Fun Educational Board Games That Teach Kids Math

This older version of the Milton Bradley version of chutes and ladders shows a board with numbered game spaces. Click on the photo to see a full-sized version of the image.
This older version of the Milton Bradley version of chutes and ladders shows a board with numbered game spaces. Click on the photo to see a full-sized version of the image.
The updated graphic look of the new game board has a cartoon-like quality that reminds me of the Young Einstein characters on television.
The updated graphic look of the new game board has a cartoon-like quality that reminds me of the Young Einstein characters on television.

Playing board games with young children helps us to build positive memories and reinforces important family relationships, but they have another positive benefit: board games help a child develop early math skills. I once had a neighbor who had three grown children who were all going to top-notch universities in math and sciences. I asked her what her secret was. "Board games" she said. She believed that playing board games with her children gave them an edge over children that didn't spend much time in this activity.

Chutes and Ladders

Math skills: Number recognition up to 100, counting, adding numbers 1 through 6 to numbers up to 100, p rediction, spatial awareness.

Chutes and Ladders is the classic Milton and Bradley board game that parents first buy for their preschoolers. The game consists of a spinner, a board with 100 squares, and 4 game tokens that look like young children. During game play, children advance the number of squares they spin. As the players progress across the numbered squares on the game board, they may land at the bottom of a ladder or at the top of a chute (a slide). Pictures on the game board show children making both positive and negative choices. For good deeds like doing their chores, children get to advance up the ladder, and for bad deeds like pulling the cat's tail, children must slide down the chute.

Playing this game over and over can build number recognition for the numbers 1 through 100. In this game, players are constantly moving around the board. Each row of game spaces requires the player to progress in a different direction, so if you go up a chute or down a ladder, you will need to look at the number spaces you landed on to figure out which direction you need to move next..

This game also introduces children to the rudimentary gaming skill of moving pieces around a board. Moving from point A to point B on a game board is actually a skill that most preschoolers have to learn. Your preschooler will get plenty of practice counting from 1 to 6 during this game, and progressing the pieces forward the appropriate number shown on the spinner.

More Math Fun with Chutes and Ladders

With a little encouragement, you can help children practice their addition skills using the numbered squares on the game board. Encourage your child to identify the numbered space on the board where their game piece has landed. Add the number on the spinner to the number on the board to determine where they need to move their game pieces.

Ask your child to predict the number they need to spin in order to avoid a chute or get to the top of a ladder. Your child will count the number of spaces from her game token to the desired (or feared) spot on the board.

The fortunes of players in this game can quickly be turned. As players change their positions around the board, ask your child who is winning, and who is farthest behind. You can also ask your child to estimate how many spaces they need to move to catch up.

The Trouble game board features a "Pop-o-matic" bubble encasing a single die, and 16 game pegs in 4 colors.
The Trouble game board features a "Pop-o-matic" bubble encasing a single die, and 16 game pegs in 4 colors.

The Game of Trouble

Math Skills: Prediction, estimation skills, counting, spatial awareness

Trouble is another board game that is great for older preschoolers and early elementary-age children. This game is a little more complicated than Chutes and Ladders, though not by much. My son, who just turned four last week mastered this game after playing once. Trouble also has a "cool factor" that isn't included in Chutes and Ladders. Instead of a spinner, trouble has a single die in the middle of a plastic bubble that players push down. Two advantages of the bubble-die system are no more lost dice, and cheating is simply not possible.

The object of Trouble is to move several different colored pegs around the board; If your opponent lands on your peg, you're in trouble, because you have to move that piece back to the starting point. You must "roll" a 6 before you can move each of your pegs into position to start. It is helpful if players of this game have mastered the ability to move their pieces exactly the number of spaces shown on the dice, but a little bit of help from an adult or older sibling makes it possible for game play to move quickly along the board. This game is the most fun when it moves at a very rapid pace.

The strategy of this game requires players to assess which pieces they should move in order to avoid trouble or cause trouble for their opponents. Being spatially aware of your opponents' position on the board is a key component to the strategy of this game. Trouble also relies heavily upon estimation skills. Once several players' pieces are in play around the board, you will need to quickly determine which of your pieces to move after your die is cast.

