This is a guide for parents who want some ideas of mathematical activities that you can try with your children. If, like me, you are stuck in the house with children of different ages, it can be difficult to educate and entertain them for hours on end. The activities described are chosen because they suit a range of ages, are mathematically rich, take more than 5 minutes(!), and are good fun. During this time I have avoided teaching new concepts, or teaching written methods or algorithms and instead concentrated on playing with numbers and developing basic skills. The ideas can be easily adapted depending on the age and current working level of the child. I’d be delighted to hear if you have success with any of them or if you have any tweaks or different games that work well.
The best thing about this game is that is takes about an hour to set up! Children can have fun deciding on the shapes and points of each hole. A mathematical discussions can be had in deciding why some holes should be worth more points than others. Children can then tally up their scores and see who wins. Extensions can involve holes with points systems such as ‘Double’ or ‘Lose 1 point’.
Getting to Know a Number
Apologies for the rather cumbersome name; other name suggestions welcome! I was inspired by Propeller Education’s rapid recall sheets to make this worksheet. The child has a number to work with and explores adding, subtracting, fact families, multiple representations and more. My children are schooled through the Welsh language so I made a Welsh version here (English language version here). The same blank template can be used a number of times with different children as they can start the sheet with different numbers.
Dice are a great source of simple games. Young children develop skills related to turn taking, counting to 6 and their ability to subitise. One very simple game I play with my 3 year old involves writing the numbers 1-6 on a card and giving one to him and one to me. We then take it in turns to roll the die and cross out the number we roll. The winner is the first person to cross out all their numbers.
For children 5+ I like a mathsy connect 4 game. Two dice are rolled and the numbers are added. You then circle that number on your grid. Taking turns, this continues until one player has four circles in a row (vertically, horizontally or diagonally). The numbers I chose include 1 and 13 because that generates some good discussion – and accusations of me being grossly unfair!
A more difficult version, involving multiplication, was tweeted recently by Mike Anderson. This game would lead to some good discussions around factors and prime numbers.
There are approximately 1 billion (give or take) mathematical websites out there. It can be overwhelming to try lots of them, so I have highlighted 3 which I use and you may find useful.
TheMathsFactor.com You’ve probably heard of this as they have recently given free access to everyone during this period of school closures. Apparently, they have been inundated with membership requests and therefore it can take a couple of days to register. It’s aimed at children 5-11 years old and my 5 year old daughter has really enjoyed it. There’s a mix of instructional videos, games and activities which go at a deliberately slow and coherent pace. It is well designed and does a good job of catering for boys and girls. Too often I find that such websites have lots of time activities involving rockets, aliens etc which may not appeal to all, but this one is very gender neutral.
Nrich.maths.org This website is well known amongst maths teachers. It’s full of mathematically rich games, activities, articles and ideas. The activities here do need some parental guidance and setting up – there are often “Teachers’ Resources” and a guide to support the running of the tasks. Here is an example of one of the many activities. There are also lots of interactive 1 player and 2 player games here. My 7 year old and I enjoy playing this one and it’s been good to explore his understanding of what a square is.
Topmarks.co.uk This is a good, free website for interactive maths games. They’re arranged by age and topic and easy for children to play and learn from.
We love duplo and lego. Building and pattern making is in-built to the kind of structures that children may come up with. The picture shows a square based pyramid that my children built. All my children helped with the build; my youngest practised naming colours, my middle child counted and recorded the number of circles seen on each layer, and my eldest make predictions of the number of circles by noticing the pattern within the list. Lots more Duplo/Lego ideas here.
Here Come the Numbers by Kyle Evans. This little book is suitable for a range of ages. Babies will like the shapes and colours, whilst there is plenty of higher level maths sneaked in for older children.
The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzersbergers. This is something of a classic. It intertwines square numbers, primes etc within a story about a boy and a number devil. I recommend it for children aged 8+
Maths for Mums and Dads by Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew is a good overview of school maths and has lots of practical and useful ideas of how to support your child’s mathematical development.