## Math Games for First Graders

I think that every topic in mathematics is fun if you master it and understand it. Since fun has always been a part of my teaching philosophy, I have found that math games are an enormously engaging and effective way to help children on their way to understanding and mastery in math. The greatest benefits of math games are the way they improve students’ basic arithmetic and problem-solving skills.

By the end of first grade, students should know or be able to do the following:
• understand and use the concept of ones and tens in the place value number system
• add and subtract small numbers with ease
• measure with simple units
• locate objects in space.
• describe data
• analyze and solve simple problems.

I have taught first grade for many years. If I could pick one math skill that I think is the most important skill for first graders to master, it would be the ability to know (without counting on fingers) all the addition facts to 10. Counting on fingers is a good beginning strategy, but children need to have all the facts in long-term memory and be able to recall them automatically.

What are all the facts that add to 10? (10+0, 9+1, 8+2, 7+3, 6+4, 5+5, 4+6, 3+7, 2+8, 1+9, 0+10)
What are all the facts that add to 9? 8? 7? 6? 5? 4? 3? 2?

The following game is one of many that help children master these basic addition skills, while having fun:

Add-em Up
What you need:
2 players
Add-em Up game board for each player – each player writes the numbers 2-12 horizontally at the bottom of their papers.
2 dice
Counters – paper clips, pennies, etc.

Players place a counter above each number.

Player #1 rolls the dice and adds the 2 numbers. He/she may then remove the counter over the sum from the game board or the counters over any 2 numbers that add up to that same sum.

Example: Player #1 rolls a 3 and a 4. He/she may remove the counter above the 7 or the counters above any combination for 7, such as 1 & 6, or 2 & 5, or 3 & 4.

Players take turns rolling the dice and removing counters. When a player cannot remove counters that match the sum rolled or a combination, he/she loses that turn.

Play continues until neither player can remove counters. The player with the most counters removed wins.

## Math Games and Math Homework

The finding by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel declared math education in the United States “broken” and called on schools to focus on teaching fundamental math skills that provide the underpinning for success in high tech jobs.

The panel said that students must be able to add and subtract whole numbers by the end of third grade and be skilled at adding and subtracting fractions and decimals by the end of fifth grade.

One of the ways that we, as teachers, have traditionally given students more practice on their math skills is homework, and yet, eighty-four percent of kids would rather take out the trash, clean their rooms, or go to the dentist than do their math homework.

So how can we help our students with their math skills and make math homework more engaging? Math games!

More and more in my teaching career, I see that children no longer memorize their addition facts or multiplication tables. With the math curriculum as extensive as it is, teachers cannot afford to take the time to ensure that students learn the basic facts (sad, but true!). Parents are partners in the process and will offer greater opportunities for their children to succeed in math if they support the learning of the basics at home. Games fit the bill wonderfully!

Games offer a pleasant way for parents to get involved in their children’s education. Parents don’t have to be math geniuses to play a game. They don’t have to worry about pushing or pressuring their children. All that parents have to do is propose a game to their child and start to play.

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. They are one of the most effective ways that parents can develop their child’s math skills without lecturing or applying pressure. When studying math, there’s an element of repetition that’s an important part of learning new concepts and developing automatic recall of math facts. Number facts can be boring and tedious to learn and practice. A game can generate an enormous amount of practice – practice that does not have kids complaining about how much work they are having to do. What better way can there be than an interesting game as a way of mastering them?

## Math Games and the Last Few Weeks of School

The Big Test is over. Yeah! The long Memorial Day weekend is past, or soon will be. Sigh! You’re way beyond burned out and thinking mostly about summer. You can’t figure out how you’re going to get through the next few weeks.

I have a great idea! Give a math game a try! Games can help children learn important mathematical skills and processes with understanding.

