Math Games are fun exercises to teach basic math principles. Some of the math games are too advanced for preschool. For this reason, they appear in a separate section.
Additional math activities can be found under Davar Start Games, F: Numbers and Numerals.
Introduction to numerals and numbers
Game 1: Find Your Number
Slips of paper with numerals written on them. Make only one with #1 on it; make two with #2 on them; three with #3 on them; four with #4 written on them; five with #5 written on them.
- Mix up the slips of paper. Give everyone a slip of paper. At the agreed upon signal, each person must find all the others with the same number written on their paper.
- After they have done this, count how many of each number there are. Does it correspond with the number written on their slips of paper? If not, why not? (there weren’t enough people; someone was confused; one #4 was not taken . . ..)
Repeat as often as desired.
Variation: With a very small group, give out all the slips of paper. Instead of having everyone group themselves, have them lay the slips of paper out in the correct order, #1-5.
Game 2: Count at Home
Needed: A coloring sheet or poster with 1 baby, 2 buckets, 3 children working in the yard/garden, 4 friends, 5 sticks, etc. drawn on it.
Show the poster/coloring sheet to the group. Count each item (“1 baby”) and ask the name of the numeral in the mother tongue as well as the national language.
Act out the situations on the poster. Someone plays “1 baby”; “2 buckets” are carried; “3 people” work in the garden, etc. Repeat the names of the numerals. Make mistakes (particularly in the mother tongue) and have the other group members correct you.
Variation 2: Have the group make the poster. Let them think up and draw #1, #2, #3, etc.
Game 3: Take Three Steps Forward
Needed: Room to move around; line on the floor or ground.
Activity (known as “Mother, May I” in America):
- Everyone except one person stands behind the line. This person is “it” and stands far ahead of the group with his/her back to the rest of the group.
- He/she may say how many steps the group may take: 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. The others take that many steps forward.
- The first one to touch the one in the front wins and becomes “it”.
Variation 1: Those who take too many steps must go back to the beginning.
Variation 2: The person who is “it” may specify the type of step as well as the number of steps. For example: “1 giant step”, “3 baby steps”, “5 jumps”, “4 hops” or even “2 steps backwards”. Those who do not follow the directions must go back to the beginning.
Game 4: How Many Did You Hear?
Skills practiced: Listening and concentration; staying quiet; taking turns; counting.
Needed: Nothing extra.
- The group is very quiet. One person sits (or stands) in front with his/her eyes closed. The leader points to a different person who quietly walks to stand behind the one whose eyes are closed. Once he or she is there, the leader points to another person who has to do the same.
- The person with their eyes closed has to listen carefully to find out how many people are lining up behind him. This goes on until the desired number of people stands in the line. Then the one with his eyes closed may guess how many stand in the line behind him.
- Have the whole group count out loud. Did the one in front hear correctly?
More challenging version: Write the numbers on the board or on different pieces of paper. Instead of saying how many are behind him or her, the person with their eyes closed goes forward to pick the right number written on one of the cards. If he picks the right number, he receives a reward or a point. This can also be played as a competition between two teams.
Game 5: Run Like Crazy
Needed: Eight large pieces of paper with a different number of dots, 1-8, drawn on each one. COMMENT: This game is easier if the total number of dots equals the number of participants. For instance, if there are eight participants, use three pieces of paper, one with one dot, one with three and one with four.
- Let the group carefully look at each piece of paper. Then lay the papers on the floor in different places in the classroom. Everybody stands in one place, far away from the drawings. At the signal (e.g. a whistle), everyone runs to a drawing of their choice. There they need to stand in a row.
- There need to be as many people in each row as there are dots on the drawing. If there are already too many people by one drawing, the rest have to run to other drawings. Once the row for a particular drawing is complete, the ones in that row sit on the ground. Let them count the people around each drawing. Is it correct?
- Once the group has practiced the game, it can be played with two teams. Use two series of drawings and divide the group into two teams. Which team finishes first?
Numbers, Numerals and Amounts
Game 6: How Many Fit?
Needed: Circles on the floor or ground (e.g. hula hoops or circles taped on the floor with masking tape). A board, five large pieces of paper with one numeral (1, 2, 3, 4 or 5) written on each one
OR the numbers written in circles on a sidewalk outside with chalk OR the numbers written with masking tape on the floor inside.
- Write a numeral on the board. Draw the correct number of dots after it. Discuss this so the participants understand the link between the numeral and the number of dots.
- Put the circles on the ground or floor.
- At the agreed-upon signal (e.g. a whistle), everyone goes to stand in one of the circles. The number in each group must be the same as the number written on the board.
- Check if this is correct. Give praise for correct groupings.
