We all want our children to be confident and capable with numbers. But, so many of us had a poor experience as children ourselves and it can be daunting. There are many books out there with titles like ‘Fun with Subtraction’ but they’re usually dull and children feel that they are being penalised with more school work.
The answer: play games where numbers are a key element of the game but hidden in the fun that you’re having.
Here are some of our favourites!
A pack of cards! (No, really!)
Here you’re trying to get as close to 21 by twisting or sticking. Children will become confident with adding up the numbers to 21, making a five card hand, risking going over or under. There are so many number skills involved in this simple game that you can play for ages.
And if they are getting confident, change the number – this time it is 31 to beat. Children will learn it quickly and love to beat you at it!
Choose some cards that children will enjoy playing with and have a go – other games that are great for maths include Canasta and Rummy, but just choose a favourite.
A game of skill
Tumble Tops is probably as old as the hills, yet we see children wanting to play with it every day. Simply spin the top in the middle and see where it lands. The first player with 100 points is the winner of the game – and now you see where the adding up comes.
Try inventing new rules – it you can predict you are going to score a 6 before you spin, you will get double points. If you score the same as you did last time, you will lose points…. It’s all about finding ways of using adding and subtracting as part of the fabric of the game.
Dot to dots
Great for counting and early number skills – children will love working out the pictures and then it becomes more about the art than it does the numbers. Try doing them backwards – you get the same picture but with a whole new set of number skills.
As with cards, you will be using numbers all over the place without noticing. Our favourite is Tenzi.
Each player starts with 10 dice. The basic game involves you all rolling and re-rolling the dice to get them to all match – it is fast and furious and great fun.
However, you have forty dice in one place – imagine the possibilities for invention! Who can make 48 first by adding up the dice? Who can get to 0 first starting with 50 points? Who can get all the dice to show even numbers? You can go on forever – just keep changing the rules.
Using drawing as a way into numbers
As you get more advanced, numbers are more than just the basic four rules. Here is a book that explicitly says that it is not trying to teach you – in fact it is full of amazing ways of using patterns, shape, angle and ways of manipulating numbers to create pictures and puzzles that will completely engage the child. This is a great way for children who have mastered the basics to see why they are important and get some fun out of them.
These are a more overt way of playing with numbers, but still fun. The key here is to change the rules as often as you can.
The idea is to choose a target number by throwing the larger dice and then to use the other dice to create that number by using the other dice using plus, minus etc.
Now change the rules. This time you need to use at least three dice to make your target – you may need to add and multiple, or divide. With the larger targets, what about using squared numbers or factors? Make it fun and switch it around and these games can last for hours.
Our top tips for making maths fun are:
- Keep it small – for children up to the age of 5/6, working with numbers up to 20 is often enough. Get them really confident in manipulating small numbers before introducing larger more complex ideas
- Keep it light – games are meant to be fun – if the numbers involved in the game you are playing are too much to cope with, change the rules!
- Find numbers everywhere – many games have dice involved, and numbers are used all over the house and supermarket
- Forget what you did at school – pages of sums were never much fun and children will only think they are doing more work – think of new ways
What games and toys have you found that help? We’d love to hear.