A few nights ago my girls, ages 3 and 5, asked to play a game. They decided to try a new (to us) game: Battle Line. This is a game where you are trying to make your best formation on your side of 9 different flags. Formation strength is loosely based on the best 3-card poker hand (Straight flush, 3 of a kind, etc.) and the best formation wins the flag. For my daughters it was essentially a matching game.
I dealt the cards, explained the rules and off they went. The game was going along well. Both girls happily matching numbers and grinning whenever they got to play an elephant or horse.
However, as the game went on they hit a snag. They couldn’t match their numbers anymore. I re-explained that they could also match colors or try to get cards in a row (like a 4-5-6). Ellie (age 5) understood and quickly started to match her colors with the rest of her cards. Addy (age 3) just stopped playing. She claimed she couldn’t play any of her cards even after explaining she could match colors. I helped her finish the game by essentially playing the rest of her cards for her. Ellie won 5 flags to 3.
My wife was out at the time so when she got back I was relaying the fun we had playing a game, but Addy didn’t finish. She reminded me of an experiment a few days before that explained everything.
I’m not sure exactly how we got involved, but over the years we’ve gotten invitations for our kids to participate in child psychology/development studies at the University of Minnesota. The kids get compensated with snacks, t-shirts, and other “prizes” in exchange for doing a few simple tasks. I have a science background and my wife an early childhood education background so we were both eager to help and see the results of these studies.
This time Addy had been chosen to help out with a study. The researcher told Addy they were going to play a matching game. Addy was shown cards with colors and shapes on them and asked to sort them by color. Addy flawlessly sorted the cards 3 times. Then the researcher asked her to sort the cards by shape. Instead, Addy again sorted them by color. The researcher said that before she could sort them again they needed to scoot the table over a bit. Addy and the women stood up and adjusted the table and then sat back down. She was asked again to sort by shape and this time she sorted them by shape just fine.
At a certain age the ability to change a pattern is an easy switch for your brain to make. However, in younger children it requires a bit more of a reset for them to change. Just the act of standing up and being distracted by something else for a few seconds was enough for Addy to make that reset. Obviously that change in our brains occurs sometime between the ages of 3 and 5 as Ellie was able to make that transition while Addy could not.
I’m eager to have the girls try Battle Line again and watch their choice pattern over the course of the game. This may help explain her decision making skills in other games. I’ll have to remember this in the future and help Addy to “reset” during the game when she gets stuck.