Variation: If there are less than fifteen people in the whole group, have them lay the correct number of markers (buttons, stones, bottle caps…) in each circle instead of standing in the circles.
Game 7: See Your Favorite Number
Many cultures have a favored number. For example, in Western Europe “3” is favored. In traditional stories characters are granted 3 wishes, 3 brothers (not 4 or 5) try to woo the princess, the princess is given 3 good gifts… People tend to list things in 3’s and even have 3 meals per day. In many Native American cultures, however, “4” is favored, after the 4 points of the compass. Things in legends and traditional stories occur in 4’s rather than 3’s. People are often not consciously aware of their favored number, but using it might make lessons more interesting or acceptable, depending on the people’s cultural background. For instance, in Western Europe people may pay more attention or remember things more easily if you use examples involving the number 3 rather than 4 or 5.
Needed: Posters or chalk board with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 dots drawn on them; piece of paper for each person; something for them to draw with.
Activity: Set the drawings of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 dots in front of the group. Ask people to stand in front of the number they like the best. Count how many are in each row. The number with the longest row wins. Each person takes home a paper with the number of dots (or crosses or X’s or whatever) which has won.
Game 8: Hear Your Favorite Number
Needed: A traditional storyteller or story from the participants’ local culture; papers or cards for each person with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 written on them (or more, if higher numbers occur in the story). Each person might also need something to write with.
- The traditional storyteller tells a story in the mother tongue. Each time a number is used in the story, those listening hold up a card with that number on it. Note which number occurs most often.
- Have one of the listeners re-tell the story in the national language. This time too, the others have to pay attention to the numbers occurring in the story and help count.
- How many brothers/sisters/birds/fishermen were there? How many times did the donkey take the wrong path? How many beans were in the bag?
If you wish, have the listeners draw features from the story with the corresponding numeral written on the paper: 7 swans, 4 bears, 3 flowers.
Game 9: Draw Your Favorite Number
Needed: A piece of paper for each person and something to write with.
- Have each person practice writing their favorite number. Together, find as many similarities between the shape of the numeral and things in their everyday life. For example, 1 looks like a stick; 8 like a pretzel they just ate . . . whatever they can imagine.
- Then have each person make a drawing next to the numeral of something that looks like or reminds them of the numeral. For example: 2 with a swan, a goose or a giraffe. They might also turn the number into a drawing (for instance, “9” is a girl with long curly hair . . .).
Games using 3 as the Favorite Number
It is possible to use the same games with another number—whichever one has “won” in Game 3 above, or whichever one you want to focus on.
Game 10: Tag Trio
Needed: Space to run around.
- One person stands in front: Number 1.
Someone else holds his/her hand: Number 2.
- Ask the group, how can we make 3 from this? Yes, another person will hold his/her other hand: Number 3.
These three are “it”.
- Everyone else runs from one side of the play area to the other. The three holding hands try to tag them. The three must keep holding hands for the “tag” to count.
- Once everyone has been tagged, another three are chosen to be “it”.
Note: It is possible to do the same game with another number – a “culturally significant number” or whichever one you want to focus on.
Game 11: Triangle Dance (similar to “Musical Chairs”)
Room to dance.
Source of music (CD? Radio? Group sings?).
Way to draw a large triangle on the ground or on the floor, perhaps with masking tape (on the floor) or chalk (on pavement) or a line in the dirt (ground).
- Draw or make a large triangle.
- Let one person stand in each corner of the triangle.
- Ask the others: How many people are in the triangle?
- Count them out loud.
(You may wish to write the numeral 3 in the center of the triangle.)
- Let the music play, meanwhile the other people walk or dance around the triangle.
- When the music stops, each person in the triangle pulls one other person into the triangle.
- There are now 6 people inside.
- Have the group count them. Change the written number to 6.
(You may wish to write 3 + 3 = 6 or 3 × 2 = 6.)
- Continue until all the people are inside the triangle.
- Count after each time the music stops.
Variation 1: Repeat with other shapes such as a square, a pentagon, or a hexagon (with 4, 5 or 6 people inside).
Variation 2: Have the three in the triangle tag or touch another person. That person has to switch places. The ones who come out (or the ones who go in) have to do something three times such as jumping up and down, shouting, squatting and getting up, touching their toes . . ..
Variation 3: Give each person 5 items to begin with (for instance, different colored slips of paper, lids from plastic bottles, feathers, leaves). The ones walking around the triangle hold their items where everyone can see them. If they are tagged, they must put one item in the triangle. Have the group count the number of items in the triangle after each round. Decide ahead of time when the game is over – when the first person has lost all their items? When the last person has lost all their items?
If using small pieces of fruit or crackers, make sure everyone gets to eat them when the game is over.
Game 12: Twister by Number (challenging!)
Needed: A chair for each person; room to move.