War Card Game

Math Skills: Number recogntion, number values, greater than and less than

War is a simple game that can be played with any deck of cards, shuffled together well.
The cards are divided among two or more players. Each round the players toss a card into a middle pile, and whoever has the highest-numbered card gets to capture the other cards. This game is a very simple game to play with young preschoolers. I played this game with my son when he was three years old.

In the event that the players have the same card, a "war" is declared. Each player lays 3 cards face down in front of them, then places a fourth card face up. The face up card determines who captures the cards. The winner of the war gets to keep all of the cards put down on the table.

Undoubtedly there are many variations to this game. In the version of the game we play, during the war, the players lay down their cards one at a time saying or chanting the words "I -de-clare-war."

This game is very simple and can go on and on. You may want to end the game after you have played out all of the cards in your pile, and then count the captured cards to determine a winner. Another version of the game has players playing their cards against each other, replaying over and over, until one player captures all of the cards in the deck. Even as a child I found this version of the game tedious.

Yahtzee is a Parker Brothers game.
Yahtzee is a Parker Brothers game.

Yahtzee

Math Skills: Single digit and two digit addition, prediction, multiplication

Yahtzee is yet another classic board game that is all about math. This time it's addition, estimation, prediction, and even multiplication. Yahtzee is a dice game played with 5 dice, a cup to hold the dice while playing a turn, and a game sheet for each player. Players must optimize their turns to score the most points in a number of categories. The highest total score at the end of the game is the winner. The traditional version of this game made by Milton Bradley is affordable and readily available almost anywhere. You can also purchase specialty versions of this game online, including NFL and Muppet-themed games. In truth, you don't actually need to purchase a game board for this game. All you need is a game sheet for each player, 5 dice, and a cup.

This game is more complicated than the previously-mentioned games and uses addition during each turn during game. The game is played through 13 rounds. Each player may throw any number of dice during three consecutive turns, saving out dice as they wish. Players need not declare what type of dice combination they are trying for. But as the game progresses, they'll have fewer choices to choose from.

Yahtzee Score Card Explained

On the game sheet, players score points in different categories. The first section of the scoring card shows numbers 1 through 6. In the Upper Section of the score card, Yahtzee players may not use their entire dice roll toward their scores. Only the numbers may be scored. For example, after three rolls you end up with two 4s, a 3, a 1, and a 6, you might choose to record your score in the Fours space. However, you may only count the two 4s, for a total score of 8.

On the Lower Section of the score card, players may enter scores for a variety of different types of dice combinations. Yahtzee borrows its terminology from card games, using well-known sets such as a full house (two of one number and three of another number, for example 3,3,3,5,5).

Yahtzee Score Card

The Yahtzee Game scoring card offers lots of opportunities for players to practice their addition math facts!
The Yahtzee Game scoring card offers lots of opportunities for players to practice their addition math facts!

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More Elementary Math Fun

I am going to mention three more games here that I personally think should be part of every family's game collection. Each game uses math skills like number recognition, matching, and pattern recognition, and truly are math games. I recommend you check them out and add them to your personal collection, if possible.

Uno

This card game is so popular it probably needs no explanation. Players begin their hand with a certain number of cards. They try to discard cards by matching either the card's number or color to the top card on the discard pile. Reverse, Draw 2, and Draw 4 cards create havoc among players trying to be the first to elminate all of the cards in their hand.

Phase 10

Phase 10 is a card game where players try to collect various sets of cards through a series of rounds. In this game, each player may not successfully collect their set of cards before the round is ended. This game can take a long time and is probably not for very young children. However, it is a lot of fun and not too difficult for older elementary age students.

Sequence

This final game is a crossover game that combines luck and strategy. It is one of my favorite games for younger players, though probably a little complicated for a preschool crowd. I'd skip the young players' edition of this game and get the full-fledged version for my elementary-aged game players. 

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Comments 22 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I used to play a lot of board games with our son and still love it. Thank you for your good selection.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I find this interesting. My older brother, an engineer, used to want to invent "educational" toys. I argued with him that all toys are educational. This, I find, is not entirely true but I do think that a lot of toys and games are learning tools and that people have always used toys of some sort to teach their children. After reading this, I wish I had encouraged games more than I did. My wife was good at reading to children but did not have the patience to play games.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Hello Hello and dahoglund. Dahoglund, I agree with you that most toys have an educational component, especially toys that require children to physically manipulate them. Some games get pretty watered down when a computer does all the work of scoring.

