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Board Games and Card Games that Help Children Develop Early Math Skills

Monopoly and other well-known board games may be teaching more math than you realize to your kids!

Monopoly and other well-known board games may be teaching more math than you realize to your kids!

Playing table top board games helps children to build positive memories and family relationships, but they have another positive benefit: board games help a child hone their developing numeracy skills!

Some Numeracy Skills Learned in Early Childhood

Identifying numbers

Counting and sequencing

Recognizing patterns and shapes

Estimating

Adding and Subtracting

Multiplying

Sorting

Grouping into sets

Preschool numeracy skills include recognizing numbers in a sequence, naming numbers, and matching quantities to number names.

Preschool numeracy skills include recognizing numbers in a sequence, naming numbers, and matching quantities to number names.

Games Help Children to Develop Numeracy Skills

Numeracy is the ability to recognize and apply math concepts in all areas of life. Examples of numeracy includes understanding numbers, counting, solving number problems, measuring, estimating, sorting, noticing patterns, and adding and subtracting numbers.

Numeracy is developed during childhood, and its effects are far-reaching. People use numeracy outside of the classroom everyday in all aspects of life. Adults use numeracy every day while:

  • Cooking
  • Driving
  • Managing money
  • Solving problems at home and at work
  • Managing their time

People with a well-developed sense of numeracy are great problem solvers, strategic thinkers, and are often said to have a lot of common sense!

Children begin as babies with a fuzzy concept of numeracy, but their mental schema for mathematics develops rapidly during their preschool years. They learn largely through

  • Watching, observing, and interacting with their parents and caregivers
  • Playing with their parents and later with their peers
  • Doing hands-on activities

Playing board games is a great way to do all of the above in a fun and low-pressure environment. Start with easier preschool-oriented games that will help children to develop a number sense. And as children's number sense continues to evolve and develop, children are able to move on to more strategic games.

The numbers on a dice face depict the quanity as well as the number name. Playing games with dice help children to develop a fundamental base of math skills.

The numbers on a dice face depict the quanity as well as the number name. Playing games with dice help children to develop a fundamental base of math skills.

Using Dice in Board Games Reinforces Developing Math Skills

In early childhood, children don't have a developed sense of quantity associated with numbers. This must be learned. Study after study in childhood education journals speak of game play as a path to math success for preschool learners.

Playing games that involve rolling dice and counting them up, or using dice to move along a linear board (as in Monopoly) help children to develop a strong number sense.

Playing games that involve rolling dice and counting them up, or using dice to move along a linear board (as in Monopoly) help children to develop a strong number sense.

A typical six-sided die shows each number with a numbr of small dots. Number one (1) is represented by one dot. As children play board games that require the roll of a dice to move a token around a board, children quickly develop a sense of how the numbers relate to one another.

Game MoveMath Skill Practiced

Roll 1 die

Identify numbers and quantity depicted on dice

Roll 2 dice

Basic addition and factorization over time

Moving dice across the board

Sequencing numbers, counting

Place a board game with two dice and pretty soon you will learn that a number, such as 7 can be created from several different number combinations. In math class, this is called factoring!

Place a board game with two dice and pretty soon you will learn that a number, such as 7 can be created from several different number combinations. In math class, this is called factoring!

In games like Yahtzee and Monopoly, children can develop a sense of the factorization of numbers, as they learn that rolling a (2 and 5) or a (6 and 1) or a (4 and 3) can both yield 7 moves of their token across the board.

Chutes and Ladders

This older version of the Milton Bradley version of chutes and ladders shows a board with numbered game spaces.

This older version of the Milton Bradley version of chutes and ladders shows a board with numbered game spaces.

