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.