Besides that they:

• support concept development in math
• meet math standards
• offer multiple assessment opportunities which will help with report cards
• are great for diverse learners such as English-language learners
• encourage mathematical reasoning
• are easy to prepare
• are easy to vary for extended use and differentiated instruction
• improve basic skills
• enhance basic number and operation sense
• encourage strategic thinking
• promote mathematical communication
• promote positive attitudes towards math

Pick a skill set you know your students need to practice, and then find the right game that will offer practice with that skill set. The students will be engaged and quite willing to involve themselves in the repetitive practice needed to hone their skills.

## Math Games – a Great Summer Skill Sharpener!

Many οf thе math computational skills whісh generally аrе nοt practiced over thе summer, аrе simply forgotten. Parents can help their children retain and sharpen their mathematics skills this summer by doing and supporting math at home.

Math games offer targeted practice in math fundamentals. Games can, if you select the right ones, help children learn almost everything they need to practice and master in elementary math. Good, child-centered games are designed to take the boredom and frustration out of the repetitive practice necessary for children to master important math skills and concepts.

The following dice game gives first graders, second graders, and third graders practice with addition and subtraction.

Get Close to 105

What you need:
2 or more players
3 dice
pencils and paper for everyone

The object of this game is to get a final score closer to 105 than any other player.

Player #1 rolls the dice, adds them together, and puts the sum as his/her score for that round.

Player #2 rolls the dice, and does the same as player #1.

At the end of 10 rounds (and everyone has to take 10 rounds), the player with the score closest to 105 wins the game.

Variation: Players can make the goal number anything they want, such as 147, etc. Is there a target score that will be too high for three dice and 10 rounds? A question for the kids, not the parents.

Never forget that games are supposed to be fun! If pleasure is not connected to the game, children will be unwilling to play and little learning will take place.

## A Math Game for First, Second, and Third Graders

When working with first graders, second graders, and sometimes even third graders, I have found that when asked, “How much is your number + 10 (e.g., 23 + 10)”, they struggle to know the answer and end up counting on their fingers. Counting on fingers is a good beginning strategy, but as children gain in number sense, fingers should no longer be necessary. The same is true if I ask, “How much is your number -10?”

A major learning goal for students in the primary grades is to develop an understanding of properties of, and relationships among, numbers. Building on students’ intuitive understandings of patterns and number relationships, teachers can further the development of this one aspect of number concepts and logical reasoning by using a math game Tens and Ones.

Tens and Ones

What you need:
2 players
0-99 chart for each player (find one and download it from the internet or have your child make one using a 10×10 grid.
1 counter (button, paper clip, rock, etc.) for each player
1 regular die with instructions for rolling (following)

Roll 1 or 2 – +10
Roll 3 or 4 – +1
Roll a 5 – -1
Roll a 6 – -10

Each player places a counter on the zero on his/her own 1-99 chart. Players take turns rolling the die.

Player #1 rolls the die and moves his/her counter according to the roll on his/her 0-99 chart. Player #1 checks to make sure that player #2 agrees and then hands the die to player #2.

Player #2 follows the same steps as player #1 using his/her own 0-99 chart.

It may be visually helpful to have the child roll the die, leave the counter where it is and then count on using his finger. When he/she reaches +10, the player will then be able to see that he/she is exactly one row down from where he/she started. Then the counter can be moved to the new spot.

The winner is the first player to move his/her counter to 99. To win a player must land on 99 exactly. For example, if a player lands on 90 and rolls a +10 on the next turn, the player must pass, as there are only nine boxes from 90 to 99. Players may not move their counters past 99 and off the chart.

## Memorizing the Basic Facts with Math Games

Frank L. Palaia, PhD, is a science teacher in the Lee County School District and at Edison State College. As a guest columnist for the News-Press.com of Ft. Myers, Florida, he had this to say about students in his classes, “Most students today have not memorized basic math facts in elementary and middle school. Each year there will be otherwise intelligent junior or senior students in my high-school classes who asks a question like, “What is eight times seven?”

As an elementary math specialist, I see that children no longer memorize their addition facts or multiplication tables. With the math curriculum as extensive as it is, teachers cannot afford to take the time to ensure that students learn the basic facts (sad, but true).

