Thoughts About Monopoly As A Teaching Tool

We have been playing Monopoly with my 1st grader.

A hierarchy of useful lessons

  • Arithmetic

I make Zak be the banker so he gets lots of practice making change. It’s harder than 1st-grade math worksheets so you can have fun AND cross an item off your homeschool list.

  • Probability

Dice frequencies. The first-grader knows considers stretching to build houses when you are 6,7, or 8 spaces away from his property.

  • Ownership and investment returns

Ask your child how many times a property needs to be landed on to breakeven on the purchase. For older kids, discuss investment returns as a percentage.

  • Borrowing, collateral, and interest

The whole mortgage and interest mechanism. Borrowing against incomplete property sets to improve completed sets.

  • Operational leverage

Do you stretch to buy houses? If so, your small cash cushion can get wiped out by a mistimed Chance card forcing you to fire sale your houses for half price. Throw in some dice probability discussion and the game fosters a rich learning environment.


What about trading?

I actually think Monopoly falls flat here. Deals are sporadic but highly impactful. Since the luck of the dice creates large disparities in what properties players are naturally endowed with, the prevailing logic behind too many deals is “well, if I don’t do anything I have zero chance”. The prospect of raising your odds from zero to 5% does not make for inspired dealings.

If a deal is fairly priced there’s a lot of variance around its outcome.  A dice game has too much of that already. That means the returns to skill are not only low but low resolution. Awful for learning.

In the case when deals are lopsided the game is brutal for everyone else. Worse yet, if the potential to exploit a weak player exists the game devolves into politics of “like” and may even import baggage from real life. Surely these are useful lessons but not quite what I have in mind when I want to use a game as a teaching tool.

(Monopoly would be more interesting with a side betting market on who was going to win the game. That market would suddenly spring to life when two people were negotiating a trade as the rest of the players would basically be casting their bids in the side market. The result would be a realtime “fair value” meter presiding as judge over the trade. As you tweak the cash and property sweeteners in the deal, see if everybody thinks you are overshooting fair value. For advanced players, a whole meta strategy would unlock since the side market influences the real game.)

2 thoughts on “Thoughts About Monopoly As A Teaching Tool

  1. What’s been your experience with the auction mechanic (that if someone lands on a property and doesn’t want to buy it, it goes up for auction if anyone wants to bid on it) ?

    I didn’t learn about that rule until I was an adult and haven’t played Monopoly since then, but I’d love to hear how it works IRL.

    1. I played with that rule yes. It’s rare. Usually people buy what they land on

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