These 27 addition and subtraction games for kids will help develop their math skills. Math doesn’t have to be boring, as you will find out with these fun math activities.
The following activities are fantastic for classrooms (Most are great for home) however, in ‘Afterschool’ programs we strive to present academics differently than what is taught during the school day. Math certainly fits into that category. Consider presenting math mixed with a whole lot of fun.
Who says learning and having a good time don’t mix?
First, Create a Math Center.
- Math centers are small group stations where youth work together on fun activities like puzzles, problems that use manipulatives (physical objects that help students visualize relationships and applications), and brainteasers.
- Kids can improve their ability to make and test predictions by outlining their hands and feet on graph paper and predicting whether their hand or foot has the greatest length and width.
- They can practice adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing decimals as they try to determine how to use $65 to feed four people when ordering food from a restaurant menu. Or how to provide snack for the group!)
- Children with an interest in art might enjoy using pentominoes (sets of small squares) to form different shapes.
- Students will most likely show greater interest if they see the centers as a fun challenge rather than work. Through fun activities, math centers help bring academic content to life and encourage students to make real-world connections.
Find out what kids like to do and team that up with ways to incorporate math concepts and skills.
Games to practice addition and subtraction
Make a bowling set using ten cardboard tubes which can be knocked over with a soft ball. After each throw talk about the score: There were ten pins and we knocked over 6. There are 4 left standing up. 6 and 4 make 10.
2. Make a target game
Place three or four empty boxes in the floor. Label each box with a number between 1 and 5. Encourage children to help make up rules for the game. How many paper balls can you throw in a turn? How many does the winner of the game need to score altogether?
3. Hidden objects game (for younger children)
This game is a good way of developing the skills children will need in doing addition ‘in their head’. It helps child to imagine numbers of objects.
- Place five small objects on a tray; buttons, coins, counters or pebbles, etc.
- Show each child that there are five objects and count them together.
- Now cover the objects with a cloth and slide your hand under the cloth to remove one or two of the objects from the tray.
- Show children how many objects you have removed and ask, How many things are left on the tray?
As children becomes more confident, start with a larger of objects on the tray. Once the tray is empty replace the objects a few at a time, again by putting your hand under the cover. After each addition ask your child to think how many objects are now on the tray.
4. Stuck in the mud! Dice game for ages 7 to adult
Need: 5 dice, Paper and pencil
The aim of the game is to achieve the highest score. You can only score on a roll which does not include the numbers 2 and 5. Any dice which show a 2 or a 5 become “stuck in the mud”.
- Choose a player to start. Roll all 5 dice. If you have rolled any 2s or 5s, you do not score any points for this throw. If you have not rolled any 2s or 5s, add up the total of the dice and remember it.
- Set aside any 2s and 5s, and throw the remaining dice. Again, if you have rolled any 2s or 5s you fail to score this turn. Throws without 2s and 5s are added to your previous total.
- Continue in this way until all your dice are “stuck”. Write down your score, and pass the dice to the next player.
- Agree a number of rounds (five works well) and total up the score.
5. Skittle game
(Keeping track of points is math)
Materials needed: Container, 2-3 pkgs. of Skittle candies (depending on number of kids and tables playing), score sheet, paper and penci
- Find a deep, clean, non-see-through container to pour in several bags of skittles.
- Make a point chart on paper or blackboard for the different colored Skittles.
- An example is purple 5 pts, green 10 pts, yellow 20 pts, orange 25 pts, and red 30 pts.
- Divide into teams and have one person at a time from each team, draw out a Skittle.
- The team is awarded the points for the color that is pulled out.
The drawer gets to eat the Skittle. The first team to reach 500 pts is the winner.
Tip: You can use any kind of candy that has many colors, also a great transition activity or to get the group to quiet down!
6. What are my chances?
A Game for Two people.
You’ll need two coins, paper, and pencil to keep score.
