Who says learning math has to be a drag?
For a child, it might feel like math is all about problems on a blackboard and in worksheets. It could lead them to ask the very pertinent question: “What do I even need to learn this for?”
Of course, the importance of math lies in its application, and we need it in nearly every aspect of our life. That’s why kids’ math fundamentals need to be super strong.
But helping your child learn math doesn’t have to mean just replicating their classroom experience. You can make math a game! There are loads of effective math games for younger students that will encourage them to think critically about practical applications of math concepts.
Here’s a list of fun activities that you can do with your child to teach them math at home without making it feel like a lesson, ideal for kids up to grade 5.
This is a game that will test your child’s use of basic mathematical operations (add, subtract, multiply, divide), their mental math, and their speed.
What you need to play:
4 “large number” cards with the numbers 25, 50, 75 and 100 on them.
At least two sets of cards with the numbers 1-10 on them.
At least 2 players.
Here’s how to play:
Mix up the 4 “large number” cards and lay them out face down. Shuffle the set of 1-10 cards and keep them face down.
Each player chooses one of the “large number” cards or one of the 1-10 cards in turn without looking. This continues until each player has 6 cards.
The players need to generate a 3-digit number. This can be done by selecting 3 random cards from the 1-10 pile, or rolling a dice. (Example: You pick up, without looking, a 3, 1, and 5. Your number is 315). For very young students, you can select a 2 digit number instead.
All players turn their cards over. They now have to race to make the 3 or 2-digit number using the number cards they have, and any of the math operators (add, subtract, multiply, divide). Set a timer to make it more competitive!
Would You Rather?
In this game, you pose a question with two options and ask your child to choose the “better” (or most optimal) answer. You can get them to use a variety of concepts depending on the question you set for them.
In real life, we play this game all the time in various ways. For example, you are at the grocery store and you see that your favorite cereal has a special mega pack at 33oz for $10; but you know the regular 18oz pack costs $5, so you can calculate that the mega pack isn’t really the bargain it’s claiming to be.
Here’s a sample of the different kinds of questions you can ask your kids:
Would you rather win ½ of a million dollars and have to give ¼ of it away, or ¾ of a million dollars and have to give 2/3 of it away? (This one tests their ability to calculate fractions in order to maximize the end result).
Would you rather have a small bedroom with all right angles or a large bedroom with all acute angles? (This will test their familiarity with geometrical concepts).
Would you rather slice 20 oranges into 8 wedges each or 30 oranges into 4 wedges each? (This will test their counting and multiplication/division as they figure out how to minimize the number of cuts they would have to make).
You can search online for more mathematical “would you rather” questions.
Shape Scavenger Hunt
This game will train your child to recognize shapes in everyday objects.
The game is simple: Give them a set of shapes (2D or 3D) and tell them to find them around the house. It will get them to see a cylinder in a soda can, or a rectangular prism in the fridge, and so on.
Write down anything mathematical on a card. It can be a number, a shape, or even a math formula if you want to make things complicated.
Now your child needs to guess what’s on the card based on clues that you give. You can decide how difficult or easy you want to make the clues, based on your child’s level.
For example, if you have written the number “16”, you can give clues like the following:
It is the sum of two 8s.
It is below 20.
The factors of this number are 2, 4, and 8.
It is a perfect square.
If you aren’t comfortable giving clues yourself, you can let your child ask yes-or-no questions, like in a game of “21 questions”. Put a limit on the number of questions to make it more challenging.
This is a great, fast-paced group game to help your kids with multiplication. You’ll need at least 4 willing players to make it fun. The more the better!
All the players sit in a circle. Choose any number from 2-9, and this will be the number whose multiple you will play with. Let’s say you choose 7. Starting with the first person in the circle, everyone starts counting in turn in a clockwise direction. (First person says 1, second person says 2, and so on).
Here’s the catch: whenever any multiple of 7 or any number with 7 in it comes up, the player will not say that number. Instead, they have to say “buzz!” and the direction of the circle reverses. If anyone speaks out of turn or says the wrong thing, they are out. The fun gets intense as the count reaches higher and higher.
Tired of sitting in the house? Try a nice outdoor math game. This is a twist on classic hopscotch.
Draw a hopscotch grid with a calculator layout and the math operators. With older kids, you can include the square root symbol and negative integer sign.
Shout out an equation, like “4+11”. The player must first hop on the first number, then the operation, then the other number, the equal sign, and finally the answer. For double-digit answers, the player can split their last hop so that one foot lands on the digit in the 10s place and the other foot lands on the digit in the ones place.
As students advance in their studies and become familiar with more difficult concepts, they can be introduced to more complex games. You can look for math-based board games, or introduce them to card games that require counting points, or math video games.
But nothing beats using things around the house, especially if you’re on a budget. Be creative when coming up with things to do at home to teach your kids math. You can find everyday math activities in almost everything that you do, because math is literally everywhere!