Monday, June 20, 2016

Challenging Young Learners: Games in Early Mathematics

Developing and playing games with young children allows educators to naturally embed concepts, methods, build developing skills, and new vocabulary of mathematics into the play.

Playing, creating, and adapting games that involve mathematics has grown to be a valuable part of our practice, especially since we know that all learners need different things from us in terms of support and instruction. Some children are learning to recognize and represent numbers...while other children are decomposing or adding!

Educators are able to create, adapt, and extend simple games to meet the needs of all children. Playing alongside children or in the context of a small group also invites educators to learn about the children's growth, knowledge and understanding. We play a crucial role in the games and it is often our observation, prompting, and guidance that deepens the play.

Games provide an opportunity for children to verbalize their thinking. Educators can listen in to the language being used in dialogue and can further prompt children to verbalize their thinking behind decision making while playing. Through continued exposure and exploration, young children grow in their ability to clearly and concisely explain their thinking. In doing so, children solidify their knowledge and make their thought process understood by others.

When connecting with other educators, they often share their passion for games in mathematics as well. We find that often games are played during learning centre time and without the observation or involvement of adults. Though this type of play is valuable, there is certainly something to be said about how vital the role of an educator is!

Educators play an important role in connecting children's informal understanding of mathematics with more formal, school-based mathematics. Teachers are continuously learning and researching in order to gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of early mathematics.

Building our foundation as educators, allows us to understand the learning continuum and support children based on their needs.

“The teacher’s knowledge of mathematics and the skills that the teacher applies in the classroom have the greatest impact on students’ learning.” 
(Ontario Ministry of Education, 2006b, p. 6) 

We are currently working on a resource that will be a collection of adaptable, simple games that involve mathematics! If you have a game that you have created, played, adapted, or LOVE please share it below in the comments! Once our resource is complete, we will do a draw for a colour copy based on all those who share an idea in the comments.

We know that connecting educators supports us in combining our knowledge for the greatest impact!

Be sure to share: materials, rules, and any other pertinent information below.

Early Learning Games that Our Students Love:


  1. Love your idea of putting together a resource of math games! Some of the ones you mentioned in your post are favourites in my class. Another one my students love is Race to Fill the Cup.....all you need is a plastic cup and dice for each player and a bucket of snap cubes. Players take turn rolling the dice and then counting out the corresponding number of snap cubes and adding them to their cup. First player to fill their cup wins! Looking forward to learning some more games from your resource!

    1. That is a great game, especially for working on subitizing with dice. We love that you can extend it in many ways too (e.g., use dice with numerals, use 2 dice to encourage early addition). Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you to Anamaria Ralph for sharing this game on Twitter:

    Tower Up -
    Materials - sheet with numbers 2-12 written on, 2 dice in a cup

    Roll, add the dice together - build a cube tower on top of the number that matches

    First to fill their board wins!

  3. Bingo dabbers at the paint table: Make two dice: one with numbers, and one with colors. Roll the dice, then use dot stamps to make that number of dots in that color on your paper!

  4. Others I like:
    Subraction Bowling. I have simplified this version:
    Guess what is in My Bag!!)

  5. Kindergarten Yahtzee is a favourite with my kindergarten kids. They have a sheet of paper with numbers 2 to 12 in a table format. They roll 2 dice, add the dots on both dice and either place a checkmark, tally mark or colour in a square beside that number on the sheet. They can play on their own or with a friend. They have to try and get all the numbers on the sheet to complete the game. Some children like to place checkmarks and realize that they tend to get some numbers more often than others, which can start a wonderful conversation on probabilities! Also some children will inquire as to why the numbers do not start at 1. Some children will count all the dots starting at 1 while others can figure out how many dots are on one die and then continue counting the dots on the next die. Later one can add another die and get a chart for numbers 3 to 18. Often there is a discussion as to why the number 2 has now been dropped on their tally sheet.

  6. Another great game idea from our workshop today...

    Guess the Number: Using worms and apples (could use anything or just plain circles)
    Record numbers on paper apples (0-12, or adjust according to students)
    Place a worm under one apple
    Students take turns guessing which apple it is under by reading the numeral (could change numerals to dot patterns, tally marks etc)

    Simple, quick and fun way to practice number recognition (or other developing skills).

  7. Can't take credit for this...Wendy H from CDFC showed me this long ago!!

    Bears in the Cave

    Yogurt cup or other 'cave'
    5 counting bears (or as many as your kiddos can work with)

    Show student all bears then place some inside the cave out of students view. Ask student how many are in the cave based on how many are still outside the cave. Great if you can tell a story along the way to maintain engagement. Once students are familiar with this they can play with a partner or check each other in a small group with one teacher. Also works well if student does the hiding for a teacher.

    Lovely ideas being shared here!!!

  8. Where's the animal? is a big hit in our house and math classes.

    Props: some cards with houses drawn on them and a cutout animal that’s going to hide in one of the houses.

    Someone hides the animal behind one of the house cards and everyone else has to guess where the animal is hiding by asking yes/no questions, the fewer the better. The houses differ in a number of attributes: color of walls, color of roofs, existence of chimneys (with smoke coming out of some of them), and number of windows.

    Kids quickly realize that it's better to ask general questions such as "does the animal live in a house with a green roof?" rather than questions such as "does the animal live in this (pointing to it) house?" Can lead to great discussions of probability and binary search!

  9. One of our favourite games is Bang!
    I use an old coffee Tin, and fill it with cards. Depending on our focus/area of interest, the cards may have shapes, number words, numerals, dots, equations, etc. There are also 3-4 cards that say Bang! Participants take turns drawing a card from the Tin. If they can identify what is on the card, they get to keep it (as a point). If they draw a BANG! they have to put all their cards back in the tin. Game ends when all cards have been drawn, or when someone reaches the pre-determined amount of points.
    Coffee Tin (or similar container)
    Index cards (I cut in half)
    Markers (to write desired words/pictures/etc. on cards)

    Can be played with 2 people, or we have done it "around the circle" with the whole class during Focussed Learning.