Do your children love using board games and dice? There are an almost unlimited supply of great ways to teach and learn using this method. But what if we could tweak games to increase mathematical understanding in young children aged 3-7?
There is a strong link between a child’s understanding of numbers as a continuation on a number line and math achievement test scores in lower primary. There is also a link to higher IQ scores and a belief that thinking in terms of a number line gives the brain a great way of organising all kinds of information about numbers.
Younger children start out learning number names by rote without truly understanding what the words mean in mathematical terms. If we ask them to plot 0-100 on a number line they’ll take up half the line for 0-10 and the other half for 11-100. Researchers call this logarithmic thinking.
Then children start to see numbers as getting bigger in a gradual, linear way. That is, when plotting 0-100 on a number line they’ll keep the numbers fairly evenly spaced.
This is an important mathematical stage that allows children to recall numbers more confidently and strongly influences their ability to add, subtract and to understand the differences between 2 numbers.
Advantages of board games
- They’re tactile: Children are physically moving their token and know that moving 6 spaces takes more jumps than moving 4 spaces. Moving 6 spaces also takes them closer to the goal.
- They’re visual: Children can see the distances between numbers.
- They’re auditory: If children are interacting while playing, saying the number they rolled as well as counting on out loud it gives greater sensory input.
- They’re time-based: Generally, the longer they play, the higher the numbers they’re dealing with. This is another form of measurement that higher numbers take longer to get to.
What does research say?
- Throwing a die then counting ‘1, 2, 3…’ as they move around the game board teaches very little about numbers (unless the learning focus is specifically on those smallest numbers)
- If children count on instead their learning literally doubles
What does research say about board games?
Please keep in mind that these comments are about increasing effectiveness at math up to Grade 2 and don’t relate to board games that are teaching other concepts.
- Board games that go in a full circle are less effective (mathematically speaking)
- Preschool board games for numbers 0-10 that are a straight line are very effective
- Obviously board games can’t be one straight line if they’re going from 0-100, but grid games like Chutes and Ladders are effective ~ and even more so with one tweak. Instead of going from left to right and then up one step and going right to left, they should be laid out like a regular 100s chart so the ‘ones’ line up.
- Board games can be very well thought out but still be ineffective if not played as designed. In other words, children need to be taught to use games properly so they get the most out of it and the learning gets encoded.
- While counting on can be taught outside the playing of board games it does not give children the same sense of a number’s ‘place.’
- Reading the numbers on the board gives them greater practice and understanding of the written numbers.
What can we do with the dice games we have?
1. Write small numbers on each playing space so that kids can practice counting on while they play.
- Preschoolers: 1-10.
- Pre-K: 1-20
- KG-Gr 1: 1-100 (or 120 if you’re following the Common Core guidelines for Gr 1).
- Gr 2s can go higher although there can’t be too many board games with more than 100 spaces!
2. Consider how the game is played and see if it’s possible to further engage the kids to increase learning.
- Remind them to count on out loud.
- Have them write down each number they land on to encourage the understanding that the further they travel on the board, the bigger the number.
- Have them stop twice during the game and work out how many spaces between each player’s counter and how much further they need to go to get to the end.
Try out this FREE game for 1-10
I have created this free fire safety-themed counting on game to line up with researcher’s suggestions. Please let me know how it works for your little ones!
You can find another free counting to 100 board game here.
Julie L. Booth & Robert S. Siegler. (2008). Numerical magnitude representations influence arithmetic learning. Child Development, 79 (4), 1016-1031.
Elida V. Laski & Robert S.Siegler. (2014). Learning from number board games: You learn what you encode. Developmental Psychology, 50 (3), 853-864. DOI: 10.1037/a0034321
Ian Lyons, Gavin Price, Anniek Vaesson, Leo Blomert & Daniel Ansari. (2014). Numerical predictors of arithmetic success in grades 1-6. Developmental Science, 17 (5), 714-726. DOI: 10.1111/desc.12152
Clarissa A.Thompson & Robert S. Siegler. (2010). Linear numerical-magnitude representations aid children’s memory for numbers. Psychological Science, 21(9) 1274-1281. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610378309