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A pool game to teach your kids about positives and negatives

Katherine Miller swimming in her backyard pool
Katherine Miller swimming in her backyard pool
Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller

I was reading a passage from Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll, Chapter 9*) with my 7-year old daughter Katherine:

`She can't do Addition,' the Red Queen interrupted. `Can you do Subtraction? Take nine from eight.'

`Nine from eight I can't, you know,' Alice replied very readily: `but -- '

“Well, that’s easy,” Katherine interrupted, “It’s negative one.”

“You learned that from the game we made up today!” I realized, happily.

Earlier that day we had made up a simple pool game, with no intention of teaching any summer math lessons. However, it turned out to be very useful and fun as well. So here it is:

(1) Each player has to remain balanced on an inflatable ball. If at any time the player gets off the ball (usually the ball pops up out of the water) that person loses a point.

(2) While balancing on the ball, player one throws the ball to any other player. If the second player catches it, they both get one point.

(3) If at any time a player throws a ball more than five feet from the intended person, the thrower gets deducted 2 points.

(4) There are 2 ways of winning or losing. If you are the first person to get 10 points, you win. If you are the first person to get -10 points, you are eliminated. This way you get a winner even if both players are having a hard time staying on their balls.

The game got more complex when a third person was added to the mix. If one person was doing better, the other two could throw the ball to each other so the third person could not get any more points. It was surprising to see how hard it was to balance on a ball while also trying to catch or throw! It kept us all laughing and having fun in the pool for quite some time.

*For the full text and background information of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, go to

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