Flip one coin. Every time it comes up heads, person ‘A’ gets 1 point. Every time it comes up tails, person ‘B’ gets 1 point. Flip it 50 times. Tally by 5’s to make it easier to keep track of scores. The person with the most points wins. If one person has 10 points more than the other person does, score an extra 10 points. Does this happen very often? Why not?
Flip two coins. If the coins come up two tails or two heads, person ‘A’ scores 1 point. If it comes up heads and tails, person ‘B’ gets the point. After 50 flips, see who has more points. Do you think the game is fair? What if one person received 2 points for every double heads and the other person received 1 point for everything else. Is this fair?
Flip one coin. Then flip the other. If the second coin matches the first coin, person ‘A’ scores 1 point. If the second coin doesn’t match the first coin, person ‘B’ gets 1 point. Try this 50 times. Is the result the same as in the previous game?
Understanding probability is essential in many areas of mathematics. Playing games that involve chance is one way to explore the laws of probability.
Play board games that require counting
Any game in which children have to count numbers of squares to move their pieces will help them develop counting skills!
7. Buzz (Game)
The players start counting substituting buzz for the number seven and multiples of seven. If a player makes a mistake he must drop out or the whole group must start again.
8. What are the coins?
You’ll need some coins.
Ask child (children) the following questions:
1. I have three coins in my pocket. They are worth 7 cents. What do I have? (a nickel and 2 pennies)
2. I have three coins in my pocket. They are worth 16 cents. What do I have? (a dime, a nickel, a penny)
3. I have three coins in my pocket. They are worth 11 cents. What do I have? (2 nickels and 1 penny)
4. I have three coins in my pockets. They are worth 30 cents. What do I have? (3 dimes)
5. I have six coins in my pocket. They are worth 30 cents. What could I have? (1 quarter and 5 pennies or 6 nickels).
This problem has more than one answer. It is challenging for children to experience problems like this.
6. I have coins in my pocket, which have a value of 11 cents. How many coins could I have?
Tip: Give children a few coins to figure out the answers.
Use this activity to help children develop an understanding of patterns and variables (the unknown) to solve a problem. This is critical to understanding algebra.
9. Beat that – Dice Game for Ages: 5 to adult
1. Roll the dice and put them in order to make the highest number possible. If you roll a 4 and an 6, for example, your best answer would be 64.
2. Using 3 dice, a roll of 3, 5 and 2 should give you 532, and so on.
Write down your answer, pass the dice, and challenge the next player to “Beat That!” Play in rounds and assign a winner to each round. For a change, try making the smallest number possible! This is a great game for reinforcing the concept of place value.
If you are playing with younger children, explain your reasoning out loud and encourage them to do the same
Skills: Number, Place value, Strategic thinking
Need: 2 dice (up to 7 dice for older players)
Paper and pencil for scoring
How to play:
Students stand, while you roll a die. Each time you roll the die, children add the number to the previous total, keeping a running score. Students can sit down at any time during the game, accepting the total at that point as their final score.
Example: If a child sits down after three rolls of the die showing 4, 6, and 1, he or she has a score of 11. The game continues until someone rolls a 2. The children still standing lose all their points because they’ve been greedy! Out of the seated children the ones with the highest score win.
(Drawing and Counting)
Need: Paper, pencils, a pre-drawn mouse to follow.
The aim of the game is to be the first to complete a Mouse. Each roll of the die enables a particular body part to be drawn as follows:
6 = body
5 = nose
4 = whiskers
3 = eyes
2 = ears
1 = tail
The body must be drawn before the other body parts are added to it, so players must therefore roll a 6 to start. Once the body has been drawn, the other parts of the mouse may be added in any order. If you roll a number which relates to a part you have already added, you miss your go and pass the die on.
Tip: Put a mouse print out or drawing in the middle of the table as a reminder for which body part relates to which number on the die. I’ve also played this drawing a person, body, head, arms, legs, etc. Just adapt the body parts to the die throws!
