fun, kid-friendly learning at baseball games
Originally published June 6, 2011 but republished today because, well, it’s worth it.
This past week, we experienced something totally new and exciting–a rite of passage of sorts. We walked into a new chapter in our lives, and I can hardly believe it: we watched six innings of a baseball game.
Live and in person. On a Friday night. With two of our kids. And it was really, really fun.
We’ve tried it before–all three kids on a sunny summer afternoon, in the sweltering heat.
And it was not fun.
And the games we attended when I was pregnant, and I tried–unsuccessfully–to sit comfortably with a kid (or kids) on and off of my lap, it was even less fun.
So this time, with two kids who were a bit older–7 and 5 years old–it was a lot different.
We missed Cora–for sure–but at 4, she’s still pretty much done by 7:30, which is when our game started on Friday. So she had a blast at a National’s game last weekend with her Dad and instead got to hang with her grandparents on Friday night.
Every now and again–in between eating french fries, pistachios, and ice-cream and cheering for the O’s–we did a few things that got our kids’ brains moving and eyes focused.
In doing so, we realized that it’s very easy to sneak in some kid-friendly learning at baseball games.
Yes, Maddy and Owen could sit for a whole lot longer than they were able to in the past, but my husband and I still did a little bit of entertaining to keep the kids focused during the game–very natural, totally low-key, no-stress learning that involved reading, numbers, and games.
Here’s what we did:
- Watched the Game: Okay, not the whole time. Not even the majority of the time. But that’s what we went for, so that’s what we started out doing. But seriously, the Orioles aren’t ranked even a little bit in the league, so it’s no wonder that things started to slow down almost as soon as it began. So yes, we watched the game.
Maddy and Owen understand the basics because they played t-ball last spring. So teaching the game wasn’t absolutely necessary. But if they didn’t understand it, of course that’s where we’d begin.
- Players’ Numbers: Just asking, Which player is on first base? What’s his number? or Which guy has the largest number on his shirt? Can you find the player with the smallest number? Who’s wearing a larger number–the guy on first base or the first base coach? gave Maddy and Owen a little something to look for during down-times.
Just talking about the numbers–and having kids recognize them and identify them–is a great learning opportunity for younger kids. Often kids don’t have many opportunities to identify double-digit numbers; this is a fun place to have them practice.
talking about the numbers on uniforms helps get kids familiar with double-digits
- Keeping Score: I remember my dad scoring the Yankee games I attended with him as a kid, and I loved how the numbers and symbols fit inside each box–and how the whole thing could tell the story of the game.
Though admittedly I’m not a major sports fan, keeping score–along with eating ballpark snacks–may be my two favorite parts of baseball games. It’s not that difficult, and it’s actually easy to teach kids how to keep score at a baseball game–though I do think Owen is on the young side for it.
I taught him the basics, but the great thing is that there’s really no wrong way; like keeping track in Running Records, you can make it your own because you’re doing it for you.
Not only is there counting and number-writing, but there’s also writing with the names of the players. It’s a great way to stay focused during the game and get familiar with the players.
This fastball was 91 mph. 91 MPH?!!
- Watch the Pitch Speeds: Once I showed Maddy and Owen where the pitching speeds were, they were in awe. And for a good long while they watched and squealed when every pitch speed appeared.
We’d compare numbers, talk about which was the highest, and sigh deeply when speeds were in the 80′s. When we saw the first ‘curveball’ come up, we got all excited, and we talked about why the speed might be lower for the curveball vs the fastball.
It’s insane to think about how fast these guys are throwing balls, but it’s something that kids probably won’t understand for a good long while.
- Snacking: I know, the total obvious. But snacking was a great way for us to pass time at the game. There’s an unwritten rule about having to stop at the vendors before you enter the stadium and buying waters and peanuts (or pistachios), and once inside the stadium, how can you pass up ballpark dogs, pretzels, and ice-cream? You can’t. I can’t. We didn’t.
There is a tiny bit of reading inside Cracker Jack boxes. . . does that count for learning? Okay, I thought not.
