How To Increase Mental Math Acuity With Game Play

How to Increase Mental Math Acuity with Game Play blog image
Sept. 30, 2020 by Kelly

Have you found yourself sitting at the table working with your child on yet another math worksheet only to have them ask, “How many more do I have to do?”  You look into your child’s eyes and you no longer see the joy of learning, exploring, and discovering.  The umpteenth math worksheet has now become a battle.  But with a little creativity and effort, you can help your child reclaim a love for learning – especially in math.  Here are a few ideas you can utilize to strengthen your child’s skills and interest in math.

Replace the flash cards and written speed drills 

Nothing ruins a love for learning math like another page of monotonous fast facts.  Though occasionally such pages are necessary for assessment, utilizing them daily as practice can be tedious.  Similarly, so are flash cards.  Both of these methods are useful – but in moderation.  Here are some fresh alternatives to helping your child build accuracy and efficiency in basic math operations.  


You can tackle the same objective by using a deck of cards and turning fast facts into a competitive game.  Split the deck between you and your child.  Ace is 1, number cards are themselves, jack is 11, queen is 12, and king is 13.  You both flip a card over at the same time.  Add the values and have your child tell you the answer.  Continue for one minute.  See how many cards your child finishes in one minute.  Repeat 3-4 times.  You can also do this with subtraction and multiplication.  For younger learners, using playing cards will help them understand the concept of bigger than or less than because the number cards include a pictorial representation of the number.  Remove jack, queen, and king for this concept.  You can each flip over a number card, and your child can tell you which one is more or which one is less.  Another concept for an early learner is what comes before or after.  Flip one card and have your child tell you what comes next or what came before.  A deck of cards in “game mode” will keep your child more engaged during the minutes you are working on these basic math concepts.


Another variation to using a deck of cards is using numbered dice.  You can purchase dice with numbered faces up to 20.  Instead of flipping cards, you can roll dice.  You each roll one dice and your child can either add, subtract, or multiply the values.  If trying to work on a particular family, place one dice on the number you want and only roll one other dice.  For example, if working on the seven’s family for multiplication, place one dice with 7 facing up.  Your child can roll the other dice and multiply that number with seven. Continue for 1 minute.  Keep track of how many facts they complete.  If your child is stuck on one for longer than 6-7 seconds, offer the answer and have them continue.  Repeat 3-4 times.  For early learners, have them roll the dice and tell you the number or what comes next or after.  

By utilizing these methods, you remove the mundane task of completing a page filled with fast facts.  Furthermore, your child most likely will complete more computations in a game mode than in a written mode.  This also eliminates the negativity of seeing how many they missed or how many they didn’t finish on time.  At the end of day, enjoying math is more valuable than simply completing it.

Utilize math games, strategy games, and board games

Mental acuteness is vital when trying to develop math skills in a young learner.  An excellent way to sharpen mental acuity is changing the perspective of math from “solving a PROBLEM” to “playing a GAME.”  Let’s be honest… what child is interested in completing a page of PROBLEMS just for the sake of completion?  Here are a couple of techniques that can help you get your child through math and enjoy it!


Before you begin, capture their attention and focus with a quick speed game.  Blink is a great game for all ages.  It is a speed card game that relies on quickly matching a color, shape, or quantity to the top facing card.  In this game, it is always everyone’s turn… making it fast, keeping them focused, and creating some laughs.  Each round takes 1-2 minutes.  By warming up the mind in a fun, engaging way, you create an atmosphere that encourages focused learning.  For older students, Dutch Blitz is another speed card game that can stimulate the mind for focused learning.  


Strategy games are an excellent way to develop mental visualization abilities in a young mind.  Blokus is a board game that uses geometric shapes as playing pieces.  The objective is to be able to lay as many pieces down while trying to block your opponents from laying down their pieces.  It requires visualization of geometric shapes into available spaces as well as mental foresight in attempting to limit your opponents’ ability to play.  Memory matching games also help increase a child’s ability to visualize and recall information.  For older students, games like Checkers or Chess not only develop visualization techniques but also build patience… another skill necessary for math success.


One way to overcome the inertia of completing another math page of problems is turn the math homework into game night.  For young children, games like Candy Land or Trouble are easy to facilitate with a math worksheet – but other games can work just as well.  The idea is your child does one math problem and then everyone takes a turn on the game.  This method will help your child see math one problem at a time rather than a page of 20 problems.  It also extinguishes tension that arises when an answer is incorrect.  When a child misses a problem, discouragement or disinterest can creep in.  But when that problem is corrected and then followed up by a round of game playing, the tension dissolves before the next problem is attempted.  This will lend itself to a better chance for accuracy and compliance.  Other games that work well with this format are Jenga, Uno, Mouse Trap, or Chutes & Ladders.  If you are a committed family to game night, lengthier games could include Monopoly, Life, or Ticket to Ride.  

Obviously, not every math session needs to be accompanied with a game.  But incorporating games into learning can not only increase aptitude but will also build excitement rather than anxiety towards the challenging subject we call…MATH.