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Kids + Math Games = Super

Parents are their children’s first and most enduring teachers. Even the best teacher your child encounters in school will only be with your child for a year, perhaps two. Even after children enter school, they spend seventy percent of their waking hours outside of the school setting. As a parent, you have greater opportunity to make a difference, to teach, model, and guide your child’s learning, than anyone else. You have a more intimate knowledge of your child’s needs and talents. You have a keener interest in your child’s schooling and future, and deeper motivation to help your child succeed. No one is better placed or more qualified than you to make a difference in your child’s academic and lifelong education.

Keeping in mind the profound impact you can have on your children as readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists, what can you do to turn your home into a rich learning environment? I don’t mean bring out the worksheets, flash cards, and dittos. It is about offering your children experiences that are most appropriate – learning experiences that are fun for all, a part of your everyday lives, and are deeper, richer, and longer lasting. These kinds of experiences develop children who are more persistent, more creative, and eager to do challenging work.

I have a suggestion for mathematics – math games.

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 (remember 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 offer targeted practice in math fundamentals. 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.

Your kids – whether you’re a parent or teacher – will learn, without even realising they are learning.

Math Games and Summer Vacation

Just because school will soon be out for the summer, it doesn’t mean a child’s brain should stop working. In fact, keeping a child’s mind fresh with review, as well as new ideas, can keep those brains in tip-top shape for the following school year.

During the summer, it is important to help your children retain and enhance what they learned in school. Most kids don’t want to sit down and do anything educational during the summer, so this can present a challenge.

Math skills, particularly, can be hard to retain during summer vacation. Kids may spend hours reading books at the beach and doing crafts at camp, but doing math can be extremely unappealing.

Teachers know that the several months off for summer vacation sees considerable slippage in their students’ math skills. Kids who practice summer math will have an easier time transitioning back to school, while kids who don’t may lose a couple months of learning.

Don’t let this summer be a math-avoidance time. Who says math has to be something your child dreads? It should, instead, be something the child looks forward to and thrives on. The trick is to teach your kids math by combining it with fun activities.

Many years ago I discovered that math games fit the bill wonderfully! Math games put children in exactly the right frame of mind for learning. Children are normally very eager to play games. They relax when they play, and they concentrate. They don’t mind repeating certain facts or procedures over and over. In an engaging math game, children will be more focused and retention will be greater.

Dittos, flashcards, or workbook pages are not appropriate if you want your child to be excited about math. Children throw themselves into playing games the way they never throw themselves into filling out workbook pages or dittos.

Games offer a pleasant way for you to get involved in your child’s math education. You may be one of those many parents who don’t feel comfortable with math, or who assume it takes special expertise to help your child. Believe me, as a veteran teacher, when I say that you don’t have to be a math genius to play a game. With a math game, you don’t have to worry about pushing or pressuring your child. All that you have to do is propose a game to your child and start to play.

Games can help your child learn almost everything they need to master in elementary math. Games solidify the achievements of children who are already good at math, and they shore up children who need shoring up.

There are plenty of fun math games that you and your children can play to help them retain their math skills. Get a jump start on the coming school year! Sit down and play some math games with your children.

Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn Math

Children are all the same in one way: they love to play games. Put the right game in front of a child, explain the rules, and that child will eagerly play, happy and alert.

Math, on the other hand, can be intimidating for kids. If we understand the nature of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, we can help any child to achieve and feel good in mathematics. It’s a matter of finding the best itinerary and the best route through the subject’s many possible pathways.

They need practical arithmetic experiences that are fun. Playing math games is an effective and engaging one of those possible pathways. Whether you’re a parent or teacher, your children will learn, without even realising they are learning.

One of the things we positively know about children (and adults) is that if pleasure is not a part of what you are doing, you will not be willing to do it very much or for very long.

Many parents regard play as rather trivial in the lives of their young children and would much rather see their kids get involved in “educational” activities. To parents, it often seems that all children do is play! They play until they are five or six, then they go off to school and start to learn. They play until they are big enough to really begin to do things.

The act of playing is an important tool that influences a child’s life. The primary goals of childhood are to grow, learn, and play. It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them. It is a child’s “job” to play to develop physical coordination, emotional maturity, social skills to interact with others, and self-confidence to try new experiences and explore new environments.

Play to a child IS learning! They learn to play and play to learn. Play is terribly important to a child. It is not a distraction. It’s not something they do to take up time. It’s a child’s life.

So, begin to “play” with your child. Math games are a fantastic way to learn as you play.

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.

Making Math a Challenge and Fun

Why do so many children feel like math is a chore? I believe that it’s not the math that turns kids off. It’s the way mathematics is taught. Standardized instruction and memorization of details, which moves at a plodding pace, leave some students bored and many frustrated.

