I have to admit I was that kid that hated math. Hated it, despised it, loathed it. To the point that I would fake sick on a regular basis to avoid math (it’s true…ask my entire family, I was notorious for faking sick to get out of school). Throughout my entire school experience, math was a point of anxiety for me. I never felt like I was good at math. My grandpa, my dad, and my sister are like human calculators. They see the numbers in an instant. Not me. I had to count on my fingers; I’d mess up simple addition problems because I didn’t understand how everything worked. I knew the formulas, but I didn’t understand how they worked. When it came to anything mathematical, I just struggled. I have vivid memories of being near tears trying to complete mad minutes and sitting with flash cards trying to memorize my times tables (I legit still have to use my fingers to remember my 9 times table…I’m 35 years old), I had math tutors throughout high school, and nearly failed my first year of university math course (thank god for friends who were able to help limp through getting a D).
So, why am I telling you this? Well, it’s because I realized that when I was a kid, math was not fun! I have no recollection of playing games when I was learning basic math as a child. It was all drill and kill…and that’s what it did to me and my relationship with math. It killed it. That is, until I began my training to become a teacher.
When I went into Education I remember being shocked that we could use games to help kids learn math! What!?! I remember playing these games and thinking I wished we had done this when I was in school and promising myself that I would make math as fun as humanly possible! No matter the grade I’ve taught, I have always tried to incorporate math games into our learning. Whether it’s 2 periods of math games every week when I taught grade 4 or starting off with 15 minutes of math games every morning when I taught grade 2. I’ve always found math games to be a great way to help students build a healthy, less stressful relationship with math!
Over the course of my career I’ve learned a variety of simple math games, many with little to no-prep (YAS!) that the kids love and that are great for teaching number recognition, number order, subitizing, counting forwards and backwards, and more! So, here are a few of my all time favourite Kindergarten (and older) math games!
Whole Class Games:
These games are perfect for when you have 5-10 minutes to fill! Every once in a while something I think will take a long time doesn’t and I’m stuck with a little window of time to fill. These games are perfect for that! They take 5 minutes (or longer if you want them to) and they are fun! My kids often request these games before we go to gym. They also have some movement to them too – so great for when the kids need to move!
What does it teach? Counting backwards from 5 (you can also start at 10)
How to Play: Students stand in a circle. Choose one student to start and go around the circle, counting down from 5, with each child saying a number. The child that comes after the 1 gets to Blast Off! We always “blast off” when we count backwards during our calendar routine, so my students are familiar with this…we clap our hands over our heads when we get to 0. For this game, the child who blasts off jumps as they “blast off” and then sits down. We keep going until there is only 1 child left standing. Then as a class, we help them “blast off” and sit down.
This is a quick and easy game! Perfect for when you need to fill 5 minutes.
What does it teach? Subitizing! And a little probability too
Materials? 1 Large die
How to Play: Students sit in a circle. Each student takes a turn rolling one large die into the middle of the circle. If they roll 1-5, they simply say the number, retrieve the die, and pass it to the next player. The fun happens when someone rolls a six! When that happens, everyone stands up and we count to 6 by jumping.
A couple of notes:
- You need to go over some ground rules for rolling the big dice – roll, don’t throw, keep it in the circle, and only touch the die when it’s your turn (that last one is hard)
- Only say the number when it’s your turn (also really hard for some kids)!
- For those that are unsure (especially at the beginning of the year) I tell the kids if they are unsure, they can count the dots (and when necessary, I help them out).
Do You Know What Number’s Gone?
What does it teach? Number recognition and number order
Materials? Cards representing numbers (either numerals, ten frames, dice patterns, tally marks, or number words) – I have mine on magnets so I can stick them to my white board.
How to Play: Line up number cards from 1 to 10 on the board. Explain to the kids that you are going to take away a number and their job is to figure out which number is gone. But the catch is, they have to close their eyes while you hide the number. There is a little song that goes with the game…the kids keep their eyes closed until you are finished singing! The song is to the tune of the Muffin Man and goes like this:
Do you know what numbers gone?
What numbers gone, what numbers gone?
Do you know what numbers gone?
What number is not there?
Another great, quick game to play with the kids! Also, super easily adaptable for all ability levels.
Number Matching Game
What does it teach? Subitizing, number recognition, counting
Materials? Subitizing cards
How to Play: Each student is given a number card (it is important that you have more cards than kids!). Their job is to walk around and find the classmate with the same number. When they find a match, they bring it to the teacher (I usually sit at my big table) to check their match. If it’s correct, I take their cards and give them each a new card. They keep going until all the cards are gone. There are usually a few extra cards, because sometimes I have 3 kids match up at a time. Lately my kids have been big on seeing how fast they can match! Great for mastery of subitizing! Another option for this game would be to find “friends of ten” (aka the numbers that add up to ten). I learned about this game from an amazing teacher I follow on Instagram, RacingThruKindergarten. She also has a TpT store, which is where I got my subitizing cards (so this is one of the games that requires some prep – but once you’ve prepped the cards there isn’t any other work!). I love her stuff and so do my kids.