Chutes and Ladders by Milton Bradley

Chutes and Ladders by Milton Bradley

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Chutes and Ladders Math Skills

Number recognition up to 100

Counting and sequencing

Adding number 1 throuh 6 to numbers up to 100

Prediction

Subtraction

Chutes and Ladders is the classic Milton and Bradley board game that parents first buy for their preschoolers. The game consists of a spinner, a board with 100 squares, and 4 game tokens that look like young children. During game play, children advance the number of squares they spin. As the players progress across the numbered squares on the game board, they may land at the bottom of a ladder or at the top of a chute (a slide). Pictures on the game board show children making both positive and negative choices. For good deeds like doing their chores, children get to advance up the ladder, and for bad deeds like pulling the cat's tail, children must slide down the chute.

This game has also been produced under the name Snakes and Ladders since the late 19th century.

Playing this game over and over can build number recognition for the numbers 1 through 100. In this game, players are constantly moving around the board. Each row of game spaces requires the player to progress in a different direction, so if you go up a chute or down a ladder, you will need to look at the number spaces you landed on to figure out which direction you need to move next..

This game also introduces children to the rudimentary gaming skill of moving pieces around a board. Moving from one square to another on a game board is actually a skill that most preschoolers have to learn. Your preschooler will get plenty of practice counting from 1 to 6 during this game, and progressing the pieces forward the appropriate number shown on the spinner.

More Math Fun with Chutes and Ladders

With a little encouragement, you can help children practice their addition skills using the numbered squares on the game board. Encourage your child to identify the numbered space on the board where their game piece has landed. Add the number on the spinner to the number on the board to determine where they need to move their game pieces.

Ask your child to predict the number they need to spin in order to avoid a chute or get to the top of a ladder. Your child will count the number of spaces from her game token to the desired (or feared) spot on the board.

The fortunes of players in this game can quickly be turned. As players change their positions around the board, ask your child who is winning, and who is farthest behind. You can also ask your child to estimate how many spaces they need to move to catch up.

Game of Trouble

The Trouble game board features a "Pop-o-matic" bubble encasing a single die, and 16 game pegs in 4 colors.

The Trouble game board features a "Pop-o-matic" bubble encasing a single die, and 16 game pegs in 4 colors.

Game of Trouble Math Skills

Prediction

Estimation

Counting

Trouble is another board game for older preschoolers and early elementary-age children. Trouble is a little more complicated than Chutes and Ladders, though not much. Instead of a spinner, players push a die in the middle of a plastic bubble. The die makes a popping sound. Two advantages of the bubble-die system are no more lost dice, and cheating is simply not possible.

The object of Trouble is to move several different colored pegs around the board; If your opponent lands on your peg, you're in trouble, because you have to move that piece back to the starting point. You must "roll" a 6 before you can move each of your pegs into position to start. It is helpful if players of this game have mastered the ability to move their pieces exactly the number of spaces shown on the dice, but a little bit of help from an adult or older sibling makes it possible for game play to move quickly along the board. This game is the most fun when it moves at a very rapid pace.

The strategy of this game requires players to assess which pieces they should move in order to avoid trouble or cause trouble for their opponents. Being spatially aware of your opponents' position on the board is a key component to the strategy of this game. Trouble also relies heavily upon estimation skills. Once several players' pieces are in play around the board, you will need to quickly determine which of your pieces to move after your die is cast.

Yahtzee

Yahtzee uses addition, subtraction, and some multiplication.

Yahtzee uses addition, subtraction, and some multiplication.

Yahtzee Math Skills

Single-digit addition

Two-digit addition

Multiplication in sets

Prediction

Yahtzee is a dice game played with 5 dice, a cup to hold the dice while playing a turn, and a game sheet for each player. Players must optimize their turns to score the most points in a number of categories. The highest total score at the end of the game is the winner.

The traditional version of this game made by Milton Bradley is affordable and readily available almost anywhere. You can also purchase specialty versions of this game online. Yahtzee score pads are also available online.

