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.