Math Magic: Cheap and Easy Math Games

I've talked about the importance of helping kids develop number sense.   Part of that includes memorizing math facts for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. And the easiest way to get kids on board with doing extra math is through games.

I am a HUGE fan of cheap and easy games. Nothing depresses me more than spending lots of time and money on what I think is some great activity, only to have my kids get bored with it after two seconds. So, to play these games (many of which I've borrowed from other games or stolen from the math curriculum I used to teach), you'll need index cards, a marker and some dice.

You're going to make math cards with your index cards. 
  • For younger kids (first grade and under), you'll want to write the numbers 0 - 10, 1 per card (see above). Make 2 or 3 sets, depending on how many people will be playing the games with you. Imagine one set per player. 
  • You'll also want to make dot card sets. Instead of writing the numerals, you'll make dots of the numbers from 0 - 10. Like this:

  • For older kids, you'll want your sets to go from 0 - 20, again making one set per player. You won't need dot cards for them. 
  • You should also make money cards, showing at least $.25, $.50, $.75 and $1. Other amounts are up to you and your child; whole dollar amounts might be best for some kids, while odd amounts like $.37 might be most important for others. 
  • Save time by having the kids make their own. 
Math Go Fish

In Go Fish, 7 cards are dealt. Then each player lays out any matched pairs in his or her hand. Instead of matching pictures or colors, have kids match numerals with dot cards. So if you have a card with 5 dots, the match would be the card with the number 5 on it. Next, the youngest player asks the other play for a card s/he wants, like "Do you have a card with 3 dots?" The other player must share it. If s/he doesn't have it, s/he says, "Go Fish". Then the player takes a card from the pile in the middle. Whoever pairs off all of his/her cards first is the winner. 

Make 10

This game can be played exactly like Go Fish, except instead of matching the goal is to have the two cards add up to 10. So if you had a 4, you would want a 6, because 4 + 6 = 10. You can alter this game for any number, really. Make 20, Make 12 and Make 15 are good alternatives. When your kiddo is ready to work on subtraction, then you can try Make 1 or Make 2. You can even play this game with smaller multiplication facts. 

High Low

Place value, also known as understanding that the "1" in "17" really stands for a 10, is an important part of number sense. In this game, each player is dealt 2 (or 3, or 4, or 7, depending on ability level) 

cards. Each card will represent a place in the final number. Whoever has the highest number wins. So, if you were dealt a 3 and a 6, you would make the number 63 because that's higher than 36. For the next hand, you would try to make the lowest number.

Money Race

You'll need to dip into your change purse for this game. Pile a large bunch of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters onto the table. One player flips over money card and each player uses the change to create that amount. Whoever makes the correct amount first is the winner. You can make this game more challenging by removing the pennies from the money pile.


In this game, players compare their cards against the other player's. Basically, you split the deck in half and each player pulls the top 2 cards from his/her deck. For kids working on addition, the idea would be to add the 2 cards; for kids working on subtraction, the idea would be to subtract the smaller from the larger; for kids working on multiplication, the idea would be to multiply the two cards. Then whoever has the bigger amount would collect all the cards and put them to the side. Whoever has the must cards at the end (when the original decks run out) is the winner. This game can be extended all sorts of ways. For very little ones, players could just pull 1 card and determine which number is bigger. For older kids working on division, you can make cards with higher numerals to add into the pile so kids can divide and compare.

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mail4rosey said...

Oh my gosh, some of the games are so expensive too. And if you buy from a specialty 'learning' toy store, they're really through the roof, so you're right it's frustrating when you get one the kids don't like.

Thanks for sharing this post here, I bet it's going to be helpful to a lot of folks. It's helpful to me. :)

Nicole B said...

Those are great ways to keep the kids entertained and learning at the same time. Cards are easy to take in the car, too.

Happy Gardening, Kim said...

Great ideas. Math is not my strong subject and I would love to teach my preschooler how to add....pretty soon that is. Thanks for the tips.

Nicole said...

Wonderful suggestions. It's never too soon to learn math.

Don’t know said...

Shared on my parenting facebook page, great article!

Unknown said...

Great ideas! My kids are 3 and 5 so they're pre-math but they love trying to find patterns in numbers.

Unknown said...

Wonderful idea! I get depressed also thinking about forking huge amounts of cash, when I can DIY at home. I will using these with my kids.

Melissa Carrier said...

Great idea!

Kathy said...

Great ideas!!! Thanks so much for sharing