Math activities for kids
12. Introduce measurements
Offer measuring tapes, rulers, thermometers, balance scales, measuring cups, clocks, hour-glasses, and stand-on scales. Help children weigh and measure everything. Shoes, feet, living plants, table heights, how many minutes it takes to eat lunch, Pre-K/K – how long each child naps, etc. Record measurements, repeat often, and discuss what changes and what stays the same.
13. Developing Math Through Cooking
Applying math to a recipe during the actual cooking or baking allows children to make use of: sequencing, measuring, time, and portions. The best part of this activity is eating the results!
14. Good for lining up kids!
When lining up at transition time, try using math problems!
If you are 4 + 4 you may line up.
If you are 10-1 you may line up, etc.
15. Find a partner
Love this idea that was in school-age-note of the day 11/12/09…The next time you need children to find a partner, try this approach from Marlene Kliman and Martha Merson of Mixing in Math. You’ll mix up social groups and get children involved in measuring at the same time.
Instead of asking children to line up in pairs, ask them to find a partner who has something in common with them, for instance:
- Find a partner with the same length index finger as yours.
- Find a partner with the same arm span as yours.
- Find a partner whose feet are as long as yours.
Children pair up with the first person they find who has the same measurement.
Anyone who can’t find a partner joins the person or pair who comes closest.
16. Guess my number
This is a another useful game for transition times. As children play the game they will practice thinking about the order of numbers.
- Start the game by saying to children I am thinking of a number between 1 and 10. Explain that the aim of the game is to guess the mystery number by asking questions and that you will only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- Children soon learn that it is more useful to ask “Is the number bigger than 5?” then to ask ‘Is it 7?”
- Older children can progress to guessing mystery numbers up to 100, and then will start to ask questions such as :
- ‘Is it an odd number?’
- ‘Is the number a multiple of 10?’ (example: 20, 30, 40)
17. How was your day?
Try this activity, from Marlene Kliman and Martha Merson of Mixing in Math, at circle time, pick-up time or whenever everyone gathers to talk about what they did during the day.
- Ask everyone to rate the day on a scale from negative 5 to positive 5.
- Explain that negative 5 is a really bad day, negative 4 is a little less bad, 0 is OK, and positive 5 is fantastic.
- Rate it. Everyone gives a rating. Take turns explaining your ratings as you tell about the day.
Next time, ask the children to suggest what to rate: a food, an event such as a field trip, or a book everyone has read. For younger children, use a rating scale of positive numbers 1 through 10.
18. Measurement Activity for Kids
Try this activity, from Marlene Kliman and Martha Merson of Mixing in Math, when you’re serving something that can be poured such as cereal, yogurt or juice.
Decide together on measurements for each serving size (for example, small is a quarter-cup, medium is a half-cup, large is three-quarters cup).
- Will a half-cup of cereal fill me up?
- Will 1 cup of lemonade quench my thirst? Help kids build their “measurement sense” by asking them to use measuring cups to serve snacks.
A pair circulates with food and a measuring cup. They measure out the serving size that each child requests. Switch roles next time, so everyone has a chance to measure.
When everyone has eaten, compare your serving sizes with “serving size” on the food packages. Is a medium serving about the same size?
19. Apple tasting and charting
Bring in large variety of apples (During peek season there are many-many varieties of apples!) Have the children taste them and see which one they like the best.
With older kids you can chart and tally the results. You can also do this with applesauce (flavored vs. unflavored and also taste test cider vs. apple juice.
Apple graph – Math for the young
Make a chart by putting a picture of three different colored apples at the top. Have each child’s name written down the left hand margin. Pass out a slice of each type of apple and then have each child tell you which was his favorite (red, yellow or green)
- Tally up the results and make a total at the bottom of each column.
- You can get the colored sticker labels from the stationery store for the children to use to put on the chart.
