Math Games to Play at Home: Adapting Your Favorite Games

I strongly promote using games to reinforce math skills. They encourage families to enjoy quality time together and children are practicing math facts without even knowing it. Games also provide the opportunity to learn strategic thinking and of course valuable sportsmanship skills.

Existing games like Yahtzee, Cribbage, Miles Bourne and even Monopoly (through money), all use loads of math. Various card games involve math concepts such as sequences, ordering, grouping, sets, probability and various levels of arithmetic for score keeping. There are also dozens of specialty board, card and dice games that focus on math.

The game thirty one is often played in grade two and three classrooms. Each player is dealt three cards. The player may either pick up the last discard or take a new card. A card is discarded at the end of the turn. The player that comes closest to 31 with three cards in the same suit is the winner. Play continues until a player knocks twice on the table. After the knock the other players get one last turn. The hands are then shown and the hand closest to 31 wins. A player who hits 31 exactly wins automatically and does not have to knock. You may choose to play several rounds up to 100 by giving points to the winner’s hand and negative points for the cards left in the other players’ hands.

Other fun card games that use addition and grouping are Rummy and Canasta. It is best to start off teaching your child easier games before learning Bridge. Start simple and work your way up to more challenging card games. Play several open handed rounds first to teach the game to your child. Or play with partners to help each other out. Losing doesn’t seem to be as bad when you have a partner!

Math practice can be easily adapted to many existing games you already play by simply adding in the requirement that you must answer a math equation before each turn. This can work easily in any game where two dice are rolled. Another way would be to have your child say a math fact before each move in checkers, chess, tic-tac-toe or any other game that involves turns. You could draw equations from a pile of flashcards or choose from a list. Kids love getting their turn to ask the questions.

UNO or Crazy Eights can be adapted to incorporate math by having your child say the math fact when they play a number on another number. For example, when you play your card you must tell what the total will be of the two numbers before you can play – if a green four was played last and you play a green six, you must say 4 x 6 = 24. Younger children can practice addition. The traditional card game of War can be played with a regular deck of cards where J=11, Q=12 and K=13. Have the winning player say the math fact before they take the trick. Another version more like SNAP would be to have the first person to answer the fact take the trick (some people call this version “Flip Up”). Alternately, you could take turns flipping the cards and having a turn trying the fact. You get the trick if you answer the fact. The winner is the person with the most cards at the end.

Did you know that you can also play war with dominos? My kids discovered this. Deal out the dominos into two piles. Play the dominos just as you would play a card using the total of both numbers on the domino. Multiply the two played totals to win the turn. Using dominos this way force the players to both add and multiply. The regular game of Dominos and its many variations can incorporate math facts as well.

Dice are always exciting. Try to find some different colors, shapes and number of sides. You can do math with any game that uses dice. Dice War is a fun game where players take turns throwing the dice and finding a math equation that makes up the largest total. Keep track and add up your scores.

Tired of cards? My children’s most favorite math drill was “Munchie Math.” This is truly an effective way to learn a whole set of math facts in only five minutes! Pick out 7- 12 flashcards (or quickly make up your own). Your child can earn one small treat for each fact they get correct (or for finishing the pile). They can keep going through the pile and try again. In a matter of minutes they will memorize all 12 cards. Put the pile aside and review these facts for several days to put them in long-term memory. My kids beg to play this game every day. It’s amazing what can be learned with a small bag of jellybeans! The problem I have now is that they know all their facts. I need to make up some tougher questions -maybe calculus!

Another activity they loved when they were really young is to make up a treasure hunt using flashcards. Just line the flashcards up in a path all the way to some hidden treat. Initially, they were allowed to use their times table chart and addition chart to help them out. When starting, you want to make sure they do not find it too tough and get discouraged. (By the way both “Munchie Math” and a treasure hunt work well for sight-reading words and spelling.)

Be creative and come up with your own way to drill in math facts. One morning my children awoke to math fact post-its all over the entire house from the “Math Fairy.” All day long they kept finding equations and of course kept practicing math. Your children will have fun inventing their own games too!

