red at the bottom right) and gnome minus, and we even rolled plastic dice a few times.

With one die, the children (kindergartners) are asked to match the dots to a vocal number, and they can do this fairly readily. As a teacher, I can also map this vocalization and enumeration to a numeral by writing it in the sand or dirt. The children also learn, subtly, that there are six sides to a cube.

With two dice, the kids are asked to identify and hold two sets in their minds at the same time, say 3 and 5. Two distinct beings. Two distinct identities. Each identity is made up of several pieces, i.e. dots. By searching for the total, we learn to add two identities AND two sets, for a total of 8. Math. Fun. Cool. But there's more.

For most of us, this operation is so mundane that we do not immediately grasp its greater significance. But there is something very rich happening here below the conscious level, something that speaks to a much broader scope of human cognition - the ability to identify something AS ONE THING. As adults, this becomes so commonplace and second-nature that most of us take it for granted - and forget that at one point it was not so obvious. A tree is a tree. Duh. Yet, it's a complex entity of beings within beings (branches, roots, leaves, cells), a holism that even extends beyond time to seeds and trees long since dead, and those not yet present. Meanwhile, the tree itself is also part of another whole, one tree in a single forest.

Not that this is kindergarten material! But it speaks to the depth of learning, often at a subconscious level, in a simple pair of dice. That the children have helped me cut, shape and stain the wood only adds to their familiarity, making them not only beings, but OUR beings.