- If they like a red apple, they place their red circle sticker under the red, yellow circle sticker under the yellow apple, etc. They enjoy doing this because they get to use stickers – but they also get to taste a variety of apples!
Estimation Activities for Kids
Not just fun but math and Science too.
20. Guess the number of whatever in the jar.
Have the kids write their name on a piece of paper along with their guess. Put the guesses in a closed envelope. Depending on what is being guessed you can award prizes or the jar itself! In case of a tie have two prizes or enough in the jar for two. The winning child can also open the jar and share with the group! (I like that one the best!)
There can be variations of this.
- At Easter count the jelly beans/Easter candy.
- Black and orange jelly beans or candy corn at Halloween.
- Striped peppermint candy at Christmas
- Conversation heart” candies for Valentine
- Green Candy for St. Patrick’s Day
- Small plastic insects for a Bug Theme
- Small plastic dinosaurs for a Dinosaur party/theme
- For Mexican Theme. Count the nachos! Take a large glass spaghetti jar or similar; carefully fill it with nachos. Keep count as you add them, and try not to break any! The winning child get to open the nachos for all to share..as well as get a prize.
- Sunflower or Fall Theme Party guess the closest number of seeds in a live sunflower. The number can exceed 1000! Etc.
21. Slow bicycle race
How slowly can you ride a bike without touching the ground?
- You must wear a helmet on your head when you are on a bike.
- Both wheels of the bike must be on the ground at all times.
- NO Bunny hops.
- NO Wheelies.
- NO flying through the air in general.
- Stay in your team’s track.
- Watch out for your classmates.
Each person will ride a bike through a track two times in a row. Make the track a rectangle about 20 feet (6 meters) long and 2 feet (60 centimeters) wide. You have to ride the bike through the track as slowly as you can. Use a stopwatch to time how long each ride takes:
- Start the timer when the bike’s back tire enters the track.
- Stop the timer when the bike’s back tire leaves the track or if the rider’s foot touches the ground
- Record the time of each ride on the Slow Bicycle Race Data Chart: Give each person two turns in a row and record everyone’s times.
To calculate how slow your team went you need to know:
- How far your team went.
- How much time your team took to go that far.
22. Everyone jump.
This game gets everyone moving and doing math at the same time!
Before you start, decide what the group will count by. For younger children, choose 1 or 2; for a mid-level challenge – choose 5 or 10; and for older children, choose 3, 7 or 11.
1. The whole group gets in a circle.
2. Start counting by the chosen number (for example, if counting by twos, the first child says 2, the next says 4, the next 6, and so on). Everyone jumps when someone says a number ending in 0 (10, 20, 30).
3. Keep counting and jumping until you reach or pass 100.
Next time you play, add more actions. For example, clap on an even number or stamp a foot on multiples of 3.
Source: Marlene Kliman and Martha Merson of Mixing in Math 7/21/2008 schoolagenotes.com
23. Tumbling towers
There’s something compelling about stacking things up to make the highest tower you can, before it all tumbles to the ground. Children of all ages can build their engineering and math skills with this activity from Marlene Kliman and Martha Merson of Mixing in Math as they figure out how to make a tall, stable tower.
First, gather plenty of blocks, recycled tubes or boxes, or other objects.
Next, engage children in making some predictions:
- What’s the largest number of objects you can stack?
- How high can you build a tower?
- Can you make one as tall as you are?
Each child, pair, or small group begins stacking and counting. After a few trials, ask the group to talk over what shapes and sizes make for a good tower bottom. What shapes and sizes work well in the middle and top? For more ideas on ways to engage children in exploring engineering using free or low-cost materials, see mixinginmath.terc.edu
24. Mixing play and math
When children need a quick exercise break during homework time or on a rainy day, play ‘How Many in a Minute?’ They’ll get a boost of energy, a chance to stretch and a little math as well. This activity also comes from Marlene Kliman and Martha Merson of Mixing in Math.
Choose an activity, such as jumping jacks, that everyone will do for a minute.
