# Posts tagged fun math games

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A few years ago I viewed “The Hundred Languages of Children,” a travelling exhibit about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.  If you’re not familiar with this approach it, among other things, considers the environment (of the classroom and other spaces) as a “third teacher”.

Of course, I was drawn to the part of the exhibit that focused on movement and dance as one of the “hundred languages” with which children express themselves.  There was a video that showed the children’s first experiences with an old factory space – a huge room empty except for two rows of large, white columns.  The children were running around and between the columns, peeking around them, and interacting with their friends, all movements and ideas that eventually turned into a formal piece of choreography.

At the time I was just starting to think about creating a math/dance program for preschoolers and my biggest question was how could I encourage that kind of exploration?   It seemed unlikely I would be able to find an empty factory or other interesting environment and get a bunch of preschoolers there on a weekly basis.  And then it hit me – I could create an environment out of tape.  I could define three-dimensional space using two-dimensional lines and colors.

After experimenting with my daughter’s preschool class, I came up with some starting points for parents and teachers who are interested in employing tape in the interest of math and kinesthetic exploration of space.

A simple straight line taped down a hallway becomes a pathway.  It also divides the space in two, and provides a chance to walk on it or jump over it.  Best of all, one can march (or walk, or skip, or slide, etc.) rhythmically down it singing “As I was marching down the street, down the street, down the street…”  Or, tape two or more parallel lines down a space and see what happens when you sing “Down by the banks of the hankey pankey, when the bullfrogs jump from bank to bankey…”

A simple alteration of a child’s environment can deepen their experience and exploration of the space around them.  When my daughter was three her teachers put down a straight line of tape to help the class ‘line up’ before leaving the classroom.  It was a simple, visual learning strategy that appeared to work as envisioned by the teachers.  Later in the year though, I saw pictures of what else the kids had done with the line.  They had used their large blocks to build a wall the length of the tape and then lined up their animals and cars alongside it.

A simple taped perimeter can highlight empty space, as in “Find an empty spot inside the tape and make a shape.”  Floor tape can define and redefine the space it’s in.  Large open spaces encourage a lot of endless running.  The minute you create a large rectangular box on the floor, with corners, you now have enough visual cues to focus a preschooler’s attention to IN (the box), OUT (of the box), AROUND (the sides of the box), CORNERS, and ACROSS, all age-appropriate math terminology.

Ultimately, I would love if every parent or preschool teacher would put down taped lines in their living and learning spaces then stand back to observe how the children interact with them.

Start with one straight line and go from there but don’t bring attention to it.  Let your kids find it and interact with it on their own volition and let us know what you observe!

p.s. FYI, when I talk about ‘floor tape’ I am referring to two different products, both of them sticky.  First, there’s painters tape which is blue and low tack so it can come up easily off both hard surfaces and carpet. There is also the floor tape that P.E. teachers use, which comes in lots of fabulous colors, the better to design with, my dear.

## Silly Robot Math

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Robots are cool! Just ask any 5-year old (I just did a quick survey of 3 5-year olds and they confirmed it). So let’s play a game that is all about robots, math and silliness.

Objectifying people is dangerous, but math entities – operations, functions, algorithms – love to be objectified! “Function machine” metaphor helps kids to see actions as objects or things. This allows kids to progress to the next level: that is, to perform math actions on functions. When functions are objects, kids can act on them: sort, improve, analyze, compose, reverse, loop and so on.

Algorithm is a very curious thing indeed: it’s an objectified sequence of many action, or a Rube Goldberg machine composed of many functions. The usual developmental wisdom is that kids can deal with algorithms with as many steps as their age, for example, a two-year-old can (1) take socks (2) from top drawer but forgets to (3) put them on. However, repeated, fun, meaningful algorithms kids care about work well at earlier ages.

Algorithm is one of the BIG Concepts that children can learn in the Silly Robot game. Other BIG Concepts include

• Command
• Function
• Loop
• Cycle

So let’s play! Here’s HOW

“Silly robot” turns familiar, everyday task into funny and quirky “Wonderland” games. Choose a simple task, such as filling a glass with water, or putting on shoes. “The silly robot” should be someone who knows the game well. Robots only understand simple, one-step commands, such as “move forward” or “pick up the glass.” They make silly noises if the command is wrong or they can’t do it.