As you can see there are endless ways to adapt math to your games and play. It does not need to be “drill and kill.” Helping your child to get those facts into long term memory can actually be fun and will improve your own memory skills too. Take some MATHemACTION and start playing games!

Visit our online store for more commercial games, game templates and dice.

Let us know if you have a great idea to share!

Susan Jarema is the founder of Googol Learning, the Crazy 4 Math Contest, TVvgFREE.com, New Earth Marketing and Kidzinfo. The Googol Learning Website has many free resources to inspire mathematics and family learning in your home through music, games, stories and layered learning.

Food Chain Game

Category:
group activity
Number of Participants:
8
Skill Areas:
food chain
Equipment Required:
paper, tape (prepare paper ahead with names of animals or plants)
Educational Objectives:
learn about food chains
Summary:
Find and arrange in order a team in the same food chain.
Description:
Give each student a piece of paper with the name or picture of a different plant or animal. Students race around to find a food chain they belong in. Examples could be: sun, sunflower seed, berries, leaf, spider, caterpillar, squirrel, snake, owl, fox, bear, grass, phytoplankton, sardine, salmon, zooplankton, seal, polar bear, grizzly bear, human.

Blindfold Sensory Exploration

Category:
outdoors
Skill Areas:
nature appreciation, senses
eyes-covered-blind-fold-gamesEquipment Required:
none
Educational Objectives:
Create an appreciation for nature by focusing on small details and senses. Learn about the five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing).
Summary:
Have students close their eyes and explore other senses.
Description:
Find a place to sit outdoors, preferably away from city sounds. Have children close their eyes or put on blindfolds. 1. Hearing: Listen for sounds of nature and try to discern what they are. 2. Touch: With blindfold on have students pass around an object and describe what it feels like. (i.e., rock, pinecone, leaf, stick) 3. Smell: After touching, students can describe the smell of the object. 4. Taste: You can experiment with the sense of taste with washed edible items such as mint leafs, dandelion leaves, salt, other herbs and spices. 5. Sight: draw or describe an object you look at. Options: students can work in partners with one student blind-folded and the other one providing an object to touch. Another fun activity is to walk a partner around a small area to explore with a blindfold.

Local Habitat Detail Exploration

Category:
field trip
Skill Areas:
Ecosystems, food chains, habitats
Equipment Required:
None (optional: field guide, magnifying glass, camera, binoculars, nature journal, paper and pencil)
Educational Objectives:
Appreciation of nature, understand natural habitats, understanding that behaviour and actions affect the environment, discussing ways to take an active role in preserving resources
Summary:
Exploration of a local habitat.
Description:
Visit any local habitat such as a stream, pond, lake or even explore under a rock or inside an old log. Spend time noticing close-up the insects, plants and small creatures. Try to be quiet and listen to the sounds around. Discuss, take pictures, journal and appreciate. Talk about the food chains present and what other animals live in the area that you don’t see.

Nature Scavenger Hunt

Category:
outdoor
Number of Participants:
2
Skill Areas:
exploration, vegetation, habitats, ecology
Equipment Required:
Paper, pencil, copies of scavenger list
Educational Objectives:
Explore natural environment, look for specific vegetation or wildlife
Summary:
Explore a local natural environment in detail by looking for specific items listed on the scavenger list.
Description:
Create a list of items to look for such as specific vegetation, insects, types of rocks, wildlife, seeds, pine cones etc… Hand out scavenger lists to students or teams to try to find and check off during a nature walk. Discuss items on the list. Optional: Students could make up lists for the other team. Students can research and answer questions about items on list either before or afterwards.

