Try these no-pain, huge-gain, old-school diversions with a twist and let your kid rock the basics.
1. Old-school game: War
Math-smart version: Addition War
What you need: 2+ players; a deck of cards for each player with all kings, queens, jacks, aces, and jokers removed
Best for: Addition practice
Why it’s fun: What’s a little friendly competition between kids and parents or kids and friends?
How to play: Each player shuffles his own deck, places two cards face up on the table, and adds the face value. (Example: add 5 plus 4 to get 9.) The player with the highest number wins the round and seizes the cards of the opposing players. If there is a tie, it’s war! Players lay the next three cards in their deck face up on the table and calculate the sum. Highest score wins; winner takes all.
Why it works: Players practice math basics in a pressure-free competition.
Game ends when: All cards are played and the decks are finished. Player with the most cards wins!
What to do next: Step up the game, this time assigning the number 10 to all face cards for younger children. For older kids, assign the jack, queen, king, and ace values 11, 12, 13, and 14 respectively, and play again.
2. Old-school game: Go Fish!
Math-smart version: Fish + 1
What you need: A single deck of cards and 2 to 4 players
Best for: Kids just starting simple addition
Why it’s fun: Little ones feel great about addition when they nail it.
How to play: Remove all face cards for early learners. Dealer distributes five cards to every player. Player one selects one card from his hand, say, a 3, and asks the player to his left: “Do you have any 4s?” Player two releases all his 4s. Player one says, “3 plus 1 equals 4,” as he lays his 3 and his opponent’s 4s on the table, and player one goes again. If player two has no 4s, he says, “Go fish!” and player one draws one card from the deck on the table. Player two takes his turn at mental math, selects a card from his hand, say, a 6, and asks, “Do you have any 7s?” and the game continues.
What kids practice: Mental math
Why it works: Kids solve problems without paper and a pencil.
Game ends when: When one player uses up all his cards
What to do next: Play Fish + 2
3. Old-school game: Concentration
Math-smart version: Concentration with a twist
What you need: A group of kids plus parents, or just one person; a deck of cards with jacks, queens, and kings removed (aces stand in for 1; jokers represent 0.)
Best for: Kids learning number sentences and simple equations
How to play: Players place cards face down on the floor or table in a 4 x 10 grid, or any other configuration. Each player flips over two cards per turn in search of pairs that equal the value of a preset featured number—for example, 9. A player captures cards if he hits a winning combination—for example 6 + 3 or 4 + 5.
What kids practice: Calculation and concentration!
Why it works: Kids’ skills get stronger.
Game ends when: There’s no more grid. The person who captures the most cards is the winner.
What to do next: Play again with another number.
4. Old-school game: Slapjack
Math-smart version: Slam Ten
What you need: A deck with face cards removed and 2+ players
Best for: Multiplication newbies
How to play: Dealer distributes cards evenly among players. Player one flips one card over and places it in the center of the table. All players multiply the card value by 10 and shout the answer. So, for example, if the first card is a 2 of hearts, rapidly multiply 2 x 10, and in unison shout “20.” That turned-over card is left visible on the table. The next player takes a turn. As he flips his card, say a 4 of spades, players quickly compute the value of the card times 10, which is 40.
But there’s a twist: players must then recall the previous round, and add that product (20) to the new product (40) and shout 60. The game continues as the numbers add up. Any time the sum hits 50, or a multiple of 50 (100, 150, etc.) the first player who slams the deck with his hand keeps the cards.
What kids practice: Adding and multiples of 10
Why it works: Kids stay engaged in a fast-paced game that builds skills to solve math problems more quickly.
Game ends when: The deck is finished. Players count their cards’ face values and multiply by 10. Highest score wins.
What to do next: Change the value to different multiples, such as 25, 50, 75, 100, etc.