“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.  

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.