We know a lot about how children learn mathematics, but rarely use that information to inform our teaching. Here are some ways to teach math that reflects the research on how children learn mathematics:

• By confronting tasks and problems that offer a variety of solution strategies
• By engaging in meaningful conversation with partners and small groups about the tasks and problems: describing, explaining, deciding, and considering
• By encountering the mathematics in familiar, real-life situations, stories, songs, and games

I’ve been teaching math to children for many years, and I’ve found that math games are, from a teacher’s point of view, wonderfully useful. Math games put children in exactly the right frame of mind for learning. Children are normally very eager to play games. They relax when they play, and they concentrate. They don’t mind repeating certain facts or procedures over and over.

Children throw themselves into playing games the way they never throw themselves into filling out workbook pages or dittos. 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.

Playing math games is even more beneficial than spending the same amount of time drilling basic facts using flash cards. Not only are games a lot more fun, but the potential for learning and reasoning about mathematics is much greater, as well. Games require a variety of problem-solving skills, such as making and testing hypotheses, creating strategies (thinking and planning ahead), and organizing information. Plus, as children play, they further their development of hand-eye coordination, concentration levels, visual discrimination, memory, and their ability to communicate and use mathematical language.

Research has demonstrated that students learn more if they are actively engaged with the math they are studying. Constance Kamii, a world renowned expert on how children learn math puts it this way, “Children who are mentally active develop faster than those who are passive.”

Active learning is, in short, anything that students do in a classroom other than merely listen to a teacher’s lecture. There are several ways of doing this. Playing math games is a particularly useful one.

Math games:
• provoke students into discussing, explaining, and thinking
• challenge and interest students
• get students actively involved in their learning
• result in learning
• provide some immediate assessment

In the process of playing the game, students may develop initiative, interest, curiosity, resourcefulness, independence, and responsibility. Would that happen with a ditto or workbook page?

Teaching methods that stress rote memorization of basic number facts or algorithmic procedures are usually boring and do not require learners to participate actively in thought and reflection.

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

Playing to Learn

Everyday Mathematics is a comprehensive Pre-K through 6th grade mathematics curriculum developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. It is currently being used in over 185,000 classrooms by almost 3,000,000 students.

The federal government’s What Works Clearinghouse gave Everyday Mathematics the highest rating of any commercially published elementary mathematics curriculum.

Here’s what they have to say about the use of math games:

“Frequent practice is necessary to attain strong mental arithmetic skills and reflexes. Although drill focused narrowly on rote practice with operations has its place, Everyday Mathematics also encourages practice through games.

Drill and games should not be viewed as competitors for class time, nor should games be thought of as time-killers or rewards. In fact, games satisfy many, if not most, standard drill objectives – and with many built-in options. Drill tends to become tedious and, therefore, gradually loses its effectiveness. Games relieve the tedium because children enjoy them. Indeed, children often wish to continue to play games during their free time, lunch, and even recess.

Using games to practice number skills also greatly reduces the need for worksheets. Because the numbers in most games are generated randomly, the games can be played over and over without repeating the same problems. Games practice, therefore, offers an almost unlimited source of problem material.”

Games can be easily linked to any mathematics textbook.

No matter which textbook your district uses, math games can easily be incorporated into instruction. Even if your textbook does not include games, identify a skills need almost all your students have, and give a game a try. I guarantee it will be more of a learning experience for the students and more informative to you of what your students know and can do than any workbook page or ditto.

Let’s Play Math!

How we, as teachers, teach math or how we, as parents, help our children with math can make or break a child’s success in mathematics and the many subjects based on it.

A good math experience typically prepares and motivates students to excel in any future math course. A bad experience can turn that same student off to a subject that is not only the basis for well-paying, in-demand careers in science, engineering and technology, but essential for understanding the world around us.

Once a child disengages from studying math, it can be very difficult to catch up. This happens too often to students we know are capable of succeeding at math. The elementary grades are a time when kids firm up values and impressions. We want them to understand math and feel that it’s worthwhile.

We need to offer experiences that encourage elementary-aged children to explore the unknown, tinker with ideas, and satisfy an innate sense of curiosity.

Children need to be asked to understand things, not just memorize them. They need to be encouraged to explore and be curious in everyday activities so they understand that math is everywhere. This kind of teaching can provide the motivation to learn, create, and excel.

How do we help our children become creative thinkers who are capable of solving real-world problems? There are many good answers to that question. One of the simplest is math games. Math games offer children the opportunity to practice problem-solving and teamwork which are disguised as fun.