1. Ask children to predict: How many can you do in a minute?
2. Time a minute while everyone does the activity and keeps track.
3. Everyone compares predictions and results.
4. Try it again. Are predictions closer this time?
25. The big measure
This is a different type activity for the beginning and/or end of the year! Perhaps you can adapt it to fit your group.
As an extension, it could be started at the beginning of the year – and then updated at the end for comparison.
Instructions: As a special keepsake, create a book based on the math facts of entire group.
For starters, add up everyone’s height. Write the final total on a left-hand page, then list everyone’s height on the right-hand page. On following pages, let students choose other things to measure.
Everyone’s pet (or favorite stuffed animal), length of hair, favorite book, foot, hand, etc.
- The last page can be a long sheet of paper with everyone’s signature written from one side to the other. First, ESTIMATE how long each signature will measure and how long the sheet will have to be!
Two springtime themed games
26. Bunny (or Chicken) buzz game
- All players sit in a circle. Players take turns quickly counting off numbers in turn: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…
- When the number seven is reached, that player must say, “I love the Easter Bunny”, instead of seven. (You can also change it to a love spring chicks or butterflies or whatever that is associated with Spring!)
- When a child fails to do so and says seven, the child is out of the game.
- The game continues until only one player is left to be declared the winner.
27. Jelly bean game
Required: Container, 2-3 pkgs. of jelly beans (depending on number of kids and tables playing), score sheet, paper and pencil
Players: Small to large groups
- Find a deep, clean, non-see-through container to pour in several bags of JELLY BEANS.
- Make a point chart on paper or blackboard for the different colored jelly-beans. An example is purple 5 pts, green 10 pts, yellow 20 pts, orange 25 pts, and red 30 pts.
- Divide into teams and have one person at a time from each team, draw out a jelly-bean. The team is awarded the points for the color that is pulled out.
The drawer gets to eat the jelly-bean. The first team to reach 500 pts is the winner.
- You can use any kind of candy that has many colors (Skittles, etc.)
- This is also a great transition activity or to get the group to quiet down!
Some fun reading will boost math.
#1 The Wishing Club: A Story about Fractions by Donna Jo Napoli. Grades 1-4
A lively group of siblings wish upon a star and only “part” of what they wish is received. Author cleverly explains fractions as the character figure and how to make whole dreams come true.
#2 Math Fables Too – by Greg Tang; Grades pre-k to 2.
In his latest collection of rhymes, teacher hero Tang combines counting, addition, and basic facts about dolphins, koalas, and other nice creatures. A great read-aloud that is also good in a math and/or science center
Research: Laying the path to math
Studies show that children who play with unit blocks in early childhood do better in algebra in middle school. But it’s important to note that the outcome of playing in the block area is NOT demonstrated until middle school!
Math standards during the early years will automatically focus on low level, rote skills: memorization, repetition, and adult views of math knowledge.
What makes this most destructive is that young children are operating within Piaget’s pre operational stage, which means they cannot think logically. Thus, bureaucrats creating standards and assessments often include things that children this age simply cannot even do.
“Math knowledge and dispositions are not created in a vacuum. Math is about manipulating things: objects, shapes, concepts, and relationships; reproducing and documenting the world; and constructing, building, and estimating. Thus, we must provide a myriad of opportunities for young children to have direct, concrete experiences in the real world.
What is the value of discussing the speed of light if you don’t understand light?
- Seeing snow accumulate day after day is a real way to understanding the increase in quantity.
- Carrying a large boulder teaches about mass.
- Swinging on a rope about force, angles, and speed.
- Field trips, extensive classroom projects, exploration in nature, extensive use of the playground, observing the weather, etc., must all be central to our math curricula.”
These excerpts are from the article: “Math in Early Childhood,” by Francis Wardle (www.ChildCareExchange.com)
You can also get them a learning tablet with apps and games specifically designed to teach math.