Parents are partners in the process, and can offer greater opportunities for their child to succeed in math if they support the learning of the basics at home. Math games fit the bill wonderfully!

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. They are one of the most effective ways that parents can develop their child’s math skills without lecturing or applying pressure. When studying math, there’s an element of repetition that’s an important part of learning new concepts and developing automatic recall of math facts. Number facts (I’m sure you remember memorizing those times tables?) can be boring and tedious to learn and practice. A game can generate an enormous amount of practice – practice that does not have kids complaining about how much work they are having to do. What better way can there be than an interesting game as a way of mastering them?

Games are fun and create a context for developing children’s mathematical reasoning. Through playing and analyzing games, children also gain computational fluency by describing more efficient strategies and discussing relationships among numbers.

First graders and second graders need to have the addition facts to 10 in long-term memory. When they hear 6+4, they immediately know (without counting fingers) that the answer is 10. Using fingers to count is a good, early strategy but with practice, those facts should be automatic.

Third graders and fourth graders need to have all of the multiplication facts to automaticity.

Methods such as flash cards, dittos, and workbook pages stress rote memorization of basic number facts and are usually boring and do not require learners to participate actively in thought and reflection. They do not go easily or quickly into long-term memory.

Games teach or reinforce many of the skills that a formal curriculum teaches, plus a skill that math homework sometimes, mistakenly, leaves out – the skill of having fun with math, of thinking hard and enjoying it.

## Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn Math

A parent’s involvement in a child’s education is the single most important factor in that child’s academic success. The single most important factor. Decades of educational research tells us that an involved parent contributes overwhelmingly to his/her child’s grades and test scores, school attendance and quality of homework, positive attitudes and behavior at school, likelihood of graduation, and desire to enroll in higher education. In many ways, as I’ll describe, you’re the essence of your child’s education; you’ve got the power!

Don’t Laugh – That’s Math
by Judith A. Zaino

Many times I’ve heard a parent say,
“I can help my child in any way,
But don’t laugh –
I can’t do math”.
I think for a minute before I say,
Let’s look at this another way.
Have you ever said, “Wait a minute:
Here’s a box with four things in it,
Let’s take turns; you first then me”,
Helped your child count branches on a tree?
Then you’re on the right path.
Don’t laugh – that’s math!
Have you taught your child left and right?
Counted her toes in bed at night?
Repeated his favorite nursery rhyme?
Said good night just one more time?
Have you ever split a cookie right in half?
Formed a pattern on a snowy path?
Well, don’t laugh – that’s math!
Have you ever played a game?
Measured for a picture frame?
Have you cut chains for your Christmas tree?
Noticed a butterfly’s wings have symmetry?
Did you ever check the miles into town?
Have you counted stairs both up and down?
Did you ever measure to see how tall?
Find the weight of her favorite doll?
Well, don’t laugh – that’s math!
Math can be seen in everything,
Even in the songs we sing.
Math isn’t just adding and subtracting,
multiplying, dividing, or even protracting.
Math exists all around us;
We didn’t find it – it found us!
Now remember, when this little poem is done,
If it has given you a small fraction of fun,
Don’t laugh – that’s math!

Family involvement is an essential element for a child’s success in mathematics and school. You are one of your child’s most valuable resources.

Math is all around us. The following math games and activities are just a few of the things you can do with your children which will nurture their mathematical development while being just plain fun!

• Count, count, and count! Young children love to count and will count everything and anything. Encourage your child to count out loud the number of steps climbed, spoons in the silverware drawer, french fries in her kids’ meal, buttons on all her shirts, etc.

• Practice classifying by separating toys into sets, such as things with wheels, things that have red on them, things that have numbers or words on them, things that roll, etc. Ask questions related to size or quantity: Which is larger? Which is largest? Which is smaller? Which is smallest? Do you have more dolls or more animals? Are their fewer dogs or fewer cats?