This game is more complicated than the previously-mentioned games and uses addition during each turn during game. The game is played through 13 rounds. Each player may throw any number of dice during three consecutive turns, saving out dice as they wish. Players need not declare what type of dice combination they are trying for. But as the game progresses, they'll have fewer choices to choose from.

The Yahtzee Game scoring card offers lots of opportunities for players to practice their addition math facts!

The Yahtzee Game scoring card offers lots of opportunities for players to practice their addition math facts!

Yahtzee Score Card Explained

On the game sheet, players score points in different categories. The first section of the scoring card shows numbers 1 through 6. In the Upper Section of the score card, Yahtzee players may not use their entire dice roll toward their scores. Only the numbers may be scored. For example, after three rolls you end up with two 4s, a 3, a 1, and a 6, you might choose to record your score in the Fours space. However, you may only count the two 4s, for a total score of 8.

On the Lower Section of the score card, players may enter scores for a variety of different types of dice combinations. Yahtzee borrows its terminology from card games, using well-known sets such as a full house (two of one number and three of another number, for example 3,3,3,5,5).

Sequence Board Game

The object of Sequence is to get 5 tokens in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You may only place your tokens on the spaces that match the cards in your hand.

The object of Sequence is to get 5 tokens in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. You may only place your tokens on the spaces that match the cards in your hand.

Sequence Game Math Skills

Sequencing

Pattern-recognition

Number recognition

Sequence combines luck and strategy, and it is a little bit like the classic Tic-Tac-Toe. It is one of my favorite games for elementary-ages. I'd skip the young players' edition of this game and get the full-fledged version.

The object of Sequence is to place 5 markers in a row on the game board, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Players may place their markers on board spaces that match one of the cards in their hands. Players take turns drawing and discarding cards and placing their tokens on a game board.

There's a strong element of luck in this game, because players don't always draw the cards that go where they want. But players need to be highly observant and think about where their opponents might go, too. The strategy comes in when players position their tokens so they can get more than one possible sequence.

This is a fun game for strategic thinkers.

The following three games use math skills like number recognition, matching, and pattern recognition, and truly are math games. I recommend you check them out and add them to your personal collection.

Game of War Card Game

The Game of War is a simple two-player card game that uses number recognition and greater than and less than math skills.

The Game of War is a simple two-player card game that uses number recognition and greater than and less than math skills.

Math Skills Used in War

Number recognition

Number values

Greater than and less than

War is a simple game that can be played with any deck of cards, shuffled together well. The deck can even be missing a few cards!

The cards are divided among two or more players. Each round the players toss a card into a middle pile, and whoever has the highest-numbered card gets to capture the other cards. This game is a very simple game to play with young preschoolers. I played this game with my son when he was three years old.

In the event that the players have the same card, a "war" is declared. Each player lays 3 cards face down in front of them, then places a fourth card face up. The face up card determines who captures the cards. The winner of the war gets to keep all of the cards put down on the table.

Undoubtedly there are many variations to this game. In the version of the game we play, during the war, the players lay down their cards one at a time saying or chanting the words "I -de-clare-war."

This game is very simple and can go on and on. You may want to end the game after you have played out all of the cards in your pile, and then count the captured cards to determine a winner. Another version of the game has players playing their cards against each other, replaying over and over, until one player captures all of the cards in the deck. Even as a child I found this version of the game tedious.

Uno Card Game

Uno is fun, easy to learn, and teaches children number and pattern recognition.

Uno is fun, easy to learn, and teaches children number and pattern recognition.

Uno is so popular it probably needs no explanation. Players begin their hand with a certain number of cards. They try to discard cards by matching either the card's number or color to the top card on the discard pile. Reverse, Draw 2, and Draw 4 cards create havoc among players trying to be the first to elminate all of the cards in their hand.

Our family has tried several different versions of Uno, including Uno Roboto, Uno Flip, and Dos.

Phase 10 Card Game

The object of Phase 10 is to collect cards into sets before the other players. Math skills used include color and number recognition, and set creation.

