M3 = Mom x Math x Monopoly

By Lori Lynn Lydell

I have used games to teach many subjects over the years, but in our home math is the subject that is reinforced with games most often. Once a month, our boys are allowed to pick a game day. We each pick two games to play instead of doing regular lessons. Even now, when our guys are reaching the high school level, I still allow a game day once a month. They love having the control, and I love playing games with them.

Since they were small, our boys have enjoyed playing games with the family around the supper table. And when we play, you can bet that game is going to be logged in my homeschool record for the day. If you think about it, every game can reinforce a math concept, even if it just seems like a game for entertainment. Now, before I continue, I’m talking about board and card games, not video games. There are lots of great educational video and computer games out there, but I’m not writing to you about those today. I’m focusing solely on board and card games.

Any game can reinforce a math concept. If it’s a game in which you roll the dice, your children are adding to determine their “total roll.” They are recognizing sets if they can stare at one die and see that it depicts a value of 6 or 2. If they have to move a game piece after rolling, they are counting and checking the results of their addition. The more games they play, the more likely they will develop the skill of “skip counting,” because eventually a child will figure out how not to count every square. For example, our guys have figured out that Monopoly is spaced in 10s, so if they roll a 10 they just jump to the corresponding square on the next side of the board.

Speaking of Monopoly, any game that requires your children to count money reinforces good math skills—which always need reinforcing. Our guys have learned to give change by playing Monopoly. We taught them to count up from the purchase price to the dollar amount given to give change to a player who bought property. We also have a few games that teach money concepts either directly or indirectly.

Another really great resource for teaching math is puzzles—not the jigsaw type, although I am a fan of those in the wintertime beside the fire—but the paper and pen type of puzzle. When the boys were in early elementary grades, we bought two simplified Sudoku puzzle books. Each day, as part of their lessons, I would have the boys complete one puzzle. It was fun for them, and I was glad to see that they were learning skills in the areas of critical thinking, counting, numbers, shapes (some of the puzzles used shapes instead of numbers), and patterns. They have since graduated to the Sudoku puzzles in the Sunday paper.

I also enjoy fill-in puzzles. In a fill-in puzzle you are given a list of words or numbers that are sorted by length. It’s a puzzle similar to a crossword puzzle, but without the numbers. You have to figure out how to fill in the list of words or numbers in the puzzle so that they all fit across and down. It’s challenging but fun, and it’s great for developing critical thinking skills.

In years past, we’ve made our own games too. Quite often we’ve made games as part of a history unit. Two that come to mind are Nine Men’s Morris and Senet. We used math skills with these games when we counted spaces as we moved on the board or made decisions about strategy (critical thinking). But we’ve made up numerous games to reinforce a particular math concept. If you spend a little time researching games on the Internet you can find a myriad of ideas. Many of the games we’ve “made” simply used a pair `of dice or a deck of cards, along with a notepad and pen. Do an Internet search on a math concept with the word game behind it and see what you find. If you do find a board game that you would like to make, use an old board from a game you’ve lost all the pieces to, or an old game you found in the 25-cent bin at the thrift store.

At one time, I was part of an online group of homeschool moms who talked exclusively about games they had made. I got a ton of great ideas from that group. Do an Internet search on homemade games and you may find a similar group.

When we were trying to learn addition, subtraction, or multiplication facts, I always used lots of games. We played addition, subtraction, and multiplication war with a regular deck of cards. We altered the game Uno, allowing the player to add or subtract two cards to make them match the face-up card … which brings me to my next point: change the rules! If changing the way a game is played would help you teach a concept that your son or daughter is struggling to master, then do it! I promise—the game police will not show up at your door asking you to turn in your Monopoly game, including all the Get Out of Jail Free cards. 

Do you need to reinforce multiplication? Have your child multiply the amounts on the two dice instead of adding. Need to subtract? Then subtract the amounts on the dice. Need help determining greater than or less than? Roll the dice and make your child move the greater number, or have the child roll the dice and divide the larger by the smaller and tell you the remainder. If he gets it right, he can move the number in the remainder. Are you getting this? You can make a game to fit your needs.

Ah, but what about the upper math concepts? Well, beginning algebra is a piece of cake. Want to learn about graphing coordinates? Play Battleship. Truly, if you think about it, all board games in which you roll dice or draw a card will teach basic algebra. When it’s your child’s turn, ask him, “Where do you want to land on this turn?” Then say, “Okay, what would you need to roll or draw to get there?” Your child has just solved a problem in which the variable is the number of spaces he needs to get to a given destination! That’s basic algebra.

Now, truthfully, I don’t know that any of the games in my closet will reinforce any math courses beyond basic algebra, but I’m sure if you’re in a pinch, you’ll find games for sale that teach or reinforce a variety of higher math concepts. We have a card game that focuses on algebraic equations, so they do exist.

As I come to the end of my ramblings, I must issue a warning: games are addicting! You will end up with more games than you can fit in a closet. You will search out games at thrift stores and yard sales. You will dig through your mother’s basement to find the game you played as a child that you know your son or daughter will love. You will seek out games wherever you go. So, go clean out a closet and get started. Declare today a game day!

Biographical Information

Lori Lynn Lydell lives with her husband and two sons in rural Central Pennsylvania. When not homeschooling the boys or working for TOS as the Assistant to the Director of Operations, she enjoys knitting and crochet, playing the piano, cooking, and reading. You can find her talking about her adventures at http://www.lorilynn.org/.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.