How to Make Math Games for Kids

The math game

One of the most effective ways to help kids learn math facts is through the use of games. In this article, you'll learn how to gather just a handful of basic materials and create a wide assortment of simple yet exciting games that children will enjoy playing. These games can be used to help children practice addition, subtraction and multiplication facts.

Prepare your games by assembling the needed materials. Number cubes (dice) and counters should be stored in easily accessible containers. Playing cards should be rubber-banded together. Create the Fact-O boards by writing the numbers 1 to 30 and three large X's on each board. You may also want to make larger Fact-O boards with higher numbers if you want children to multiply larger numbers or use three dice.

Introduce the game "Speed" first, because of its simplicity. As with all math games, be sure to model how to play the game before allowing children to play on their own. Demonstrate how to get the materials, begin play, handle problems during play, and how to correctly put away the materials. To play "Speed," two children each roll a number cube (die) at the same time. The first player to correctly add them up wins. Children must recite the full math fact aloud ("3+6=9!") in order to receive credit. Tally marks can be used to keep score. The winner is the person with the most tally marks when time is up. Play the game two or three days in a row so children become familiar with it. Then, if children know how to subtract or multiply, they can play the game for several more days using these operations.

Up the difficultly level with "Switch 'Em Up Speed." Once children are proficient in "Speed," you can change the rules slightly for "Switch 'Em Up Speed." This time, use a signal (such as a bell or whistle) to indicate when children should freeze. Begin by having children play the game in the normal way, then use the signal after about thirty seconds. Children should freeze and you can call out another operation ("Now, multiply!"). From that point forward, children must use the new specified operation, until you use the signal again.

Introduce the game "Battle," which is played with a deck of cards. Take out the jacks, queens, kings and jokers, unless you prefer to teach that those cards are worth 11, 12, 13 and 14 respectively. The ace is equal to 1. The rules for "Battle" are similar to the card game of "War." Two players should split the deck between them (this does not need to be done precisely, in order to save time). Each player chants, "1, 2 ,3, flip!" and then flips over his top card. The first person to correctly add the two cards together and recite the math fact ("4+3=7!") gets to keep both cards, and play resumes. If there is a tie, or children cannot determine who was first, leave both cards on the table and resume play. The winner of the next round will take all 4 cards. After children have demonstrated proficiency with addition "Battle," they can play the game using subtraction or multiplication.

Introduce one final math fact practice game, after multiple days of playing variations of "Speed" and "Battle." In this game, called "Fact-O," children will choose the operation that they want to use in game play that is similar to Bingo. Each player will need a number cube, small counters and a game board that has the numbers 1 to 30 and 3 large X's written on it. Players take turns rolling the dice and choosing an operation. For example, if a player rolls 5 and 2, she could say, "5+2=7" and cover the number 7 on her board using a counter. If 7 is covered, she could say, "5-2=3" and cover the 3. She could also say "5x2=10" and cover the 10. If 7, 3 and 10 are already covered on her board, she must place a counter over one of her 3 X's. If one player covers all 3 X's before time is up, the other player wins by default. Otherwise, the winner of the game is the person with the most numbers covered on his board when time is up. Once children have practiced with the Fact-O boards for several days, you may choose to introduce a larger Fact-O board with higher numbers (like the one pictured above) and allow children to use 3 dice. They may mix operations during play ("3+4=7x5=35").

  • Modeling is critical. Do not allow children to play any game on their own before they have watched you demonstrate how to take care of the materials and execute game play correctly. Be sure to emphasize the importance of reciting each math fact during game play. Explain that the act of saying the entire equation (number sentence) aloud is what helps children memorize the facts and makes the game such valuable practice. With a large group of children, you may want to assign "Math Game Partners" so that students develop a quick and familiar routine with game play. Match children who are similar in ability so that one person does not win every time. Designate one player as "Partner 1" and put that person in charge of gathering materials before play, and designate the other player as "Partner 2," having that person put away all materials and clean up.

Angela Powell Watson has written for dozens of print and online resources, and recently published her first book. Watson holds a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education and Art from Hood College, a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Maryland College and National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist.