Making math fun

Last year a friend who is amazing with doing art projects with her kids suggested we team up this year: she’d do art with our kids, I’d do math.  I loved the idea but told her it wouldn’t work since I don’t ‘do math’ with young kids, I just provide them with games to play together or play with them.

When it comes to making math fun while building familiarity with mathematical concepts, games rate at the top of my list for how to accomplish this goal.  I’ve written about my proclivity for games a number of times but it bears repeating because it’s so easy and valuable to integrate into your day.  Games are so helpful in developing the mind; don’t underestimate them because the child is having fun!

There are loads of games out there and I’ll share some that we have that we like:

  • Monopoly (regular and Jr. edition)
  • Rummikub (taught this to ds6 right after he turned five and it quickly became one of our favorites to play together)
  • Life
  • Sudoku (for the older kids),
  • Battleship
  • Sequence (this has a Jr. version that I no longer own)
  • Stratego
  • Rush Hour
  • chess
  • Amazing Labyrinth
  • Quarto
  • Quirkle
  • checkers
  • backgammon
  • assortment of card games (eg War can become multiplication, addition or subtraction)
  • games that build visual perceptions skills – eg Make ‘n Break

The list could go on and on this short list is of games that we have and use.  Mostly the kids play with each other though there’s usually an introductory period with a game in which I (or an older sibling) spend time teaching them how to play.  I tend to play with them more when the game is short and doesn’t require too much focus, since I usually have enough things going on that need my supervision that I can’t give a game my undivided attention.

I also have materials that I categorize as manipulatives:

  • pattern blocks
  • tangrams
  • geoboards
  • base ten blocks
  • cuisenaire rods
  • wrap ups
  • hundred number chart and tiles
  • teddy bear counters (three different sizes and six colors)
  • puzzles

I let the kids play with the manipulatives pretty freely and even without  instruction I’ve found they absorb concepts regarding numbers, order, size, matching.  For my kids, all the things on this list would be considered games since they voluntarily choose to play with these.  I was smiling to myself recently as I watched ds6 take out the hundred number chart and match the number tile to each square for fun, knowing how many people wouldn’t expect a child to choose something so seemingly academic on his own, but kids really don’t make distinctions between fun and learning at this age unless you teach them otherwise.

I also use them to demonstrate mathematical concepts in a hands-on way.  Sometimes I favor one manipulative over another; this year I’ve used the hundred number chart a lot and in past years hardly used it at all.  Recently I’ve hardly touched the cuisenaire rods but found the base ten blocks super helpful; in the past it was reversed.

Having these activities around and using them on a regular basis have helped out kids develop a sense of math being fun and relevant.  Making games and learning activities the focus in the early years rather than workbooks is also a good reminder for us as parents that learning should be enjoyable and make sense.  Math is logical and interesting; giving our kids a chance to experience that from the early years takes away a lot of the fear and intimidation that have unfortunately become the experience of so many kids regarding math.


5 thoughts on “Making math fun

  1. Thank you! I have most of those games at home, and while I had realized the math potential / spacial /logic/planning potential, (and had bought some for this very purpose), it was not the case for all, and it’s good to have a reminder.
    Thank you

  2. I appreciate all of these ideas and suggestions. I would love ideas for older children as well (later elementary through teen). More specifically, do you have any great resources or ideas for teaching kids to write properly. My children read a lot but since we have moved here do not have a lot of opportunities to write essays, letters, etc.

  3. My kids also love to play with math manipulatives. We also have a special set of cards that we use to play a lot of math games.

    I seem to remember you mentioning that you use Singapore for elementary math and Video Text for high school math. I’m just wondering how you transition from a game-based approach to math into Singapore. Actually, I would not be surprised to learn that you continue to use games and other fun math things even after introducing a formal curriculum, but I wonder at what point you feel a curriculum is necessary or helpful.

    1. Hi, Binah – it’s been a long time since I’ve heard from you! I hope you’re well.

      I start Singapore at 2A, which is usually in our family when a child is about 7, This level starts with multi-digit addition and subtraction and introduces multiplication so they have a lot of basics to understand before they start with this, These concepts could still be covered with manipulatives and in fact for ds7 I first showed him how to carry and take away with three digit numbers using base ten blocks before letting him go on to that lesson in the book. That helped him develop an intuitive understanding of it and it was straightforward to show him the technical method. I could probably wait until they’re older to start but this has worked well for us without it feeling like a pressure for them and I like the consistency.

      You’re right, we continue to use games a lot, not for teaching per se but because it’s fun and it’s good for kids to find it enjoyable to stretch their minds in play.

      1. Thank you for answering my question! I know your time is limited, so I really appreciate that you took the time.

        I started my oldest with Singapore in level 2A, too, but she was older (8?) when we started. The younger ones have started earlier and at a lower level (in the kindergarten workbooks or in 1A, depending on the child). I’m not sure whether starting earlier or later has been more successful for us. We’ll see, I guess.

        I guess it has been a long time since you’ve heard anything from me! I visit your blog regularly, and I *feel* like I’ve commented so many times. I usually read your blog on my mobile device, but for some reason I have a hard time posting comments on the device. It often happens that I type out a comment, but am unable to post it. You haven’t had the benefit of knowing my thoughts and prayers were with you over the past couple years (whatever they’re worth), but they have been! In any case, I’m always reading!

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