Connections Matter

4th grade students playing a math card game

Some of my favorite memories growing up were when we played games as a family. I loved playing math and word games with my family such as Scrabble, Checkers, and Connect 4. My father and my older brother taught my two younger brothers and me lots of other games with what we already had around the house…playing cards and dice. Playing games with my family helped me connect with them, learn how to collaborate, and also developed my math brain with logical thinking, probability, and number sense because my parents always made us keep score.

Because games had been an important part of my life growing up, they were a major component in my instruction as a classroom teacher. I taught my students instructional games in math and literacy to give my students meaningful practice with the concepts and skills I was teaching. I also loaded our classroom shelves with all types math games for the coveted “Fun Fridays.” “Fun Fridays” were my students’ special social hour that they could earn during the week. They played games, socialized, and learned math strategies all at the same time.

For this month’s post, since I’ve been social distancing for almost a month as I work from home, I wanted to share a few of my favorite games with parents and teachers to connect with their families and/or students while they’re at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. These games can be played with teachers/parents/caregivers, with siblings, and with some minor adjustments, with friends via video chat.

Parent plays a math game with her children.

Card Games

War is one of my favorite card games for math because there are so many different versions. The object of the any War game is to have the highest number in each round. When we played at home, my father helped us divide up the cards between all of the players and take turns flipping over the card at the top of your pile. For the other cards, the house rule was that Aces=1; face cards and Jokers were removed when we first started learning the game. You can make up your own house rules, of course, based on preference after you’ve had a chance to play a few hands.

  • War (Grades Pre-K-2)–Have the child(ren) take turns flipping over the card to see who has the highest card. As you play, ask child(ren) how they know who has the largest number. Some students may have to count the pictures on the card to help them figure out the answer.
  • Addition War (Grades 1-3+)–Ask child(ren)to take turns flipping over two cards at a time and adding the numbers together to find the sum. As you play, ask child(ren) how they figured out the sum of their cards. Listen for if they counted all, counted up from one of the card numbers, or made a 5 or 10 to figure out the sums. For older children, you can assign numbers to the face cards to give them practice with double-digit addition (Aces = 1; Jacks = 11; Queens = 12; Kings = 13)
  • Multiplication War (Grades 3-5)–This game has the same rules as Addition War. Instead of child(ren) adding the numbers together to find the sum, players will multiply the digits to find the product. You can play this game in multiple ways to support practice with multiplication. For beginners, you may want to remove cards 6-9 and face cards. You can add the cards back in as child(ren) have more experience with multiplication. I highly recommend that you child(ren) who are learning to multiply to either show the groups using objects or by drawing the groups (see picture for an example). Face cards can be used for challenge with multi-digit multiplication. Listen for how each child multiplied including using known facts, doubling a one of the numbers, breaking apart numbers to multiply an easier problem.
  • Integer War (Grades 6-8)–This version is played like regular game of war with child(ren) using the black cards as positive integers and red cards as negative integers. You can continue to give players practice by having them add, subtract, or multiply integers using the rules from Addition and Multiplication War.

Dice Games

I loved throwing dice as a kid because I liked the sound they made as they hit the board or the floor depending on the game. I couldn’t wait to see what I rolled and often asked to roll again if I didn’t like the outcome. Many of the dice games I played at home were similar to the versions of War I shared earlier in this post. Dice games help children build number sense because they are able to see numbers or add quickly without counting the dots one by one. My favorite dice game that my father taught us was Craps. My mother didn’t approve when she found us huddled in the dining room on her clean floor throwing dice against the wall to see if we could hit the first number we rolled before we “crapped” out (rolled a 7). I love telling the story about how I learned situational appropriateness when playing Craps pretty quickly when my father found me outside getting ready to play with a group of my older brother’s friends. That day I learned that Craps was only a family game to be played indoors…that held true until I discovered Vegas years later.

I was so excited when I discovered the school version of Craps called “Two Dice Sums” in About Teaching Mathematics by Marilyn Burns. I learned Marilyn’s version of the game during my Math Methods class when I was working on my teaching credential. Marilyn blogged about the game recently because it’s one of her favorites too. When I was recently tutoring a 4th grade student on adding numbers within 20, we played a different version of Two Dice Sums. I had him predict what sums he thought he would roll the most. Then I had him record the two numbers he rolled under the sums he listed. We talked about his predictions and patterns he was noticing as we played.

Math games do provide Black children with so many connections needed to build their mathematical confidence and skills. Games provide them with connections to the math they are learning, connections to new strategies, and most importantly connections to the people who play the games with them.

Have fun with your at-home learning as much as possible and share your favorite math games with others!

8 thoughts on “Connections Matter

  1. So wonderful to note another Mathemaniac using games. My classroom is a loud place with games and friendly competition. I love it as the students change the rules in some of the most favorite games… even using the chutes and ladders and the candyland boards. Number Sense is extremely important for mastery of any concept. If the students know what is happening eith the numbers there is less fear. Toward the end of the year after we talk it up throughout the year, we stage game day where the students create their own gameboards and directions. I’ve really enjoyed the students’ conversations and the other teacher comments as the students leave my class and continue the Math debates. My Black Girls truly gained confidence knowing their stuff and having an advocate!


    1. Hello, Stacey! Thanks for the comment! Yes games are my favorite. It sounds as if your students enjoy the work you’ve done with them and have benefited. So important for Black girls gain confidence and see themselves as mathematicians!


  2. I too am a big fan of games in math class. I just love when students note how fun it is and I get to point out that math is fun! I appreciated all the ways to differentiate WAR…definitely plan on doing the preK version with my little one!


  3. I have played many games growing and many games with my children. My father and I played a lot of war. My father was a high school drop out but really taught me so much math. In many ways, I feel like he is the reason why I became a math teacher. I think that playing games helps build math comprehension. Thanks for connecting with me on this.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s