Math Snack: Two Math Games
Playful, no-preparation math activities for all ages
Math games pump up mental muscle, reduce the fear of failure, and develop a positive attitude toward mathematics. Through playful interaction, games strengthen a child’s intuitive understanding of numbers and build problem-solving strategies. Mastering a math game can be hard work, but kids do it willingly because it is fun.
The easiest no-prep strategy game for all ages is the finger game Chopsticks. You don't need any equipment, so it's a great game to keep in mind for when you and your kids are stuck in a line or waiting room. Math concepts: counting up to five, thinking ahead.
And one of my all-time favorite games is Nim, a subtraction strategy game that can be played just about anywhere. At a restaurant, play it with sugar packets or marks on the place mat while waiting for your food to come. On a car trip, play it in your imagination, by picturing a pile of stones and saying aloud how many you are taking on your turn. Math concepts: logic, patterns, divisibility.
One of the most flexible games in the world, Nim is a great way for kids to create their own math. Encourage children to make up variations: change the total number of stones or the number taken in each turn, or invent a situation where the players are claiming territory, building or tearing apart property, sharing out pirate gold without getting the "cursed" doubloon, and so on. Try making a game board to reflect the setting of a favorite story, as I did with Alexandria Jones and the Secret of the Pharaoh's Treasure.
For more Nimspiration, take a look at Sherron Pfeiffer's Creating NIM Games book. It appears to be out of print, but your library may have it, or there are used copies available at reasonable prices.