Mmmmmm, ice-cream at a ballpark? Sure. Even if it’s that crazy dot-kind.
- Lefties vs Righties: My Maddy is a leftie, so after we did a close examinatio n of her baseball glove, smiling big about the ‘Girls Rule’ written inside it, we counted the players who were left-handed. Then we counted the ones who were right-handed. For a while we kept an eye on the batters’ swings to see if one inning would have more lefties than righties batting, but then we lost count and moved on to something else.
How many lefties were on the field? Not nearly as many righties. . .
- I Spy–Words in the Park: There are SO many words to read in a ballpark, it’s nuts. From the ads on the fence to the names on the scoreboard, to the words on the concessions, words are everywhere.
So when the kids started squirming, we played a few rounds of ‘I Spy–Words in the Park’. We’d say, I spy the word, ‘win’. And we’d squint and search until we found it. Sometimes, we’d say, I spy a word that begins with the letter ‘g’. . . and we’d go from there. Either way works.
Either way gets kids looking for words, searching for letters, and at least looking (kind of) at the field.
- Kid Program: I was totally impressed to see that Camden Yards–an extremely family-friendly ballpark to begin with–added yet another awesome feature to its gig: a kid program. I happily paid $3 for the program because I knew that if there was one teeny-tiny word search in there, Owen would be a happy, happy camper.
And there was not only a word search–a HUGE one–but there were easy-to-read articles, mazes, and a kid score card. Woot!
I plan to pull this pup out during homework time this week; we didn’t finish it all and still need to read some articles.
My happy O-man: rockin’ the word search
- Take a Walk: Walk around the stadium, let the kids look at the people, the stands, the workers, the restaurants, the different levels.
We luckily scored a great spot at the ‘O’ pretzel window, so Maddy and Owen got to watch soft pretzels being made into huge ‘O’s before they sank their teeth into one a little later. There’s a lot to talk about in a stadium, a lot of great spots for people-watching and game-watching on the many tv’s planted here and there.
The pretzel-makers were so nice!!
Camden Yards–and most major league stadiums at this point–has a great spot where kids can
play, so we spent some time there on our way out. Maddy and Owen had their picture taken in front of a wall-sized stadium photo, they played on the park equipment, and they tried to throw some fastball in the speed cages.
- Play the Games: If you’re into the silly games on the scoreboard, your kids will be into the games, too. So we cheered when I (somehow) managed to keep my eye on the crab hiding the baseball in the mix-up cartoon, and we sang and danced along with the ‘Fans of the Game’ who were featured on screen.
Try to catch the t-shirts they throw in the air, play the word scrambles on the screen, and guess the player trivia–even if you don’t really know the players that well. It’s all for fun, and being a part of the experience–an active part–makes it more fun for everyone.
Seriously, if you’ve got a big voice, start the wave. Your kids will think you’re the bomb.
- Catch a Ball: If you’re close enough, and you plan well, catching a ball can be a highlight.
My husband had Maddy and Owen ready when the O’s were on the field and made their second out; and the second the third was made, the three of them ran down to the dugout and waved and hooted and hollered until a player tossed them a game ball. WOO-hoo!!
Now sure, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but with some planning and prep, it’s possible–and it sure makes the game fun!
And that’s it. With a very busy week of no preschool, lots of deadlines, lots of great things in the works, and a lot of time spent on the summertime learning eBook–that’s about all we could muster.
We are very thankful to our neighbors who share these special tickets with us every so year; we could never afford these kind of insanely fabulous seats, and we are very grateful for their generosity.
fyi. . . Some sites I plan to check out in the next few years that may be helpful to some families now:
- SI Kids
- Science of Baseball: fab interactives about pitching and playing that I know my kids will love
- Louisville Slugger
- Keeping Score: The baseball scorecard — everything you need to know about scoring
- KidBibs: If you scroll down and pick out the cool facts about baseball and baseball jokes, this one’s worth checking
- Baseball Poetry
- Baseball Games and Poetry: TONS of fun crosswords, word searches, jig-saw puzzles. Totally awesome
- Who’s on First?: The script and recording of the old Abbot and Costello skit