Learning maths through play

Home Education - Mathematics game

There's a great game for kids to play that helps them to learn maths. It takes about 2 minutes to set up, requires just several sheets of A4 paper, a pen (ideally a thick felt tip) and a dice (ideally a large one). Whenever I've played it, all the kids have loved it and had great fun with lots of laughter. I'd like to share it with you.

First, a quick note on my thoughts about learning maths. I loved maths at school and find that it's one of the subjects that is useful in every day activity. My parents taught me maths largely through play and by 'drip feeding' me an understanding of maths through everyday activities. I think that this approach helped me to appreciate mathematics and enjoy it, without feeling nervous or being put under pressure. I've therefore included some suggestions below the picture on the right for how to 'teach' maths (particularly to younger children) through games and everyday events in life.

Now, onto the game.

First, decide what level of maths the children are comfortable with. The game is very flexible and works best if the children will be able to do most of the sums with a little bit of thought, but will need to work a bit harder for some of them.

For the examples below, I've put specific instructions to make it easy to understand. Please feel free to ignore, change or invent new instructions - this game's very easy to adapt.

Example 1 - Young children learning basic addition and subtraction


  • Take 7 pieces of A4 paper (it's best to keep them at their full size).
  • On 3 of them write the plus sign (+), on 2 write the minus sign (-) and on one write times two (x2). Spread them out as shown in the photo to the right.
  • Put something on the floor to create a line 2m or so from where the paper is
  • Decide a target number to aim for (30 is a quick game, 50 is a normal game).

Playing the Game

  • The youngest child goes first. After the first turn, whoever had the lowest score last game goes first.
  • They throw the die - if it lands on +, they gain that many points, if it lands on -, they lose that many points, if it lands on x2, they double the number on the die and add that to their score (e.g. if they roll 6 and it lands on x2, add 12 points to their score.
    (Explain that 6 x 2 is the same as 6 + 6)
  • If the die misses all the bits of paper, they gain 1 point.
  • Play then passes to the next player.

Children can then work out how much they've scored when they land on x2 and what their total score is each turn.

Example 2 - Children learning multiplication and division


  • Take 6 - 10 pieces of A4 paper.
  • Write x2, x3, x4, x5 x-1 or 1/2 on them as you wish.
  • Create a line for players to stay behind and decide a target number.

Playing the Game

  • I think you can probably figure this bit out!
  • If the die lands on 1/2, then players receive half the roll and it's fine for them to have a score of e.g. two and a half, if they rolled 5.
  • Also explain that if a number is multiplied by -1, then they lose the number on the die.

Ideas for expanding the game

Introduce other toys instead of paper (a castle with an open door to get through, a hoop to land in, etc.) These could:

  • Give you 10 bonus points.
  • Give you 5 bonus points and another go.
  • Give the next player 2 goes (or make you miss your next turn).
  • Add 10 to the target number to win for all players.

Please click for information on:
Maths lessons in English or French in Aude

Play and learn maths - Home Education in mathematics

Ideas for learning numbers
in everyday life:

  • Whenever you play a game with scoring or money (e.g. Monopoly), encourage the children to do the sums they can do and work out your calculations out loud.
  • When shopping, encourage your children to do sums (e.g. which is best, a dozen eggs for 2 Euros or six eggs for 1 Euro 20 centimes?)
  • Use concrete examples whenever possible - e.g. fractions can be taught by cutting up a cake and eating it!
  • Let the child work out answers when he or she can, but if you know they won't know it, say the answer yourself - just with an explanation of how you get to it.
  • Mathematics is one of those subjects that requires a certain amount of repetition, but you can still do it in a fun way!


Learning to read a watch or clock

If you're teaching a child to tell the time and read an analog watch or clock, then there are a couple of pre-requisites that it's great if they know first, so that they keep their confidence:

  • Knowing their 5 times table.
  • Knowing fractions (at least 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4)

I'd therefore recommend playing some games involving multiplying by 5 first and perhaps doing a bit of rote learning. The alternative is to get an analog clock with small numbers for the minutes, or an analog watch with little dashes.

Next start with just the hours.

Tell the time with a watch or clock - Montres

Click the above image to take you to a close-up, then press 'Print'. Use a short pencil for the hour-hand. It's actually possible to tell the time JUST from the hour hand - so explain that if a clock or watch is between 4 and 5 it means it's half past four, if it's nearer the 4, it's roughly quarter to four and if it's nearer the 5, it's roughly quarter to five. This helps children get a feel that when we 'tell the time' we're often giving loose definitions and normally this is fine.

Then get a longer pencil or pointer for the minutes (If they ask why the minute hand is longer, explain that it's longer because it needs to be nearer the numbers, as this is what shows you the detail of what time it is exactly).

Ask the child to go through their 5 times table and write 5 times the number next to each hour (1 x 5 = 5, 2 x 5 = 10, etc.)

Once you've done this, explain how minutes work. When your child's fully grasped minutes, then combine the two. If you're asking questions start with easy ones - i.e. with the minute hand at 5 past, 10 past or quarter past.