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Use Classroom Games to Build Math Skills

Janelle Cox

Oftentimes young elementary students get the wrong idea about math from an older sibling or the media. They may think that math is hard or not fun. And sometimes parents and teachers have to “Dress up” math activities to look like games just so children can practice their math skills.

But luckily there are some classroom games that are out now on the market that are actually really fun and help children build their math skills at the same time. A few of them don’t even use numbers, they just sneak in counting or sequencing.

Here are the top classroom games that are great for teaching math skills to your youngsters.

Classroom Games: Sum Swamp (ages 5+)

This simple addition and subtraction game is sure to make students use their critical thinking skills. To play, students must roll two numbered dice plus a die that has a + and - sign on it. In order to advance around the board, students must use their mental math skills to figure out how many places their frog must go.  Younger students may need a piece of paper or manipulatives to help them. The first one to reach the end of the board wins. This game takes a strong mental math ability, so it’s important to have a parent volunteer or teacher present if you are playing with kindergarteners.

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Qwirkle (ages 6+)

This amazing sequence game requires two key math skills which are strategizing and recognizing patterns, and it is perfect for first graders. It’s a little like dominos in the sense that it uses tiles. For this game, students have to try and score points by creating lines of tiles that match the colors or shapes on the tile. Plus, students have to figure out how to add their points up to see who wins. This game utilizes a lot of math skills for your youngsters and it’s a favorite among teachers.

Connect Four (ages 7+)

This classic game is great for children in first grade and up. Students must use pattern recognition and a lot of planning to win this game. The object is to get four in a row either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Students must use their creative and critical thinking skills to win this game. This classic pattern recognition game that supports geometric thinking is sure to be hit in your classroom. And students won’t even know that they are practicing their math skills.

Money Bags (ages 8+)

Money Bags is a game where second graders (and older) can practice counting, collecting, and handling money. In order to win players must solve challenges like figuring out how to make change or get 26 cents without using a quarter. The player who reaches the finish line first wins and gets a bonus!

Math Bingo (ages 9+)

Math Bingo Fractions, Decimals, and Percents is a revamp of the classic bingo game everyone knows and loves. To play, the caller shows everyone a fraction, decimal, or percentage. Then players look on their bingo card to mark off any version of the amount that was shown. For example, if the caller showed a four-piece pie chart with 1/4th missing, the student can mark off ¼ or .4 on their bingo card. 

31 (ages 10 +)

31 is a card game where students must add their cards to get to the number 31. To play the game, each player must draw three cards from the deck or discard pile. Only cards in the same suit are allowed to be added. Face cards are worth 10 and aces are 11. When a player thinks they have 31, they must knock on the table instead of taking their turn. Then the rest of the students get a chance to play while the knocker sits and waits. After everyone has taken their turn, they reveal their cards and the student with the highest hand wins. If the knocker has 31 they win, if a student has close to 31, like a 29 or 30, they can win too. There are different variations of this game.

Mathematical thinking requires students to self-reflect and collaborate with their peers. Challenge students while in the midst of a game to explain why they made the particular move that they did. Encourage them to talk and discuss what they are thinking while they are playing. Children benefit enormously from any activity that requires them to think critically.

What are your favorite board games to build math skills? Do you have any favorites that you use in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your preferences.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.