The object of Phase 10 is to collect cards into sets before the other players. Math skills used include color and number recognition, and set creation.

Number recognition

Pattern recognition

Grouping numbers into sets

Phase 10 is a card game where players try to collect various sets of cards through a series of rounds. In this game, each player may not successfully collect their set of cards before the round is ended. This game can take a long time and is probably not for very young children. However, it is a lot of fun and not too difficult for older elementary age students to learn.

Monopoly, the Most Educational of Math Games

Monopoly, with its dice rolling, money counting, rent paying, and deal brokering, is all about math!

Monopoly, with its dice rolling, money counting, rent paying, and deal brokering, is all about math!

Monopoloy by Parker Brothers is one of the best games for teaching children to add, subtract, estimate, and count money.

Monopoloy by Parker Brothers is one of the best games for teaching children to add, subtract, estimate, and count money.

Numeracy or Number Skills Used in the Game of MonopolyWhen used

2-digit addition and subtraction

Player transactions during game (rent, Chance and Community Chest Cards)

3-digit addition and subtraction

Player transactions, buying and selling real estate properties, free parking (house rule)

multiplying 2 or 3-digit numbers by 2

When three properties of the same color are held, rent is doubled.

Multiplying 2-digit numbers by 4 or 10

Used to calculate rent on utilities.

Counting out money in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 dollars.

Player transactions throughout the game

Budgeting

Players must determine if they have enough funds to buy property cards and houses.

Monopoloy is the ultimate game for teaching children math and money skills. With all that dice rolling, money counting, rent paying, and world domination, the math skills become second nature.

This game is more suited to older kids. Most fifth graders can handle this game, but some third graders successfully learn the basics.

In Monopoly, each player receives $1500 in play money at the beginning of the game, counted into various denominations. The way the money is distributed depends on what version you are playing. In the classic version, players receive $200 for passing go, pay rent to other players when they land on spaces, can own properties, and buy houses and hotels.

Chance and Community Chest cards also require math skills, as various setbacks and windfalls require players to add or subtract from their pile of cash.

The object of the game is to acquire the most real estate and money by the end of the game. In addition to the basic number sense skills aquired from the other games, this game teaches students to add and subtract in by the hundreds, multiply various rent amounts by 2, 4, and 10.

As the game progresses, players may mortgage properties to raise funds to keep playing, and unmortgaging requires players to calculate the interest. This game is the most fun kids will have practicing math without realizing they're doing it!


Sources

  • Ticket To Ride Board Game Review
    A Ticket to Ride is the award-winning board game by Days of Wonder. USA and Europe versions are easy to find and most common. This game is easy to learn and fast paced, and has the added benefit of teaching a bit of geography while you play.
  • How to Play Canasta
    Canasta is a competitive game that uses 4-6 decks of playing cards (including the jokers), and is played by 4 players, divided into two teams. You'll love playing this fast-paced, easy to learn tournament game with friends and family.

© 2010 Carolyn Augustine

Comments

hubber8893 on April 24, 2016:

I remember playing the older version of the game "Chute & Ladder" It was one of the games by which I was most fascinated during my childhood. I agree, it really enhance the math skills of kids as it includes summation, number counting etc.

Thanks for reminding me of these days again,wannabwestern

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 20, 2014:

VJGSA, I agree. The oldies but goodies are timeless for a reason. My children love to play games. My children adore Trouble and Candyland, too. Though surprisingly, my children love to play Monopoly even more!

VJG from Texas on October 17, 2014:

Wow, the memories. Classics, all of them. We played Candyland and Trouble with our son. This helped him to count spaces. Never underestimate the power of simple games!

Kimberly Vaughn from Midwest on November 18, 2012:

Great suggestions! We particularly like Yahtzee at my house!