The robot is trying as hard as he can to mess up the task without actually disobeying directions. For example, kids say, “Put the shoe on” and the robot puts it on his head. Kids say, “Put the glass down” and the robot does, except the glass is sideways and all the water spills out! The goal for the robot is to find funny loopholes, and the goal for the team is to give commands without loopholes. Only the robot (the game leader) needs to know this at first – kids discover how the system works! Then they want to play the role of silly robots – analyzing actions as they try to mess up on purpose.

Reusing and improving algorithms is a huge value of mathematicians. Another value is the precision of language and action. One way to be a good “silly robot” is to take commands literally, which helps kids to pay attention to details of actions and their descriptions. The task of playing the robot is difficult, because the robot needs to be slightly annoying, for laughs, but not too annoying.

Infants – Use “mix-up” gags about routine tasks. I think every parent of a baby I know has at least one photo with underpants on the head, done for the baby’s amusement. Tell the baby the dog goes “Meow” and point at the belly button after asking, “Where is the baby’s nose?”

Toddlers – Even before kids are verbal, they use gestures to tell parents what to do and what they want. You can play silly robot games around these commands. Just make sure to laugh with the kid, not at the kid.

Older Children - Progress to more complex tasks and those that involve repetition, such as cutting several tomatoes for a salad, or decorating a room with several pictures. This promotes reuse of algorithms and their parts (cycles or loops). Use computer algorithms.

Other ways to explore algorithms are

• Story ideas: A storyboard is an algorithm for a movie or a game. Look at favorite books, movies, games, jokes to analyze their algorithms and their parts, such as plots or motifs. For example, knock-knock jokes and “Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes have distinctive algorithms. Fairy tales and stand-up gags often feature two repetitions and the third action breaking the pattern, for example, “Three little pigs” or “Three billy goats gruff.” Check out this huge depository of story algorithms.
• Show kids computer tools for capturing algorithms, such as concept mapping or diagramming software.
• Play “Silly Robot” with math computations. How many mistakes can you make in one problem? Making mistakes on purpose is hugely therapeutic!
• The game can help with the annoying, persistent issue: kids not remembering some steps in everyday tasks, such as putting lids back on food. After playing for a while, the algorithms are not only laughed at, but also debugged, and everybody is in a better mood.
• The clearest, easiest programming software, accessible even to toddlers (with parents helping) is Scratch from MIT. It presents steps in algorithms as Lego pieces you put together.

Do you like robots? Does your child? Share your experience playing this game.

## Playing Math Every Day – November 28 – Dec 4, 2011

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Math games can be played any time anywhere. Here are some ideas for each day of the week. These games require very little, if any, advance prep. Give them and feel free to change them to make math more interesting for your children.

November 28 – Spots and Dots Day

This is a perfect day to play subitizing games, playing dominoes or any board games that including throwing dice. If you have simple dot stickers and 3×5 cards, you can create subitizing cards. To make the game easier, keep the number of dots small and/or arrange them in an easily recognizable pattern (i.e. like dots on dominoes). For a harder game, increase the number or dots, mix dots of different colors and sizes, or place them on the cards randomly.

Quickly show the card to your child. Your child should have just enough time to estimate the number of dots, but not enough time to allow your child to count them. Then, depending on the age of the child, you can either ask how many dots were on the card or ask to show the number of dots on the card using some other manipulative (i.e. bear counters, beads, etc). For very young children, you can show the first card briefly, then display two cards – the first one and another one and ask your child to point to the one she just saw.

November 29 – Louisa May Alcott’s Birthday

Louisa May Alcott was a big-time journal writer. Help your child start a math journal. You can make it a daily tradition of making an entry into the journal. The questions don’t have to be from worksheets (although they can be). You can ask your child to build a pyramid with 6 blocks, then sketch it out in the journal. I love searching Pinterest for great pre-K and K math journal ideas.

