Educational games from 3500 years ago

Freeborn children [of Greece] should learn as much of these things as the vast throngs of young in Egypt do with their alphabet. First as regards arithmetic, lessons have been devised there for absolute beginners based on enjoyment and games, distributing apples and garlands so that the same numbers are divided among larger and smaller groups.

…The teachers, by applying the rules and practices of arithmetic to play, prepare their pupils for the tasks of marshalling and leading armies and organizing military expeditions, managing a household too, and altogether form them into persons more useful to themselves and to others, and a great deal wider awake.”

This is Plato, writing around 360BC, about how Egyptian children learned about maths through ‘enjoyment and games’ [Laws 7,819].

I heard this during the A History of the World in 100 Objects podcast about the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from 1550BC, which “contains 84 different calculations to help with various aspects of Egyptian life, from pyramid building to working out how much grain it takes to fatten a goose.”

5 Replies to “Educational games from 3500 years ago”

  1. This is very awesome and distinctly fascinating. Mind if I borrow it, with due hat tipping, for my TED talk?

    That Plato. He wasn’t a big fan of books, though, if that famous passage in the Republic is anything to go by. Much more a believer in the active processes of rhetoric and debate. Both of which were, of course, an extremely serious kind of game in Greek culture…

  2. By all means use it – very happy for people to know more about it 🙂

    I’ve long wondered whether there’s an interesting game about rhetoric and debate. Probably already done well on the BBC, to be honest…

  3. It just didn’t occur to me that learning through play isn’t a new concept! Here I am hundreds of years later trying to teach my pupils through games and meaning, purposeful activities! I’ll have to give the podcast a listen!

  4. Nice platonic quote I’m sure there’s a place for that in my thesis somewhere 🙂

    As for “I’ve long wondered whether there’s an interesting game about rhetoric and debate. Probably already done well on the BBC, to be honest…”
    You want to check out Ian Bogost’s book ‘Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames’ then 😉

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