Tug of War
What does it teach? Subitizing, one to one counting, and taking turns (I always model how we play with a partner before we actually play this game, because otherwise it’s chaos and someone cries!)
Materials? 1 game board, 1 die and 1 place marker per pair of students
How to Play: The game starts with the board between the two players, as you can see in the pictures, and the place marker in the middle. The first player rolls the dice and move the marker than many spaces towards their end of the board. Then the next player rolls the dice and moves the dice that many spaces towards their end. It’s important to explain to the students that they move from the spot the previous player landed on (otherwise the game never ends!). This is a fun game because sometimes the game ends quickly and other times it goes on for a long time! When I play with my students I set up the boards around the room and then use my sticks of fairness to choose partners. The kids go and play with their partner, and after 5-10 minutes we switch partners!
You do need to have the boards prepped a head of time, but once they are ready you can use them for years! This set is made with coloured poster paper cut into 3″ x 12″ strips. Then there is a sticker in the centre of the strip and 9 coloured dots on either side of the sticker. The boards are laminated, and that’s it! I use whatever manipulatives I have on hand as place markers (I think here we are using coloured bears) and dice from Dollarama.
What does it teach? Number recognition, subitizing, and comparing quantities
Materials? Number cards (I like using Power of Ten cards) you could also use the subitizing cards I mentioned earlier in the post or a regular deck of cards with the face cards taken out.
How to Play: If you ever played War as a kid. You already know how to play! That’s what this game is – just with a less menacing name! The deck is divided between two players. Each player puts their deck of cards facing down in front of them. Then they each turn over a card. The player with the greater card keeps both cards. If they turn over the same card (or the same value) the discard 3 cards and turn the 4th card. The player with teh bigger number gets all the cards played in that hand. At the end, the player with the most cards is the winner.
What does it teach? Number recognition and number order
I would recommend printing them in two different colours on cardstock or a heavy paper so they last (laminating is good too!). With my set, I ended up putting velcro on the cards and boards as one misplaced elbow messed up the whole board.
How to Play: Start with the board between the players and the cards in a pile face down. Each player takes a turn drawing a card and placing it in the box it belongs in. Players are trying to fill a line before their partner. Continue playing until all of the cards are used.
I was given this game many years ago! I don’t actually remember when/where I got it from. I think it may have come from a document similar to this one, but it’s not actually in this document (but that being said…check out the link because it has some great stuff in it!).
Solo Player Games:
I’m a huge fan of roll and colour games! There is a huge variety of these types of games on Pinterest. Literally, google “roll and colour” and you’ll get a ton of hits!
That being said, I do have a few which are my favourites, and they all come from the same Shari Sloane’s website. It’s a great resource for math games that are perfect for Kindergarten and grade 1.
What did you roll?
What does it teach? Subitizing
Materials? 1 die, What did you roll recording sheet, and crayons (you can always laminate the recording sheets and use them over and over again, but I like to send this one home so the kids can talk to their parents about the game…at least I hope that’s what they do!)
How to Play: Literally it’s just roll and colour in the matching image on the page! You can find variations of this – showing numerals, ten frames, finger patterns, etc. but I like to start with this simple version. It’s actually one of the first games I teach at the beginning of the school year!
Race to Trace
What does it teach? Number formation and subitizing
Materials? 1 die, race to trace recording sheet, crayons
How to Play: Same as the previous game, students roll the dice and find the matching number. The difference here is that instead of simply colouring, the trace over the number, practicing proper formation. I don’t love that the numbers are made with dotted lines, but it’s a great game.
What does it teach? Subitizing and addition using 2 dice
Materials? 2 dice, kindergarten yahtzee recording sheet (mine are laminated), and crayons
How to Play: Students roll 2 dice and add the numbers together. They colour in what they roll on their recording sheet/game board (just like the previous games). They keep rolling until they have coloured in all of the squares. When they have filled their boards, they yell “Yahtzee”. So simple, but they love it!
Teacher hack: You can use crayon on laminated papers! It’s a little harder to clean off, but it’s way less messy when the kids are using is, you don’t need to worry about dried out markers, and the kids have to put some effort into colouring so it’s great at building fine motor strength!
That’s it for my favourite math games for Kindergarten. I’m sure once I publish this post, I’ll think of a bunch more that I could have added, but these are the games that I use every year and they are always a big hit with the kids (and great for making math fun!).
I hope you found something here that you can use with your students, that will make math fun and get kids excited about learning.
Thanks for reading, and as always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!