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Games that Help with Maths

Games can provide useful maths practice. Although some are specially designed as educational aids, there are also many more traditional ones which involve numbers. 

When choosing games, remember they stop being fun if you lose all the time. Children with weak number skills will not enjoy activities where this puts them at a disadvantage so look for games which are non-competitive or involve an element of chance. It's also best to use games to practise existing skills rather than teach new ones.

An ordinary pack of cards can provide a wide variety of different games at minimal cost. You probably know many of them already and you should be able to find books with other ideas in your local library or book shop. Don't ignore simple games like snap because they are mathematically undemanding. They can be very helpful if your child panics at the mere sight of numbers. 

Many patience games involve ordering the numbers (putting them in sequence) forwards or backwards. Whist and other games based on winning tricks require players to judge which is the largest of a group of numbers.

Pontoon is the best game I have met for practicing addition and subtraction of numbers up to 21. Because it contains an element of chance, your child can play happily with the rest of the family without being at a disadvantage because he is less good at maths. If you object to gambling you can leave out that aspect of the game, but playing with matchsticks or other small objects adds more fun and extra counting practise.

Any game which involves throwing dice and moving counters will help build confidence with numbers. You can add to the challenge by using two dice and working out the move by adding the two numbers or finding the difference between them. You can also try multiplying the numbers but that may whizz you round the board too quickly. 

There is a huge selection of suitable board games on the market with new ones added each year. If you are trying to choose one, don't forget Snakes and Ladders as its long lasting popularity is well deserved. The rules are simple and the result is unpredictable because the person in the lead can so easily drop back at any time. 

Another long term favourite is Monopoly which has the extra advantage of using money. Your child needs to be reasonably competent with numbers before he plays it but it can provide excellent mental maths practice, especially if he acts as banker. Because you go round and round the board, this is one game where you can safely try deciding the move by multiplying the numbers on the dice. It will greatly increase the number of times you pass GO and collect 200.

Score keeping comes into many games. Mostly this just means adding numbers together but some games are more complicated. Scrabble and darts both involve multiplying by 2 and 3 while the darts game 301 provides excellent practice at subtraction. 

Don't give your child the total responsibility for scoring unless you are sure he can cope. Other players can be less than sympathetic if the scorer makes mistakes. Unless the numbers involved are well within his capabilities, it's better to let him assist you at first. 

Pairs or pellmanism is such a useful game that it is worth considering on its own. Several matching pairs of cards are mixed up and spread on the floor face down. One player picks up two cards. If they match, the player keeps them. If they don't, he puts them down again exactly where they came from and the next person has a try. The winner is the one with the most pairs at the end of the game. 

Provided you use identical pieces of card, it is easy to create your own pairs games to practice specific maths skills. Make the pairs of cards form the two halves of a sum (eg. 2 + 4 and 6 or 4 x 3 and 12) or mark them with two equivalent fractions or a percentage and its decimal equivalent.

There is a wide selection of educational software and electronic games which give practice with maths. These can be very successful because most children are willing to look at a screen and press keys for far longer than they will concentrate with a pen and paper. 

Choose carefully before you spend money on this type of game. If possible, try to see it working before you commit yourself. Failing that, ask the school or other parents for advice or read the reviews in magazines and websites.  Don't use price as a guide; the best is not necessarily the most expensive. 

When choosing, look out for the following useful features:

Diana Kimpton
adapted from 
A Parent's Guide to Helping with Maths  (Penguin 1995)

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