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

Games can provide an atmosphere where children are encouraged to:
• share their ideas with other children and adults
• be alert and curious
• come up with interesting ideas, problems, and questions
• have confidence in their abilities to figure out things for themselves
• speak their minds with confidence

In the process of playing the game, students may develop initiative, interest, curiosity, resourcefulness, independence, and responsibility. Our future needs this kind of creative thinker.

The Perfect Math Game!

Are you looking for creative and engaging ways to help your students/children learn basic math concepts and skills?

Teachers and parents often ask for suggestions about activities to do with their children at school and at home to help further their mathematical understanding. I’ve been teaching math to children for many years, and I’ve found that math games are, from a teacher’s and a parent’s point of view, wonderfully useful. Math games put children in exactly the right frame of mind for learning. Children are normally very eager to play games. They relax when they play, and they concentrate. They don’t mind repeating certain facts or procedures over and over.

Children throw themselves into playing games the way they never throw themselves into filling out workbook pages or dittos. And games can 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.

Playing math games is even more beneficial than spending the same amount of time drilling basic facts using flash cards. Not only are games a lot more fun, but the potential for learning and reasoning about mathematics is much greater, as well. In a non-threatening game format, children will be more focused and retention will be greater.

Math games are the perfect way to develop, reinforce, and extend children’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 (remember 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?

One of the most effective and engaging math games is War. It has many variations. Give one or more of the following a try:

More or Less

Many of you may know this game as “War”. For mathematical purposes, I think it is more appropriate to call it “More” or “Less”.

What you need:
2 players
1 deck of cards

Shuffle cards well and deal them face-down equally to all players. Players do not look at their cards. All players turn over their top card at the same time. The player with the greatest number (More) collects all the cards. In the event of a tie, players turn over one more card and put it on top of their first card. The player with the biggest number takes all four cards.

Each player might add the two cards together and the player with the biggest total would take all four cards. Or the biggest number on the second card turned over could be the winner. You decide what is most appropriate.

You follow the same rules to play “Less”. The player with the smallest number wins the cards.

Variations:

Addition War – Each player turns over two cards and adds them together. The player with the greatest sum or the smallest sum (you decide which) wins all four cards.

Addition War (3, 4, 5, etc. addends) – Each player turns over three cards and adds them together.

Subtraction War – Each player turns over two cards and subtracts the smaller number from the larger number. The player with the smallest or greatest difference (you decide which) wins.

Addition and Subtraction War – Each player turns over two cards and adds them together. Then each player turns over one more card and subtracts it from their sum. The player with the greatest or smallest difference wins. I like this game because it involves the use of two operations.

Product War – Turn up two cards and multiply.

Product War II– Turn up three (or more) cards and multiply.

Product War (advanced) – Each player turns up three cards and moves them around and arranges them in a problem where two-digit number is multiplied by a one-digit number. The player with the greatest or least product (you decide) wins.

Division War – Each player turns up three cards and moves them around and arranges them in a problem where two-digit number is divided by a one-digit number. The player with the least or greatest quotient (you decide) wins.

Fraction War – Each player turns up two cards and use the larger card as the numerator and the smaller card as the denominator (or vice versa, whichever you choose). The player with the greatest or least fraction (you choose) wins.

Integer Addition War – Each player takes two cards and adds them together. Red cards are negative (I’m in the red), and black cards are positive. The greatest sum wins.

Actively Learning Math

Is it any wonder that Pine Street Elementary was the only school in the tricounty area of South Carolina to earn “excellent” in both absolute and growth ratings?

The picture shows a classroom of children studying math through activities that get them out of their seats. Active (as opposed to passive) learning is always a more effective teaching and learning strategy.

Research has demonstrated that students learn more if they are actively engaged with the math they are studying. Constance Kamii, a world renowned expert on how children learn math puts it this way, “Children who are mentally active develop faster than those who are passive.”

Active learning is, in short, anything that students do in a classroom other than merely listen to a teacher’s lecture. There are several ways of doing this. Playing math games is a particularly useful one.

Math games:
• provoke students into discussing, explaining, and thinking
• challenge and interest students
• get students actively involved in their learning
• result in learning
• provide some immediate assessment

In the process of playing the game, students may develop initiative, interest, curiosity, resourcefulness, independence, and responsibility. Would that happen with a ditto or workbook page?

Children learn math best when they participate in games that are relevant to them, hold their attention, and require them to “make meaning” for themselves.

Teaching methods that stress rote memorization of basic number facts or algorithmic procedures are usually boring and do not require learners to participate actively in thought and reflection.

Multiplication Games and Activities

Traditionally, instruction in multiplication has focused on learning the multiplication facts using flash cards, dittos, workbook pages, and timed tests. However, it is becoming apparent to many that these methods are woefully ineffective, and children continue to struggle to memorize their multiplication tables.

