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Save on Math Games and Puzzles

  • Molly Green
  • 2013 9 Aug
Save on Math Games and Puzzles

“What science can there be more noble, more excellent, more useful for men, more admirably high and demonstrative, than this of mathematics?”—Benjamin Franklin

With a multitude of excellent resources to choose from, making a decision about purchasing math curriculum and supplemental resources, such as games and puzzles, can be overwhelming. Because we want to provide the best math education possible for our children, it’s easy to be tempted to buy more than we need or more than we can comfortably afford.

We’ve chosen to live frugally, to make wise decisions about our purchases and then investigate the most economical ways to acquire the resources we believe are best for our family—without compromising the quality of their education. The effort may be time-consuming, but the financial benefits are worth it.

Begin by assessing the math strengths and weaknesses of your children. Finding fun and creative ways to work on those weaknesses can be a priority when it comes to choosing and purchasing both curriculum and supplemental resources. With that assessment in mind, it helps to make a list of the math games and puzzles we’ve prayerfully determined would be good for our homeschool. In order to avoid unnecessary duplications and also to make wise decisions about other options, beside each item in the list, make a note about the math concepts that are reinforced by that tool. List the least expensive items first, followed by tools that are increasingly pricier. That way, you can more easily determine which purchases can be made in line with your family’s budget.

Finding creative ways to use resources we already have on hand or can purchase inexpensively to create effective math manipulatives and games is certainly the most cost-saving option. Any number of items found around our home can be used: toy cars, dice, coins, dominoes, playing cards, blocks, game pieces, Legos, pebbles, acorns, clothespins, index cards, Popsicle sticks, and other craft supplies. It takes time to search the Internet for free math games, such as Dr. Mike’s Math Games for Kids, or for instructions for homemade math games and puzzles, but the Internet can be an excellent resource and often will inspire us with ideas to create our own games.  

SEE ALSO: Math Apps—Worth Their Weight in Gold!

Using an old set of playing cards, matching games (like the game called Concentration) are one of the easiest kinds of math games to make. Young children can match digits with words (like 1 and one) or digits with objects (like 1 and one duck). With rubber cement (which is easy to remove), glue a square piece of paper on the face side of each card. When the glue is dry, make matching sets, with the numbers or words written on the paper. If the child is matching digits or words with a picture (such as matching the numeral 2 with a picture of 2 puppies), pictures cut from magazines can be glued on. Index cards can also be used to make matching sets for homemade Concentration games, but playing cards are more fun.  

A matching game can also be played with manipulatives. Toy trucks or other objects can be grouped together in sets and arranged on a table or floor. During his math lesson, the child should be told to see how fast he can match each group with the correct number written on a card. Children love to do things fast. Rather than competing against another child, whose skills will likely be different, use an egg timer or have your students race against the clock in an effort to top their most recently timed individual efforts.  

Children can also play matching games that reinforce their understanding of simple operations at the skill level they are working to master. Create a card for each problem in a set. For example, cards with the problems 6 + 0, 5 + 1, 4 + 2, 3 + 3, 2 + 4, 1 + 5, 0 + 6, 1 x 6, 2 x 3, 3 x 2, 6 x 1, 6 ÷ 1, 12 ÷ 2, etc. would be in the 6 set. You can create sets for any number you choose. Label a shoebox with the set number, one box for each number set you create. Shuffle the sets of cards together and then ask the child to put each problem card in the shoebox labeled with the correct answer. Instead of shoeboxes, you could use clothespins labeled with the numbers. You can also use the problem card sets to play Concentration. The 6 + 0 card would match the 2 x 3 card, etc.

Another matching game can be played with two six-sided dice and the numbers 2 through 12 written on index cards. Choose a card, or have the child pick a card, then have him see how many times it takes to throw the dice to equal the sum that is written on the card.  

SEE ALSO: Mom + Math + Monopoly = Fun!

Making math games for children of various ages and math skills can require a little more work but also be a lot of fun. Select a board game your family enjoys playing, and with sticky notes, change some of the landing spaces into math-challenge spaces. When a player lands on those “newly named” spaces, he must solve a math problem before moving on. In the case of a game such as Monopoly, the “chance” questions can be replaced with math questions.

Before playing the game, you will need to prepare for each child a set of math questions that reflects his or her abilities and the skills you want to reinforce. One of the easiest ways to do that is to use problems from each child’s math textbook. (Be sure that you have easy access to the answers.) Unless you have included only basic math fact questions in the list for each child (e.g. multiplication facts), have paper and pencils available for those who may need them to work out the problems. Play the board game the way you’ve always played it, but when a player lands on a math-challenge space, he must either answer the problem correctly and take another turn, or answer it incorrectly and wait for his next turn, when he can either try to correctly solve the same math problem or solve a new math problem.  

Homemade puzzles of all sizes and shapes can be made by gluing photo images or even magazine pages onto cardboard. After applying an even and smooth layer of white glue or rubber cement to the back side of the image, adhere it to a slightly larger piece of firm cardboard, smoothing out lumps and wrinkles and removing excess glue from the edges. After it is completely dry, use sharp scissors or box cutters and a ruler to trim off the excess cardboard along the edge. On the back side of the puzzle, draw the desired puzzle pieces. Carefully cut them out with sharp scissors or box cutters. Store the pieces in a labeled ziplock plastic bag or manila envelope.

Another way to save money on math games and puzzles is to buy them used at garage sales or purchase them from other homeschoolers who offer them on curriculum boards and at local used curriculum sales. At stores like Big Lots or Marshall’s, look for sale-priced board games that can be transformed into math games.

SEE ALSO: From Beans to Bang: Using Tangible Tools for Teen Math Success

Consider getting with other homeschooling families to purchase games and puzzles to share. If your homeschool group or co-op doesn’t already have a resource library, talk to the board or leaders about organizing one that could include games and puzzles purchased from member donations, contributions, or fees.  

Finally, if the less expensive options are not possible or desirable, be careful that you don’t add to any debt. Carefully shop around for the best price, including the cost of shipping, before making a purchase.

Molly Green is passionate about cheerful, creative homemaking on a down-to-earth budget.  Visit her online home, for tips about frugal and tasty cooking, fresh decorating ideas, affordable family fun, simple but effective organizing, and much more! Sign up for her free weekly E-Newsletter and get a bonus menu-planning E-Book too!

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  or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

SEE ALSO: SAT: Decoding the Math Section

Publication date: August 9, 2013