My family calls me the “queen of gaming” – growing up in a large, Italian family and being a teacher by trade, I find myself always fulfilling that role!  I am a strong believer that repetition and fun are keys to learning.  I can remember for my master’s thesis reading an article that summarized the benefits and advantages of using gaming in mathematics.

The author, B. Davies, says that games,

  • Create meaningful situations for the application of mathematical skills.
  • Create positive motivation for children and an atmosphere in which they want to participate, sometimes unknowingly, in mathematical skills and position themselves positively towards math skills.
  • Provide a positive attitude through the opportunities for building self-concept and developing positive attitudes towards mathematics.
  • Increase learning ability.
  • Offer different levels at which children can operate and function, triggering different levels of thinking which will cause a greater effect of learning from each other.
  • Are a great assessment tool for the instructor, as children’s thinking often becomes apparent through the actions and decisions they make during a game.
  • Provide hands-on and truly interactive tasks for both school and home activities.
  • Create an atmosphere of independence, as children can work independently of the teacher. The rules of the game and the children’s motivation usually keep them on task and require little supervision.

In our family and in my classroom, I have always liked to take popular games and give them a twist or flair of creativity to redirect the lesson at hand.  This approach was also stressed by Aldridge and Badham in summarizing their Hints for Successful Classroom Games.  These two professionals reiterate that the game should match the mathematical objective or task being taught, the number of players must be kept low so that the turns come around quickly, the games must have enough of an element of chance so that it allows weaker students to feel that they have a chance of winning, and there should always be five or six “basic” game structures so that the children can become familiar with the rules.  The instructor needs to vary the mathematics rather than the rules.

In the home, a variety of games could be generated.  To start off with an easy game for younger kids: have them pull family members’ names out of a paper bag.  They can than count how many letters are in a name and see which has more or less letters.

Some popular inside games include simple board games like Clue® or Mastermind®.  Everyone in my family still enjoys playing mancala when they come home, which requires you to strategically plan out your moves and use addition to predict your next move.

Younger kids will love stair hopping. Give your child a simple math problem and tell him or her to start on the step with the corresponding number.  If the problem is “three plus five,” your child would start on step three and hop five steps to reach the number eight.  This can also be completed with subtraction where the child learns to start on the higher number and jump down.

While times might have changed a bit, this does not mean that you need to go out and buy the newest LeapFrog® device or iPhone app.  There are most likely games at home you can use or create to teach math skills and have fun together. I recommend you take the time to sit down and become actively engaged with your child and enjoy a math game at home.  You may even become the Queen or King of Gaming!

References

Aldridge, S. & Badham, V. (1993). Beyond just a game. Pamphlet Number 21 . Primary Mathematics Association.

Davies, B. (1995). The role of games in mathematics. Square One . Vol.5. No. 2