At our house we also have a lot of construction toys like blocks, legos, and tinkertoys. All of these are great but the little pieces create such a mess. We have to rotate through all of the construction sets or our house gets too messy! Some of the games I mentioned aren't especially interesting for adults to play over and over, but playing these games gives children the skills to move on to more complicated spatial and strategy games like Go and Chess.


swosugrad09 profile image

swosugrad09 6 years ago from Oklahoma

Love this! I want to become a math teacher so this was a very helpful read. It's important to teach kids quality math skills while having fun at the same time. Monopoly is a good one for working with money. Thanks for sharing!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thank you for your insight and good luck pursuing your studies!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona

Thanks for the ideas! My son is four and we just played Uno for the first time last week. He really liked it. Sequence is another one of his favorites. I grew up playing games, and I am glad he enjoys them too. We don't have Trouble, so maybe that will be our next game purchase :)


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks shawna.wilson! I haven't tried Sequence with my four year old yet but it is a family favorite with my oldest daughter. Do you play the young player's version of sequence or the older version?

My son loves popping the bubble on Trouble! Hope you enjoy it!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona

We play the regular version of Sequence and modify it a little. Instead of holding a hand of cards, we just pick up one card each turn and play a piece on that spot. So the person who gets 5 in a row still wins, but it's due to chance rather than strategy really. This way he only has to look for one card rather than a whole hand. He's still learning numbers while we play and what a deck of cards looks like, as well as taking turns and accepting that sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. It's fun!

By the way, I looked at your profile and I saw you live in Wickenburg...I am just down the road in Surprise! Small world :)


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Wow! Actually I live in Surprise now too. We moved in 2009. I don't think I have ever actually met a real live Hubber who lives in the same place I do. Cool!

I like your idea and am excited we are so close!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona

Wow, that is crazy! We've probably seen each other around town and didn't even know it! We've been here since 2005.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

And we're even Hubbing at the same time! We'll have to talk again! Cheers!


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

I've played all of these games with my own children when they were younger, and have used some at school to reinforce math concepts, but Yahtzee! I'd forgotten all about that one; thank you for the information and the reminder............ it will make its way into a classroom in the fall.......... Kaie


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Kaie, I'm glad this article could put a bug in your memory! I appreciate the comment!


MrsKnowledge profile image

MrsKnowledge 6 years ago from Spanaway

I have to agree with swosugrad09. I played Monopoly everyday at daycare when I was 4-5 and all through schooling I was very successful with numbers.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

MrsKnowledge, I agree Monopoly is a great game. I'm impressed you could play at such a young age. Playing board games is a great way to increase number sense and especially money sense. With calculating rents and counting out change, there are a lot of more complicated math skills a person can master playing Monopoly.


TMInstructor profile image

TMInstructor 6 years ago from Newton, Massachusetts

Excellent ideas on how to keep kids motivated and engaged while picking up core math skills!


easy math 5 years ago

Very good article, useful


Wuggle Pets 5 years ago

Good post exploring some board games that could teach math to children. I think Chutes and Ladders might be a great way to help young children to learn some mathematical skills.


Kimberly Vaughn profile image

Kimberly Vaughn 4 years ago from Midwest

Great suggestions! We particularly like Yahtzee at my house!


VJGSA profile image

VJGSA 2 years ago from Texas

Wow, the memories. Classics, all of them. We played Candyland and Trouble with our son. This helped him to count spaces. Never underestimate the power of simple games!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 2 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

VJGSA, I agree. The oldies but goodies are timeless for a reason. My children love to play games. My children adore Trouble and Candyland, too. Though surprisingly, my children love to play Monopoly even more!


hubber8893 profile image

hubber8893 7 months ago

I remember playing the older version of the game "Chute & Ladder" It was one of the games by which I was most fascinated during my childhood. I agree, it really enhance the math skills of kids as it includes summation, number counting etc.

Thanks for reminding me of these days again,wannabwestern

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