- Touch the ground in three places (check first whether it is culturally appropriate to touch the ground. If not, choose something else like the wall or a chair or…).
- One person must touch the ground in 3 ways. For example, hand, foot, head OR 2 feet, one hand. Let the player be creative. Then everyone touches the ground in the same 3 ways.
- Two people together must touch the ground in only 3 ways (3 feet?). Let everyone pair up and let each pair touch the ground in the same 3 ways.
- Three people with a chair may only personally touch the ground in 3 ways. One sits on the chair (and doesn’t touch the ground), one touches the ground with both feet and the other touches the ground with one foot. Everyone gets into groups of 3 and does the same.
- Four people with a chair may only touch the ground in 3 places. For example, 1 sits on the chair and doesn’t touch the ground, the other 3 each touch the floor with one foot. Everyone gets in groups of 4 and does the same.
Play the game with a different number. 1 person must touch the floor in 4 ways. Then 2 people together must touch the floor in only 4 ways, etc., etc.
Game 13: Three and a Chair
Needed: Three people and one chair; one chair for each group of 3 people.
Give an instruction; each group of three follows it. For example:
- 1 person be in front of the chair; 1 behind the chair; 1 under the chair;
- 1 person on the chair; 2 others touch the chair;
- 3 people hold onto the chair with just 1 hand;
- 3 people touch the chair with 2 feet;
- 2 on either side of the chair; 1 behind the chair.
Do it once with a group of 3 people as an example. Then have the whole group divide into smaller groups of three. Make sure each group has one chair. Give the directions quickly and have one person from the whole group make sure that the directions are correctly followed by all the smaller groups of three.
Variation 1: Play the game using different numbers: 2 people and one chair or 4 people and one chair.
Variation 2: Have someone else give the directions.
Variation 3: Use something other than a chair. A table? A box?
Add and Subtract
Game 14: Jump Over the Stream or Wet and Dry
- Something to represent a stream (large drawing or long piece of blue cloth or two ropes laid on the ground to represent the two banks of the stream or two lines drawn in the dirt or…).
- Board and a piece of chalk, or large piece of paper and a pencil.
- Have five people stand on one side of the stream. Explain that some will have to jump into the stream and others over it.
- Tap the ones that are supposed to jump into the stream on the shoulder. Tap the ones that have to jump over the stream on the back. At the agreed-upon signal, they all jump. The group yells out “Splash!” when some of them land in the water.
- Let everyone in the group count how many are still dry, for instance: 5 were dry. 2 fell in the water. Now only 3 are dry. Write on the board or paper: 5 – 2 = 3.
- Repeat the game with the 3 who are dry. How many landed in the water this time? For instance: 2. Write on the board or paper: 3 – 2 = 1.
You can do the same with other group members and/or different sums.
Variation: Instead of acting out the equation and then writing it down, give the group an equation and then have them act it out for themselves.
Game 15: Painted Fingers
Needed: A sheet of paper for each person; pencils/pens; crayons, colored pencils, markers or paint; board.
- Each person traces around one hand.
- Count the fingers (5).
- Draw the fingernails on the fingers.
- Count the fingernails (5).
- Tell the everyone to pretend they have been painting and have gotten their fingers all covered in paint.
- Have them paint 2 fingers red. (2)
Have them paint 3 fingers blue. (3)
- Write the sum on the board. 2 + 3 = 5
- Do the same with 4 + 1 = 5, etc.
Game 16: Hide and Subtract
Needed: Good hiding places.
- Five people stand in front of the group.
- The rest of the people close their eyes and count to 20.
- Two of the five hide. When the rest open their eyes, these two are gone.
- Count those who are left.
- Write on the board: 5 – 2 = 3.
- Let the group look for those who have gone and hid.
- Repeat the game with other numbers. 5 – 3 = 2; 6 – 1 = 5; etc.
Variation: May also be played with objects such as stuffed animals (soft toys), nuts, stones, etc.
Game 17: The Caterpillar
Needed: A small box or something else that is light, like a stuffed animal or a large ball.
- Let 4 people stand in front of the group. Discuss how many there will be in total if each one gets a partner.
- Choose 4 more and let each of them stand in front of the group, too.
- Count together all those standing.
- Write on the board (or other prominent place) 4 x 2 = 8.
- Have those who are standing pair up. Each pair joins both hands. Let the pairs make a row with their hands in the middle; this way they look a bit like a caterpillar. Lay a box (or another large, light object like a stuffed animal or large ball) on the first two hands. They must pass the box down the row without letting go of each other’s hands.
- When the box reaches the end of the row, begin the game again with different members of the group and a different sum.
For fun, you may want to add a penalty if the box (or ball) falls down. Perhaps everyone in the “caterpillar” has to jump up and down 4x, since the group is multiplying by 4.
