In raising my three children, I am well-aware there are times when the words ‘school’ and ‘fun’ do not belong in the same sentence. Parents should accept this limitation and understand occasions exist when we must back-off and simply allow kids to be kids. Yet, with modern life dictating increasingly higher standards, I savor those moments when asking children to learn is less of a struggle.
My 9-year-old daughter Anna is blessed with an admirable combination of intelligence and dedication to work. She has thrived in her education and is enrolled in her school’s third grade enrichment class. While she deserves the majority of credit for these accomplishments, I know that Anna has benefited from the discovery of parenting techniques that have already worked in guiding her older brother.
Eleven-year-old Jimmy is a rambunctious child and unabashedly boasts how he dislikes school. He would gladly take a pass on doing his homework any given day. As a supporting (and stubborn) parent, I have never accepted that answer. Instead, I challenge him to overcome this relatively common nature and succeed as a student — in the classroom and at home.
One of the methods through which I have enjoyed some success is by playing math games. As the subject concerns numbers, math lends itself to games and competitions. Teachers have long realized this trick and use it regularly to achieve results in class.
My experience proves you can accomplish similar goals at home with your children. Though appropriate for any age, I have been most fruitful in using games for the study of multiplication and division. Since these skills require repetition and memorization, games are an effective way to practice math without overwhelming your kids.
Here are four simple math games I have used with my elementary school-age children to practice multiplication and division.
Roll the Dice Multiplication
To play this game, simply sit the children at a table with a pair of dice. Try to keep distractions away so the focus remains on math. Since the dots on a die only extend to the number six, this activity is most appropriate for second graders who are first learning their times tables. Let the children roll the dice themselves and attempt to multiply the resulting numbers. While a pair of snake-eyes produces an easy question of 1 times 1, other results will be more challenging, especially for new learners. Asking the kids to answer quickly raises the stakes even further. This is a helpful way to get children to begin thinking about counting by sets of numbers.
Playing Card Math
Similar to the above-described dice game, this activity reinforces multiplication times tables, but ‘playing card math’ is effective up to the number ten. Again sitting at a table free of distractions, simply have children take turns drawing two cards and ask each to determine the product. If desiring to challenge additionally, ask players to select three cards, and then multiply the resulting numbers one-by-one.
Multiplication and Division Bingo
Requiring more advanced work to facilitate a game, create traditional bingo cards on square sheets of paper. The board should consist of a pattern of 25 boxes that are joined in equal rows and columns of five. Instead of each box labeled by a matching number and letter, fill it with a pre-selected math problem, such as 8 times 9 or 64 divided by 8. Attempt to provide as much variety as possible and make sure no two cards are identical. While math skills should be primary, the element of chance adds fun to this game. To play, call out numbers that serve as potential answers to the problems on the bingo cards. Allow players to put identifying markers over the problem that matches a recited answer. The first player to complete a marked group of five wins bingo.
We have a basketball hoop in our backyard and I have long encouraged the shooting of free throws as a form of entertainment. While my daughter cannot quite drill shots from the traditional 15-foot mark, I have painted a few lines from which the kids regularly practice. I must admit we play traditional games like H-O-R-S-E and shooting contests more than any other basketball-related activity. However, there have been many times when I facilitated a game of ‘math basketball.’ In this competition, players earn the right to take a free throw upon successfully solving a math question. The sky is the limit, as the game could include skills like addition and subtraction or algebraic equations. Make sure you give the child a defined goal, such as spelling a word with each converted shot. The balance of learning and sporting skills fosters competition. Keeping your kids on their toes is an invaluable benefit on the court and in the classroom.