6 of our favourite family games to help your young child develop important basic numeracy skills
When kids are starting out with math, it’s really important to make it fun and interesting.
One of the easiest ways to make practising math skills enjoyable, is to play games. Because really, who doesn’t love a good game?
There are tons of great games out there that practice math skills. (In fact, if you think about it, any board game that involves dice and counting spaces along the board is practising numeracy skills).
But there are other games that, dice aside, incorporate more math skills than usual. And those are the ones we’re going to be looking at today.
Here I’m going to give you the run down of our 6 favourite family games for honing those early number skills.
And rest assured, these are all games we own and play together as a family. They’re most definitely tried and tested.
So here we go…
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1) Spotty Dogs
Age: 3-6, players: 2 – 4
This fun dog-themed games is great for developing early numbers skills. It’s made by Orchard Toys who make a whole series of educational games for young children.
The game, as the name suggests, involves dogs with spots. To play, you must spin a spinner and then pick a card showing a dog with the corresponding numbers of spots.
When you turn over the card you have picked, you will earn either 3, 2, 1 or (shock horror!) 0 bones.
The player with the most bones at the end of the game is the winner.
This simple game is packed with math and your child will use lots of early number skills whilst playing. They’ll use their counting skills (counting dots and bones), subitizing skills (recognizing how many dots or bones there are without having to count each one), as well as becoming familiar with the written numerals for numbers 1 to 6.
At the end of the game, to see who has won, your child will have to count up how many bones they have in total. Depending on how well they have fared in the game, they may be counting up to as many as 20 bones. Great counting practice!
This is a particularly fun game for little ones and is a great choice for kids in preschool and kindergarten. Having said that, in my experience, older siblings and the rest of the family are likely to enjoy it too.
Related post: The best math picture books for kids
2) Maisy Mouse – Match and Count Card Game
For ages 3+, 2 – 4 players
If you haven’t come across Maisy Mouse before, she’s a character from the popular Maisy Mouse books by author, Lucy Cousins. My kids have always loved the Maisy Mouse books, so we were thrilled to have a Maisy Mouse game to try too.
This one is a card game, and is similar to the game UNO, that you may know. On your turn you must play a card from your hand that matches either the number or colour on the top of the discard pile. So, if the card on the table says ‘2 yellow lions’, you would need to play a card that has either a number 2 or a card that is yellow. If you can’t go, you pick up a card from the pile. The winner is the first player to get rid of all their cards.
This a lovely card game with beautiful illustrations. It’s simple enough for preschoolers but also fun enough that older children enjoy it too.
I also like this one as it’s a good game for on-the-go (it’s small!) – just throw it in your bag and take it with you (you never know when it might come in handy!).
This game is great for very young children and will help them build confidence with numbers 1 to 6. Whilst playing, your child will be identifying numbers, naming numbers and matching numbers.
I particularly like the game cards as they not only show the numeral, but also show the number in the form of a group of objects (that your child can count if they need to).
As an added bonus, your child will also find themselves matching colours (red, yellow, green and blue).
All in all, a great card game for preschool and up (and a firm favourite amongst the smaller members of our family).
3) Bus Stop
For ages 4 – 8, for 2 – 4 players
Bus Stop is a great game for young children who are just beginning to learn about addition and subtraction.
Each player has a bus-shaped board with 10 spaces on it for passengers. The aim of the game is to finish working your way around the main game board (a town with a road around) with as many passengers left on your bus as possible.
As you move round the board, you get to either add or take away passengers from your bus, depending on whether you land on a + or – sign.
I’ve found that this game is particularly popular due to the fact it has the double whammy of a spinner and a die (what small child doesn’t love a game with a spinner?!).
It’s also really fun because you get to choose which passengers to add to your bus. Each small passenger card is different and there are lots of characters to choose from. (I should caution here that the process of choosing passengers can become somewhat long and drawn out – we often end up hearing the back story of each person – where they’re going, what their name is, who else they are friends with on the bus. We get very involved…)
The particular strength of this game is the way in which it helps children understand the idea of adding and subtracting and introduces the + and – symbols.
The fact that each player has to physically add or take off the little passengers on each turn really helps reinforce the concept behind the math symbols.
This game also uses a spinner with numbers 1 to 6 as well as a die. As such, your child will be practising recognising numerals as well as using their subitizing skills.
In addition, there will be lots of opportunities for counting: your child will count as the move their piece around the game board, and also as they tally up how many passengers they have on their bus.