Percentage of Drinkable Water

Category:
classroom indoor or out
waterdropsSkill Areas:
Water (part of the four natural elements)
Equipment Required:
water, bucket, 1 litre measuring beaker, small dish, eyedropper, graduated measuring cylinder or measuring spoons, globe
Educational Objectives:
Understand importance of water, where it comes from, percentage of drinking water on Earth, how to preserve water, inequality in water distribution
Summary:
Measure out proportionately 3% of the freshwater on earth.
Description:
Introduce water to the students by having a glass of water or going to the water fountain. Discuss where the water comes from and how it comes to us to drink. Look at a globe to discover that 70% of the earth is covered in water. Measure out 1 liter of water. Ask Students to estimate how much of the worlds water is drinkable. Take out 30 milliliters to represent the 3% of the world’s water that is freshwater. You can add salt to the rest for effect! Talk about the rest of the fresh water. How much is frozen? (about 80%) Put 6ml of the frozen water in an ice cube tray to represent the frozen water. The remaining water in the dish (around 0.6 percent of the total) represents non-frozen freshwater. Ask students if all of the remaining water is available, or is some of it trapped? (4.5 ml of the water is underground) Then discuss what parts of the world’s remaining freshwater is drinkable? Using an eyedropper, remove a single drop of water (0.003 ml) from the dish and drop it into someone’s hand. This represents clean, fresh surface water (from lakes, streams and accessible reservoirs) which is not polluted or otherwise unavailable for use. This is approximately 0.00003 percent of the total! Compare this to their estimates. Discuss whether there is enough water available for the current population. Discuss water distribution on earth. Discuss what we can do to keep from wasting water.

Pond Dip

Category:
field trip
Skill Areas:
exploration, observation, classification,
Equipment Required:
nets, magnifying glass, plastic basins, field guide, paper, pencils, optional: nature journal
Educational Objectives:
Become comfortable and familiar with the natural habitats, learn about food webs and local ecosystems
Summary:
Study pond creatures close-up from a basin scooped from the pond.
Description:
Before arriving at the pond, research common pond living organisms (such as snails, leech, water mites, spiders, water striders, newt, crayfish, water boatman, mosquito larvae, water scorpion, algae, dragon fly nymphs, duck weed, cattails, turtles etc). Upon arrival or prior discuss safety and protecting the pond rules. A good book to bring is the Golden Guide to Pond Life by George Reid. Scoop water into the basin and add any creatures caught with nets. Study and discuss. Share findings with other groups. Look with magnifying glass for smaller larva and insects. Talk about ways the pond provides food for wildlife in the area. Discuss ways to protect and care for local ponds. Release all creatures carefully before returning.

Recycling Relay Race

Category:
group activity
Number of Participants:
6
Skill Areas:
recycling
Equipment Required:
bins, assorted recycling and garbage
Educational Objectives:
Learn about what can and cannot be recycled.
Summary:
Have teams race to put all the recycling and garbage in the correct bins.
Description:
Collect ahead an assortment of garbage and recycling. Choose some items that make good discussions afterwards (i.e., varying plastic, paper, diapers, batteries, electronics, plastic toys, bags,milk jugs, juice-boxes, cans, bottles, re-usable items, compost items, paper, styrofoam). Research ahead recycling regulations for your municipality. Find out which number of plastic are accepted and where to dispose of hazardous and electronic items. Set up bins at a distance away from the teams. You will need separate bins to sort such as one for paper, newsprint, returnables, other recyclables, garbage and compost. Give each team an equal pile of recyclables/garbage. Children race to fill up the bins. Afterwards discuss what has bin put in each bin.

Spider Web Craft

Category:
recycled craft
Number of Participants:
1
recycled-craft-spider-web-small_0Skill Areas:
Recycling and reusing, 3Rs, insects, food-chain, habitats, web-of-life, motor skills -weaving
Equipment Required:
straws, yarn, scissors
Educational Objectives:
Thrown away items can be reused for other purposes.
Summary:
Craft a spider web out of recycled straws by weaving yarn around the straws.
Description:
Take 4 straws and criss-cross. Staple in the middle. Wind yarn around. Discuss recycling and re-using. You can also tie this in with discussion of insects, habitats, food chains and web-of life.