Variation 1: Play the game with 2 rather than 4 people.
Variation 2: Play the game with 5, 6 or 7 people.
Game 18: Just the Same?
Needed: Two large circles on the ground (made with chalk or tape; or some big round things like hula hoops); board.
- One person stands in front of a circle with his/her eyes closed and their back to the group. Now it needs to be very, very quiet.
- The leader chooses a certain number of people who go stand in the circle as quietly as possible. The person with his/her eyes closed listens carefully. Then he/she tells how many they heard.
- The number of people that she/he says go stand in the other circle. Then she/he turns around, and the whole group looks at the two circles. Are there the same number of people in each circle? Write the sum on the board: 3 × 2 = 6, 4 × 2 = 8.
Variation: Have three circles. Practice the multiplication table x 3.
Game 19: Darts without Darts
Needed: Bottle caps, buttons or some other small item for each person. Something to draw circles with on the ground.
- Draw three circles on the ground, one inside the other. In the center, write “x 10” (or “x 3”).
- In the next circle, write “x 5” (or “x 2”).
- In the outer circle, nothing (or “x 1”).
- One by one the people may throw their bottle cap or button into the target.
- Encourage them to aim for the highest score. Once all the people are finished, count the points.
- A lid/button in the center gets more points than one in the outside circle.
- How many points did we make?
Variation 1: Divide the group into two teams. Have one team go, then count their points. Have the other team go, then count their points. Which team has more points?
Variation 2: Each team has a different color or type of bottle cap (button). Everyone on the team throws their bottle cap onto the target. Then count the points each team has earned.
Game 20: Jumping Game
Needed: Space to jump; tape or chalk to make jumping squares in two different colors.
- Prepare ahead of time or together with the group: squares to jump into in one long row. Alternate two different colors of squares. Number the squares from 1-2-3 up to 10 or even 20. Make the color of the numbers match the color of the square. All the odd numbers will be white, for instance, and all the even numbers green.
- Divide the group into two teams. The teams take turns jumping one by one along the row of colors. As each person jumps, they also say the name of the number. Keep score: one point for each team member who does this correctly.
Variation 1: First jump onto each square, counting 1, 2, 3, 4…
Variation 2: Then have the teams take turns skipping every other square, so they jump only on the odd numbers, saying the name of the number out loud (1, 3, 5…).
Variation 3: Next, the teams take turns skipping every other square so that they jump only on the even numbers, again counting out loud (2, 4, 6, 8…).
Variation 4: The team with the most points gets a prize. The prize might be a ‘privilege’ (choosing the next game; being first in line for something…). The prize might also be thinking up a penalty for the other team (they all have to run around in a circle three times, they have to jump up and down making a noise like a frog…).
Note to leader: This may also be drawn in the dirt or outlined with stones. Then use two different shapes instead of two different colors. For instance, circles for odd numbers and squares for even ones.
Game 21: Eat Times Two
Needed: Sheets of paper, one for each group member; pencils or pens. Board and chalk. A set of 10 cups, bowls or other small containers with a paper under each one. A lot of small things to eat (for example, peanuts, raisins, grapes, berries, small crackers, pretzels, or – if absolutely necessary – candy.)
Activity: Have one or two group members help set the 10 cups or bowls in one long row.
- Count the cups out loud, with the participants. Then put two small things in each cup (members of the group may help do this).
- Now count the number of nuts (or raisins). How many do we have by cup number 1? 2. Write “2” on the paper by this cup.
- Count how many are in cup 1 AND 2. 4. Write “4” on the paper by the second cup.
- Continue like this down the entire row.
- Everyone writes 2, 4, 6, 8, etc., on their own pieces of paper.
- When you have done cup 10, everyone may divide the things evenly (fairly) and eat.
- Write the whole sum on the board: 1 x 2 = 2; 2 x 2 = 4; 3 x 2 = 6, etc.
- Anyone who can say the whole row of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 from memory gets a medal or certificate.
Variation: May do the same exercise with other multiplication tables (x 3; x 4; etc.)
Game 22: Bugs
Needed: Pencils. Sheet of paper for everyone with 10 big circles on it. Under each circle, write one part of the multiplication table for two: 1 x 2; 2 x 2; 3 x 2; etc.
Hand out the papers with the 10 big circles on them. Explain to the participants that you would like them to draw bugs. In each circle, each person has to draw as many little bugs as the answer to the equation under that circle.
Variation: You may also do this for multiplication by 3, 4 or possibly even 5.
Created by Marleen Schönthaler 2014
Illustrated by Ellen Holmes
Edited, with English translation by M. van Rheenen and Annelies Barth (Linked-In: Annelies Barth, interpreter & author)