Wuggle Pets on July 05, 2011:

Good post exploring some board games that could teach math to children. I think Chutes and Ladders might be a great way to help young children to learn some mathematical skills.

easy math on January 18, 2011:

Very good article, useful

TMInstructor from Newton, Massachusetts on September 29, 2010:

Excellent ideas on how to keep kids motivated and engaged while picking up core math skills!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 08, 2010:

MrsKnowledge, I agree Monopoly is a great game. I'm impressed you could play at such a young age. Playing board games is a great way to increase number sense and especially money sense. With calculating rents and counting out change, there are a lot of more complicated math skills a person can master playing Monopoly.

MrsKnowledge from Spanaway on July 08, 2010:

I have to agree with swosugrad09. I played Monopoly everyday at daycare when I was 4-5 and all through schooling I was very successful with numbers.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 28, 2010:

Thanks Kaie, I'm glad this article could put a bug in your memory! I appreciate the comment!

Kaie Arwen on June 28, 2010:

I've played all of these games with my own children when they were younger, and have used some at school to reinforce math concepts, but Yahtzee! I'd forgotten all about that one; thank you for the information and the reminder............ it will make its way into a classroom in the fall.......... Kaie

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 23, 2010:

And we're even Hubbing at the same time! We'll have to talk again! Cheers!

shawna.wilson from Arizona on June 23, 2010:

Wow, that is crazy! We've probably seen each other around town and didn't even know it! We've been here since 2005.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 23, 2010:

Wow! Actually I live in Surprise now too. We moved in 2009. I don't think I have ever actually met a real live Hubber who lives in the same place I do. Cool!

I like your idea and am excited we are so close!

shawna.wilson from Arizona on June 23, 2010:

We play the regular version of Sequence and modify it a little. Instead of holding a hand of cards, we just pick up one card each turn and play a piece on that spot. So the person who gets 5 in a row still wins, but it's due to chance rather than strategy really. This way he only has to look for one card rather than a whole hand. He's still learning numbers while we play and what a deck of cards looks like, as well as taking turns and accepting that sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. It's fun!

By the way, I looked at your profile and I saw you live in Wickenburg...I am just down the road in Surprise! Small world :)

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 23, 2010:

Thanks shawna.wilson! I haven't tried Sequence with my four year old yet but it is a family favorite with my oldest daughter. Do you play the young player's version of sequence or the older version?

My son loves popping the bubble on Trouble! Hope you enjoy it!

shawna.wilson from Arizona on June 23, 2010:

Thanks for the ideas! My son is four and we just played Uno for the first time last week. He really liked it. Sequence is another one of his favorites. I grew up playing games, and I am glad he enjoys them too. We don't have Trouble, so maybe that will be our next game purchase :)

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 23, 2010:

Thank you for your insight and good luck pursuing your studies!

swosugrad09 from Oklahoma on June 23, 2010:

Love this! I want to become a math teacher so this was a very helpful read. It's important to teach kids quality math skills while having fun at the same time. Monopoly is a good one for working with money. Thanks for sharing!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 22, 2010:

Thanks Hello Hello and dahoglund. Dahoglund, I agree with you that most toys have an educational component, especially toys that require children to physically manipulate them. Some games get pretty watered down when a computer does all the work of scoring.

At our house we also have a lot of construction toys like blocks, legos, and tinkertoys. All of these are great but the little pieces create such a mess. We have to rotate through all of the construction sets or our house gets too messy! Some of the games I mentioned aren't especially interesting for adults to play over and over, but playing these games gives children the skills to move on to more complicated spatial and strategy games like Go and Chess.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on June 22, 2010:

I find this interesting. My older brother, an engineer, used to want to invent "educational" toys. I argued with him that all toys are educational. This, I find, is not entirely true but I do think that a lot of toys and games are learning tools and that people have always used toys of some sort to teach their children. After reading this, I wish I had encouraged games more than I did. My wife was good at reading to children but did not have the patience to play games.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on June 22, 2010:

I used to play a lot of board games with our son and still love it. Thank you for your good selection.

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