So what can parents and teachers do to help their children/students learn these multiplication facts? The following are some very effective math games and activities that not only work, but are lots of fun! When was the last time you or your children said that about multiplication?!

1. Numbers and equations are far more interesting when they represent real-life specifics. For example, the problem “What is 3 x 4?” can be posed as “If there are 3 pods with 4 whales in each, how many whales are there altogether?” As kids begin to visualize whales swimming through the ocean, the math becomes much more specific, rich, and understandable.

When my granddaughter was in the 3rd grade, we would use travel time in the car to practice our multiplication facts. First, I would make up a problem (7 tricycles, how many wheels?), and she would have to give me the complete equation (7×3=21). And then I would ask, “Why isn’t this a 3×7 problem?” Too many times all we say is 7×3 is the same as 3×7. That can be very confusing.

Then it would be her turn to make up a question (5 cars, how many rear-view mirrors?), and I would have to come up with the entire equation, plus justify why it wasn’t a 3×5 question.
Sometimes we would discuss what might make a good 4×7 question, or a 9×6 question, etc.

The following are just a few of the situations we used:
• 3 weeks – how many days?
• 9 cans – how many round bottoms?
• 12 noses, how many people?
• 5 cows, how many legs?
• 8 sleeves, how many shirts?

2. Play “What Am I?” Say to children “Seven is one of my factors. The sum of my digits is 6. What am I?” (42). Repeat this activity with other numbers.

3. Use a blank multiplication chart. Ask the children to enter the multiplication facts that they are sure of. Then have pairs of students exchange charts and quiz each other on the facts that are on the chart. If a child misses a fact, ask the partner to make a small mark by the fact to indicate that they need to practice it further. Marking missed problems with a highlighter is a strategy that may benefit some students. Keep these multiplication charts around and continue to add to them and test each other.

4. Most children struggle with multiplying by 6, 7, 8, and 9. These are the ones that need the most practice. The following is a way to work on these factors:

Provide students with paper and crayons and ask them to draw six blue vertical lines on the paper. Now ask them to draw four red horizontal lines intersecting the vertical lines. Ask them to circle in purple each place there is an intersection and count the number of intersections. Challenge them to identify what multiplication fact they have just demonstrated. Tell them that in this model, the number of rows is given first. [4 ×6 = 24.] Ask them to turn their papers a quarter turn and name the multiplication fact now modeled. [6 ×4 = 24.]

Encourage them to generate other facts where one factor is 6, including 6 × 0 and 6 × 1.

Repeat with 7 as a factor.

It may be helpful for students to visualize the vertical lines as city streets, the horizontal lines as roads, and the intersections as marking where a stoplight is needed.

5. Distribute index cards to each pair and ask each student to make a set of 10 cards numbered 0 to 9, one to a card. When they have finished, ask them to shuffle the two decks together and stack them face down. Tell them to take turns turning over the top card, multiplying the number drawn by 6 and then saying the product. As each card is used, it should be returned to the bottom of the deck. Give students time to play, and then ask the class to skip count in unison by 6. Encourage them to do so without looking at the game board.

Repeat for 7 as a factor.

6. Number Drawings – great for helping to memorize skip counting!

What you need:
paper, pencil, and crayons

Give each child a blank piece of white paper. Tell the children that today they are going to be skip counting by 4’s to 40 and each of them would be making their own unique drawing.

Tell them they are going to start by putting the number 4 anywhere on their paper and putting a little dot beside it. The object is to scatter the numbers all over the page. Now what number comes next if we are skipcounting by 4’s? Keep going until you reach 40.

Now connect the dots starting at 4, going to 8, and so on. When you reach 40, connect it back to 4.

Now color the inside of your drawing.

Make a Number drawing for 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, 8’s, 9’s, 10’s, 11’s, 12’s and so on.

7. Play a game.

Rectangles

What you need:
2 players
2 dice
12×12 grid or graph paper for each player
pencils and crayons

During a series of rounds, players toss the two dice that determine the length and width of rectangles that are constructed on 12×12 grid or graph paper. Points are scored by finding the areas of the rectangles.

Players take turns. During a turn, a player tosses the dice and constructs a rectangle by making its length on a horizontal line on the graph paper according to the number thrown on one die, and marking its height according to the number thrown on the other die. The player then outlines the entire rectangle, writes the equation within the rectangle, lightly colors it in, and calculates his score by determining the number of squares within the rectangle.

The rules for placing rectangles are as follows:
• All rectangles must be placed entirely within the graph.
• The edges of rectangles may touch (but do not have to).
• Rectangles may not overlap each other.
• No rectangle may be placed within another rectangle.

Players drop out of the game and calculate their cumulative score when their throw of the dice gives them a rectangle that will not fit on their graph. The game ends when all players have dropped out. The player with the highest score wins.

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