5 ways to WIN!! when Teaching Kids Math Skills

image from here courtesy of PhotoPin

Over the past year, the third grader I watch has been sent home with a "bingo" sheet of activities she has to do for homework all related to math. She absolutely hates it because her big brothers have "real" homework with worksheets and such to do. Truthfully, I think the bingo sheet is awesome for third graders; they get to choose how they want to do their homework and it feels more like "play" than learning. Best of all, as I've seen when working with this girl we will call "M", is that she is entirely creative and imaginative when it comes to completing the homework. It's less about following the rules to a T and more about doing what works for her.

I won't go into what the bingo card entails, because 1) I don't have it with me and 2) the concepts are pretty simple – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Normally, when I work with M to complete these tasks, we can do them the easy, boring way – following the directions exactly like her teacher assigned – OR we can be imaginative and do them in a more complicated, thoughtful, creative way – which is how I prefer to do it. :)

While I can see how worksheets can be a simple, easy way to reinforce ideas learned in school, when working with M and other children, I've often found that fun games and real life actives are more successful and beneficial for children. The following are just some of the alternative ways I practice math skills with the children I watch:

1. Chutes and Ladders

Originally, Chutes and Ladders was a game intended for preschoolers to teach addition (or perhaps moreso: counting). The board game is comprised of a grid of squares listing numbers 1-100, going back and forth zig zagging across the board from left to right (then right to left), and from the bottom to the top. You spin the spinner receiving a number from 1-6 and move up the board however many spaces you spin. As you move across and up the board, however, you may find yourself landing on a ladder or chute (AKA slide). If you land on the ladder, you advance further up the board; if you land on a chute, you have to slide back down the board.

When M and I play, we change up the rules completely. One minute we are going up chutes an down ladders; the next we are starting at 100 and working our way back to 1. Oh - and the most important difference is that we use Star Wars figurines (very important!) and dice instead of a spinner. As we move up and down the board, I have M add/subtract numbers in her head before she makes a move. i.e. If she throws a 2 and a 3, she must add 5, and, for example, subtract from 100 before she moves her figurine to square #95. Sometimes it's super easy – we only change one rule, for instance. Other times, it can be quite complicated as you think through all of the changes you have made to the rules. One of the things I love about this method is that it gives new life to an old game and reinforces what kids are learning in school. The game becomes more interesting and fun to play then perhaps it would be otherwise.

2. Darts

In this game, the goal is to reach a specific number faster than the person you are playing against (basically, just like normal darts except with multiple turns). M came up with this game on her own, and I've found it to be a fantastic way for me to practice aim. The game moves along really fast, and even M's brothers are more than happy to practice "math skills" with her. :) As you play different rounds, it can be fun to change up the numbers on the dart board so that they are more difficult to add/subtract/multiply/divide. You can start with a goal number of reaching -say, for example- 1000 or you could work backwards from that number and try to reach 0. You can even make it more difficult for the player by indicating they can only be in a certain area of the room … or they have to throw the dart while facing backwards. No matter how you play, the kids are practicing essential math skills in a creative and interesting way.

3. Monopoly

I haven't played this for educational purposes with the kids I watch, but I still feel that it is a fantastic game to teach numbers, counting, and finance. You do have to be careful, though, because if a child isn't old enough yet, they can get bored pretty quickly. When I play with M and her brothers, M always wants to be the banker. While I know this is beneficial for her in learning to count and deal with money, about halfway through every game I want to inwardly scream at how long it takes her to deal the money. And all of the corrections that must be made! Nevertheless, playing games like this as well as practicing real life situations by taking children to stores and giving them a certain amount to spend is a really practical and educational way for children to learn about finances, handling their money, and counting it. It can be a bit bland and boring seeing the numbers printed in a word problem at school.

(Another idea I've seen used successfully is giving fake money as rewards and payment for chores that can be turned in for treats.)

4. Alton Brown, Cooking, Fractions

Breaking away from games altogether, Justin went a different route when showing another group of children I've babysat for about fractions. These kids were interested in making bread. They had seen it done in a bread maker, but to make it with their bare hands? It was a really fun experiment to do while the parents were away. For one, the kids didn't want to get their hands dirty when touching the gooey dough! Secondly, they had a ton of questions that only Alton Brown sock puppets could help them with. (And funnily enough, even the 3 year old was intrigued by the cooking show sock puppets!) Finally, I consider food to be a fantastic opportunity to talk about fractions. How much of a cup do you need? If you want to split a loaf of bread three ways, how much does each kid get? Etc… Etc… Now I can't guarantee that every child will take a personal interest in learning math skills this way, but it is definitely a fantastic, fun, edible alternative to intangible problem-solving worksheets.

5. BlackJack

I have to admit that before watching M and her brothers I knew very little about poker and most other card games. One week while their mom was out of town, their dad had to help M with her math homework. Apparently he got bored with the math games quickly too, so he settles on teaching his children BlackJack. With coins, no less! All of a sudden, I found myself babysitting for little gamblers! ;) It was fun, though. The kids taught me BlackJack which is where the dealer has two cards and deals each of the players two cards apiece. You turn your cards over so that the table can see them: If the numbers total over 21, you are out. If the numbers added together equal 21, you can't ask for more cards. And if the numbers total less than 21, you can ask for more cards until you reach 21 or go over. The person who is closest to 21 (or exactly on 21) wins. I have to admit it was fun for a little while, especially when you included betting, but after a while, it too lost it's charm. Perhaps there is a more interesting way to play this with kids? Or maybe I don't know all of the rules? Either way, this can be a fun way to practice math skills.

If you have kids, do you use any unique and alternative ways to reinforce math skills at home? If you don't have kids, what were some of your favorite games to play as a child? Did you mix any up and change the rules?

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)
** Blog prompt thanks to 30 Days of Lists and Listers Gotta List.

1 comment:

  1. Games are a great way to practice math skills. Also cooking helps with measuring and fractions.


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