• Find two and three-dimensional geometric shapes, such as circles and spheres.

• Let your child help set the table. Fold napkins as rectangles one day, then as triangles the next. Find the number of legs on the chairs and table needed for everyone to eat.

• Let your child sort the laundry. Before washing, have your child sort the piles by colors or by family members. How many zippers? How many buttons? Are there more buttons or more zippers?

• Practice counting and making change. Ask your child to help you figure out how much money you have in your pocket or purse. Sort the coins. Let your child pick out the paper money and change needed when making a purchase, and have your child tell you how much change you should get back.

• Use sharing to reinforce division concepts and fraction skills. How many cookies will each child get if two children need to share 8 cookies? How many cookies will each child get if two children share 5 cookies? How can we cut the birthday cake so we can feed at least twenty people?

• Incorporate measuring during everyday activities, such as cooking, gardening, crafts, or home-improvement projects. Practice measuring things with a ruler, yardstick, tape measure, measuring cups, and scale.

• Use the kitchen to reinforce mathematics concepts and skills. Your child can practice sorting by helping put the groceries away and can practice measuring ingredients by helping cook meals, bake cookies, etc. Measuring cups are great for the sandbox or beach, too! Older children can determine how to adjust the ingredients to halve or double the recipe. After meals, your child can practice spatial reasoning skills by determining the appropriate size of containers to use for leftovers.

• Numbers are all around us! Look for numbers in the environment (e.g., addresses, sports statistics, weather forecasts, license plates, prices), and talk about what they mean and how they are used.

• Keep charts or graphs to help your child organize information and keep track of data. A child who is saving his/her allowance to buy an item might create a chart or graph to show how much he/she can save.

• Open a savings account. Work with your child to keep track of deposits, withdrawals, and interest and to compare this record with the monthly bank statement.

• Encourage a child who is a sports enthusiast to keep track of scores and statistics.

The following are two great games for young children:

Speed!

What you need:
Each player requires their own full deck of cards.

Each player holds their deck of cards until the parent says “Go”. Each player then proceeds to sort the complete deck into piles according to the same numbers as quickly as possible.

Piles MUST be put into consecutive order from smallest to greatest value. The first player to sort all their cards accordingly wins.
Play this one over and over again!

Blast Off!
What you need:
2 players
2 dice
1 set of cards 1-10 for each player

Each player arranges their cards in front of themselves in order:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Each player must get rid of their cards in sequence starting with the 10 and going down. Players must first roll a 10, then 9, etc.

Player #1 rolls the dice. Players have two rolls per turn. If player #1 does not roll a 10 in his/her 2 rolls, he/she loses the turn.

Player #2 does the same.

The first player to eliminate their cards in sequence, and is left with only the 1 is the winner.

## Math Games and Understanding Equality

I contend that one of the big reasons why U.S. students lag behind their peers in many European and Asian countries in mathematics is because we are lax in helping children develop critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills that require students to apply content knowledge to real-world problems is of great importance. It’s very clear that if students can recall discrete content knowledge but cannot apply it, they’re going to be in trouble.

Here’s an example. By the time students have mastered rudimentary math, elementary-school pupils should understand that the numbers on either side of the equal sign are equivalents. Many students drilled in rote memorization don’t always grasp the concept of equivalency. I’ve frequently seen sixth graders who still believe that the equal sign means “the answer goes here”.

Equivalence/equality is undoubtedly one of the most important, connecting ideas in school mathematics. Developing this concept of equivalence calls for lots of experiences with materials as students are developing their conceptual understanding of numbers and operations. More important, it calls for teachers to help students connect their experiences with the mathematical idea(s) they are developing, in this case, equivalence or equality.

One of the experiences elementary teachers can use to help develop this understanding of equivalency is math games. The following is one of my favorites, and I use it with first through sixth graders.

Balancing Act

What you need:
2 players
deck of cards, face cards removed
cut a 3×5 card in thirds. On two of the thirds write a + sign. On the last third write an = sign.

