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So you’re a homeschool parent now: Advice from a Math Teacher.

Lurline Sweet
Mar 12 · 5 min read

As I write this, Seattle Public Schools has closed for a minimum of 2 weeks due to coronavirus. Other cities may follow suit in the coming days and weeks. Chinese schools have been closed for 6 weeks so far, Japan for 4 weeks.

“What am I going to do with my kids all day???” This is the refrain in all of our minds.

You may also be wondering if their school will make up the extra days and go into July. I can’t answer that, but I can provide my services. I have taught Math from 2nd through 8th grade.

The best way to learn math is to play games that involve math, not do 20–30 calculation problems in a row. You can say to your kid, “It’s math time! You get to pick a game.”

Here are my game recommendations.

AGE 3–7

Tiny Polka Dot: This visual game works with 0–10. Some cards look like arrays, others have polka dots of different sizes, and one has written numbers. The cards are truly beautiful and convey the idea of quantity versus size. There are directions for many games inside the box. It can be used with preschoolers up to 1st or 2nd graders. If your kid is in kindergarten or 1st grade, there are games that fit perfectly with what they learn in school about addition. Feel free to check out this YouTube video I made with my little one.
Most games for the 3–7 age bracket are games of chance that teach children about counting, taking turns, and being good winners/losers. These are all important skills for the future.

AGE 6+

Set: This game is great for pattern recognition and very visual. It’s about noticing four categories: color, shading, size, and quantity (1–3). You want to create a set of 3 cards that are either all same or all different: same color, same shading, same size, different quantities. Or different colors, different shading, same size, same quantity. Etcetera. You can play solitaire or with lots of people. There is also a Set Jr. version for ages 3+, which I have not personally vetted.

Mastermind: Two players. Logic and reasoning. One person hides four colorful pegs. The other person makes guesses and receives silent feedback. Your child can play this video chatting with a friend by answering aloud: For example, “one white, one black”.

Battleship: Your child can play this logic game in person…or while online chatting with a friend. It’s perfect because you can’t see each other’s ship anyway! That’s the whole point!

Labyrinth: Two to four players. Spatial.

Pyramid Solitaire: One person, of course. You could play with two people making a team. Strategy and adding to a sum of 13. The strategy makes this challenging for 6- and 7-year-olds, but if an older kid or adult helps with strategy, the younger can look for cards that make 13 and tell the older person their options.

AGE 8+

Yahtzee : Five regular (1–6) dice, a cup, and a score sheet. So much fun! I love this game! (You don’t have to have the official game. Click on the link for printable score sheets.)

Gin rummy: Playing cards. Probability. This game: I can’t rave enough.

Blackjack : Probability. It also makes kids feel cool that they’re playing a grown-up game. :)

Sudoku : Logic and strategy. Tip: Use a very sharp pencil and a good eraser. I wouldn’t recommend online Sudoku because it’s easy to get sucked into something else, and Sudoku requires focus. Click on the link to get free, printable Sudoku pages.

Marilyn Burns Fraction Games: First make a fraction kit at home, then play her games “Cover Up” and “Uncover”. Two players. Perfect for 4th-6th graders. Even fun for adults. Check out my YouTube video of how to make a fraction kit at home. I also made a video about playing “Cover Up”.

AGE 10+

Prime Climb: This board game shows numbers’ prime factorization visually (like if 2 is blue, then eight looks like blue-blue-blue for 2*2*2). For students who are learning to multiply, they can use the colors. For students who have mastered multiplication, the colors solidify primes, composites, and factors. Visuals are very powerful in mathematics! The point of the game is to win; it’s a competitive game. It’s kind of like Sorry combined with a game of 24...but way better than either of those games. Like 300% better. Players use the numbers they roll and decide to use one or more operations (+-*/) to move to different locations on the board. This game is SO fun!

Zombie Dice: Probability and more probability for 2–8 players. I love this one.

Logic puzzles: My favorites are by Martin Gardner. You can see some in this article, or you can buy a book by him.

Cribbage: Playing cards, cribbage board optional (you can use paper and pencil). Adding groups of fifteen. Probability. One of my favorite games.

Backgammon: Requires a backgammon board. Counting, patterns, and logic. Some of the best times of my life. The link has a video about how to set up your board. I find it clearer than the paper directions.

2048: No exponents required. This is an online spatial/logic game that happens to make you memorize the powers of 2: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048 (2¹¹). There are some other versions out there with pictures instead of these original numbers.

AGE 12+

Bridge: Playing cards, 4 people best (3 people ok). “Best game ever!!” I say.

Pinochle: Pinochle cards, 2–5 people. An easier version of Bridge, in my opinion. My husband says, “Best game ever!”

Hearts or spades: Playing cards, can be played with 5+ people (or 3 or 4). Like Bridge but without the tricky bidding. A great intro to Bridge.

Poker: Probability. Bluffing/acting. This is the one game here I haven’t really played. Guess what I’ll be doing when my kids’ school closes?!

Puerto Rico or San Juan: Three to five players. Puerto Rico is the full deal. San Juan is the card/junior version, which is great because Puerto Rico is wicked complex. I am a big fan of board games, and these are two of the VERY best in my humble opinion. You have to decide on strategy, production of goods, and in Puerto Rico, shipping your goods.

MY TRUSTED FRIENDS RECOMMEND…

Minecraft for building spatial understanding.

Ratatatcat for comparing quantities.

I know I will be checking these out in the weeks to come. :)

NOTE: I also highly recommend building LEGO, doing jigsaw puzzles, sewing from patterns (I love Patterns 4 Pirates and Made for Mermaids), knitting, and crocheting. These all build spatial and geometry skills. They just didn’t make the games list since they’re not games. :)

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