November 30 – Mark Twain’s Birthday

Do you remember  The Great Jumping Frog of Calaveras County?  Let’s make cute origami frogs today. Origami is surprisingly mathematical. On the surface, it’s a lesson in shapes and symmetry. But as you start folding, you’ll notice a lot more math opportunities. For example, do you have to start with a square? What if it’s a rectangle? Can I make a frog if I start with a Post-It note square? What words should I use to explain each fold?

If you start with a rectangle of paper, you can make a whole family of proportionally smaller frogs and a leftover rectangle of paper too small for frog making. Ask the “what if” question: “what if we could continue folding ever-smaller frogs”.

December 1 – Let’s Play Ball

And after all the running around, you can explore a type of fractal called Apollonian gasket. You can print it out or draw it (get inspired with this video). Depending on the age of your children, you can ask them to decorate, trace or draw the circles. If you have a young child, you probably have a collection of balls of various sizes, from basketballs to tennis balls to marbles to pompoms. See if you can arrange this collection into a gasket.

December 2 – Map and Measure

If you are planning a holiday road trip, then get the map out and see how long the drive will be… in origami frogs from November 30th. Measure it on the map, then measure distances to other interesting points just to compare. No road trip in the plans? No worries! You can measure a room in jumping frogs, then create a map using these measurements.

December 3 – The Rule of Three

Today’s game is noticing the number 3 in your daily activities and surroundings. Record the findings in the math journal. You can start at breakfast with figuring out how many meals (not counting snacks) we have every day.

December 4 – Reindeer Day

Explore odd and even numbers by talking about Santa Claus’s flying reindeer. Can we tell, just by looking at Santa’s sleigh, if Santa has an odd or even number of reindeer? How can we tell? What if Santa had more or fewer reindeer?

## Your Child Will Love This Math Game

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Does your child have an interesting math book on her bookshelf? I don’t mean a cute book. And I don’t mean an interesting story that briefly mentions “math”. I’m talking about a book that both teaches math and talks about things of interest to your child.

What got me thinking about this question was “The Coolest Math Problem Ever” blog post on Geekmom.com. It’s a short post about a simple math problem that references a (still-popular?) X-Files show.

Good for you if your child is into X-Files. But what if she is more of a Trekker? Or maybe she’s too young for both and prefers the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Handy Manny instead?

For example, my not-quite-5-year old son can care less about pretty much the entire line-up of children’s shows and instead begs for Star Wars and anything “about robots”. His distant cousin, being slightly older and a girl, scoffs at everything unless it has horses in it. And a neighbor’s 2-year old is totally into his toy construction machines.

I bet, if you make math all about, say, robots, horses and trucks, it will be an epic win and your kid will most likely ask you for more math.

Except, it’s hard to find flashcards or workbooks that satisfy such diverse interests. So you have to be creative about it. Make your own and make it into a story because kids love stories.

I snapped the picture above a while ago at an art festival. And it looks totally awesome. But you don’t have to be remotely artistic to play this math story game. You can draw some pretty crude stick figures just as long as you explain to your child that “this is Mickey and this one is Goofy”. Or you can print the images off the Internet.

The point is you draw a grid, starting with smaller ones for younger or less experienced kids and progressing to larger ones. Draw (or glue) different parts of pictures in the top row and in the left column. For my Star Wars-obsessed boy, this was the game of “Jedis need pants too” in which characters wake up and try to get dressed only to discover that the evil Emperor mixed up all their pants.

Next, tell a story around it trying all the different combinations of the elements. Your child can help you to assemble the resulting combinations by drawing, gluing or just pointing. It might not happen first thing, but as the story progresses, she will become drawn into it more and more.

But hold on, is it really math? After all, there are no numbers here and no counting. You see, instead of counting, you are teaching your child to see and analyze combinations of two variables. Besides, these are not just any old combinations, but structured combinations meaning there’s some structure or pattern behind them (rows and columns of the grid).

Adults use this skill every day, from setting appointments (calendar is a grid) to figuring out bus schedules (grids) and Excel spreadsheets. Shooting higher, some of the hottest professions nowadays rely on visualization and data structuring skills.

Have you played the grid game with your child? We’d love to hear your story. Stumped by your child’s unusual interests? Share them with us and we’ll help you out.