All in all, this one involves a lot of math. A great choice for kindergarten-aged children just starting out with addition and subtraction.
Ages 8 and up, 2-5 players
This card game is a recent addition to our family game collection, and wow, do we love it. It’s a very original game, invented and created by a then 6-year-old Miranda Evarts and her family. It features queens, kings, knights, dragons, potions and magic wands!
To be successful in this game, you need to collect queen cards. The queen cards carry with them a certain number of points (either 5, 10, 15 or 20).
At the start of game, the queens are all asleep (face down) on the table. To awaken a queen, you must play a king card from your hand.
Along the way, other players may try to steal your queens (using a knight card), or send them back to sleep (using a magic potion card). When you have enough queen cards or reach a certain number of points, you will be declared the winner.
We absolutely love this game – from the fun concept to the bright and magical characters on the cards.
On the box it recommends the game for ages 8 and up. However, in our experience it has worked well for children who are a little younger, for example 6 or 7.
This game involves quite a bit of math, but it is subtly woven throughout the game, so your child may not really be aware of it.
Amongst the playing cards, there are cards with numbers on them (from 1 to 10). You can discard these number cards and exchange them for new ones from the pack (in the hope that you will pick up useful picture cards like kings or knights).
If you discard 3 or more number cards in the form of a number sentence, then you can pick up 3 or more new cards from the pile. So for example, if you were to construct the number sentence 2 + 4 = 6 and put down your 2, 4 and 6 cards, you could then pick up 3 new cards.
You can construct addition or subtraction number sentences and you must say the number sentences out loud as you discard the cards – great math!
In addition to constructing number sentences within 10, your child will be also be adding up the points on the sleeping queen cards they hold as they go along. These points are all in multiples of 5 so there are some trickier addition sums to be done here. (If you are playing this game with children a bit younger than the recommended 8+ age range, this part if probably where they may need a little help).
In short, Sleeping Queens is brilliant family card game with lots of math. A good choice for children in grade 1 and up.
Ages 4+, 2-6 players
Zingo! 1-2-3 is a fun number bingo game. Each player has a board which shows nine numbers (any number from 1 to 12) in the form of a group of objects.
The game uses a fun device called a ‘zinger’ to dispense little number tiles. You use these number cards to cover the matching pictures on your board. The first player to cover all the spaces on their Zingo board is the winner.
There are lots of great early number skills at work in this game, for example counting as well as identifying numbers, in the form of numerals, pictures and words.
Another great this about this game is that it offers two levels of challenge. If you turn over your Zingo board, you’ll find another more challenging game board on the back. This second version of the board shows numbers in the form of picture addition, with two groups of objects and a + sign.
The only reservation I have about this game is that there is a speed element. In the rules, it says that both players are supposed to call out the numbers they need for their board as the two cards are released by the zinger. If both players need the number, it goes to the players who shouts the number first.
Depending on the age of your child, you may want to tweak this rule a little. When my preschooler and I play, we don’t include the speed element. Instead, we take turns to slide the zinger and take one or both of the numbers for our board if we need them. By playing one at a time, instead of racing to beat each other to the tiles, it gives your child a bit more time to concentrate on the math without being feeling rushed or panicked. While some children enjoy having a speed element like this, for others (especially young children who are just getting to grips with numbers and how they work) it is sometimes not helpful.
This aside, Zingo 1-2-3 is a good choice and a nice math take on the game of bingo.
Age 4-7, 2-6 players
Rocket Game is another game from Orchard Toys. This one is a winner due to its space theme and its fun and colourful pictures, including space aliens, astronauts and planets.
The aim of the game is to collect as many loops as possible for your rocket exhaust.
On each turn, you must spin the spinner and pick a card from the table that shows the matching space-themed picture. When you turn over that card there will be either 2, 1, or 0 loops on the back, which you add to your rocket launch pad. When the game ends, the player with the most loops on their rocket exhaust is the winner.
This game is great for little ones – think 3, 4 or 5 year olds. Throughout the game your child will be counting the loops on the cards they pick, and at the end of the game they will have to count how many loops they have altogether.
In order to determine who has won the game, your child will also need to compare numbers. How many loops does each player have and who has the most? Make sure here that you don’t just tell your child who has won – let them use their math skills to work it out.
And there you have our top picks for card and board games for developing early number skills. Thanks for reading and have a great day!
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