Shuffle the cards and deal six cards to each player. Stack the rest of the cards facedown in a pile.

Each player chooses four cards from his/her hand. The object is to balance the equation by arranging the cards into two addition problems with equal sums. A player earns one point for balancing the equation.

Example: a player could place a 7 and a 1 on one side of the equation and a 3 and a 5 on the other (7+1 = 3+5)

A player can also place two cards of the same value on the equation to balance it (4+0 = 0+4).

At the end of a round, the cards played are placed at the bottom of the deck. The dealer shuffles the cards and gives six more to each player. Play continues in the same way.

The game ends when one player reaches ten points.

Variation: Children can play a similar game using subtraction or addition and subtraction. Change your “operation cards” so that children can create various balancing equations.

## Teaching Elementary Math Can Be Fun!

I firmly believe that the more fun both teacher and child have during a math lesson, the easier the concepts will be to teach, learn, and retain. Believe it or not, there are fun ways to teach math!

Like almost every elementary teacher in the United States, a group in Massachusetts is actively looking for ways to “make teaching math a more comfortable process for early childhood educators”.

Do you feel like you could really use an appealing, effective way to help your students learn basic math concepts and skills? Many elementary schools are impressed with the many benefits of using math games in the classroom.

Games offer a fun and natural link to math concepts. And games can, if you select the right ones, help children learn almost everything they need to master in elementary math. Good, child-centered games are designed to take the boredom and frustration out of the repetitive practice necessary for children to master important math skills and concepts.

The following is one of my favorite games for kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders:

Turn Over 5
What you need:
2 players
cards 0 – 5, 4 of each

The object of this Concentration-type game is to capture pairs of cards that add up to 5.

Mix up the cards and lay them face down in four rows of six. Players take turns by choosing two cards to turn over, trying to find a combination that adds up to 5. If they find one, they keep (capture) that pair. If they do not, they turn the two cards back over for the next player. When all matches have been made, the player with the most cards wins the game.

Variation: This game can be made more challenging by using higher cards and a different sum, such as 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 15, etc.

## Place Value Activities and Games

Once children have developed a basic number sense for numbers up to ten, a strong “sense of ten” needs to be developed as a foundation for both place value and mental calculations.

Ten is, of course, the building block of our Base Ten numeration system. Young children can usually “read” two-digit numbers long before they understand the effect the placement of each digit has on its numerical value. For example, a five-year-old might be able to correctly read 62 as sixty-two and 26 as twenty-six, and even know which number is larger, without understanding why the numbers are of differing values.

Place value is vitally important to all later mathematics. Without it, keeping track of greater numbers rapidly becomes impossible. (Can you imagine trying to write 999 with only ones?) A thorough mastery of place value is essential to learning the operations with greater numbers. It is the foundation for regrouping in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Developing students’ understanding of numbers, ways of representing numbers, and the relationships among numbers are focus areas for elementary mathematics. To help children understand these very important concepts and give them the opportunities to explore numbers, the following very effective and engaging game has been developed for First Grade, Second Grade, and Third grade.

Two-Digit War

What you need:
2 players
deck of cards – 10’s removed
Tens and Ones board for each player. Hold an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper with long sides on the top and bottom. Fold it in half vertically. At the bottom of the left half write Tens. At the bottom of the right half write Ones.

Shuffle cards and place them face-down in a pile. Player #1 turns over one card and decides whether to put it on the Tens or Ones. Once it has been laid down, it cannot be moved.

Player #2 does the same.

Player #1 turns over one more card and puts it on the remaining space. Again, it cannot be moved once it is laid down.

Player #2 does the same.

Players read their numbers out loud to each other. The player with the biggest two-digit number wins and takes all four cards. When all the cards have been used, players count their cards, and the player with the most cards wins the game.

Variation: The person with the smallest two-digit number wins.
Variation: Play Three-Digit War with Hundreds, Tens, and Ones

There are many really good games that emphasize a thorough understanding of place value