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)
- Sudoku (for the older kids),
- Sequence (this has a Jr. version that I no longer own)
- Rush Hour
- Amazing Labyrinth
- 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
- base ten blocks
- cuisenaire rods
- wrap ups
- hundred number chart and tiles
- teddy bear counters (three different sizes and six colors)
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.