## How to Create Your Own Fun Math Game

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Learning about symmetry with a mirror book game.

Mosaic tiles + Mirrors = “Mama, look, the rockets are all flying to the center of galaxy!”

Have you ever tried introducing a new math game or activity to your child only to hear “I don’t want to do it”? Are you always looking for new ideas for bringing more math into your child’s play? If this has been your experience, then this post is for you.

If you ask me, my answer to both these questions will be an emphatic yes. If I had a penny for every game my son rejected, for every puzzle he set aside untouched, for every idea he met with a blank stare, I could easily buy half the books on my Amazon wishlist. As frustrating as this situation is, there are quite a few good lessons I can learn:

Go with your child’s interests – my son couldn’t care less about jigsaw puzzles until one day I brought home a space-themed one. He practically begged me to start working on it. Of course, buying math games for your child’s interests of the day is neither cheap, nor practical. In some cases it might not even be possible (“Star Wars”-themed Candy Land anyone?). But you can use some of your child’s favorite toys instead. For example, using Star Wars Lego mini-figures as game pieces was enough to make Candy Land irresistible.

Let your child lead – I’m not a fan of flashcards, but sometimes they do come in handy. The other day I gave my son a set of 10 cards with different numbers of colored dots on them and asked him to line them up in proper order from 1 to 10. He worked on it for a little without much enthusiasm. Then he collected his Star Wars Lego mini-figs and a couple of Transformers and ordered them to guess the number of dots on each card. He then proceeded to reward them with drinking straws, crayons, and cloth pins.  Guess which math activity ended up being more fun and on which he spent more time?

Observe and ask good questions - Instead of offering ready-to-use solutions, ask questions. “What do you think will happen if you add more blocks to this tower? How many blocks do you think you can add before it topples over?” And instead of an outright praise, make observations. “I see you gave one cup and one saucer to every dolls at a table.”

Notice math –  most of the time our kids are absorbed in some activity that is fun, but doesn’t look very mathematical to us. At least that’s the first impression we get. Yet a tea party for teddy bears develops your child’s one-to-one correspondence skills. Folding and cutting paper develops fine motor skills, but also introduces such math ideas as symmetry and functions.

Join in and enjoy –  if you are bored with an activity, your child is likely to be too. This is not to guilt you into trying to make more of an effort. Instead, find something you enjoy or can get into and play with your child or alongside your child. I love mosaics of all sorts and puzzles. I noticed that when my son and I work on these, time flies and we end up having fun.

Whatever you do, keep it hands on and interesting for both of you. Talk about the game while you are playing it. Learn to find math in everyday activities and objects.  And have fun. Learning math does not have to be boring.

What is yours and your child’s favorite game right now?

## Can Board Games Help Learn Math?

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If you are looking for a simple and fun way of bringing more math into your child’s life, then here’s a solution for you. It costs little, takes no time to set up and is a great way to engage the whole family. I’m talking about playing a round or two of a board game.

If you read (or listened to) “Judy Moody Goes to College, you know what I’m talking about. The story revolves around Judy’s problems with math and how she overcomes them. Hint – her tutor, Chloe, starts off playing a round of “Life” with Judy.

Turns out, board games do help children acquire numerical knowledge. So if your child (and yourself) are bored to tears with worksheets and rote learning, board games such as Chutes and Ladders, the Candy Land, and the Ladybugs Game offer a great alternative.

After playing a few rounds of the Ladybug Game with my son I found out another unexpected benefit. If your child, like my son, has small motor difficulties that make work with manipulatives frustrating, board games offer a stress-free and enjoyable alternative.

But the benefits of board games go beyond simple counting (or addition and multiplication). There are games – board games, card games, computer games – that teach children mathematical thinking, including geometric, logical and probabilistic thinking. Here’s a great list, broken down by particular math skills, to get you started.

While right now our stack of board games is small – the Ladybug Game, Candy Land and Four-in-a-Row (which proved the most amazingly flexible so far), I am slowly adding more titles to my wish list.

As for Judy Moody, playing “Life” changes her attitude towards math. She learns that math is everywhere, that life is full of math and, as a result, acquires a new “mathtitude”.

Do you play board games with your child?

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