October Parent Cafe – Playing Games

Growing up I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s home because my parents had their own business. Friday nights we would eat at my grandparents’ house and then my mom would take some food back to my dad at their store that was open until 8:30 p.m. Since my parents would be back at work early on Saturday, often my sister and I spent the night at my grandparents. I loved being there. My grandfather often worked on a puzzle on a card table in the living room and we all played many games of Rummy, Parchessi and Pinocle. My grandparents weren’t trying to teach me math, but I learned it anyway, along with a lot of important life lessons like taking turns, playing with a partner, how to lose, and most of all how to have fun and enjoy family time. To this day, when I see these games they bring back fond memories of my grandparents.

So, how does playing a card game help math? How does a board game help math? How does working on puzzles help math? How does serving refreshments help math? These were the questions I posed to the parents who attended the October Parent Cafe.

Phase 10 - Making runs (numbers in order) and sets(same number). Then adding up the score.

Phase 10 – Making runs (numbers in order) and sets(same number). Then adding up the score.


Chinese checkers a game of strategy, concentration and fun.


Who has the best strategies?


Rummikub – more runs and sets but also watching the colors and switching out.


Parchessi – one of my favorite games as a child. So much counting and fun.


Deep concentration. Even with a simple moving around the board there are some strategies.


Look at all those number groups!

Obvious answers included: counting the dots on the dominoes or dice, moving a marker the given number, finding runs(numbers in order) and sets(same number) and adding up a score. What wasn’t so obvious was the strategies involved in many of the games and puzzles and how learning various strategies will help math.

In the classroom we use “strategies” when teaching reading, math and writing. In September I shared some of the reading strategies that are used in the classrooms and can be reenforced at home. Next month, November Parent Cafe, we’ll be looking at writing strategies. So why are strategies so important. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a strategy as “the skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal.” In math there are usually a variety of strategies to reach an answer. Students are encouraged to find a strategy that works for them and as long as it always works to use it. Sometimes students will try to create their own strategy which may work for one problem but does not work consistently. Playing games help students to understand that there can be various strategies to reach a goal and sometimes, one strategy works for a while but needs to be tweaked or changed.

Playing games, especially board and card games, help students to develop some important life skills: taking turns, persistence, working with a partner, and losing. Taking turns is obvious in any game, but if a child has never played a game a home before entering school, it is often difficult for that child to collaborate with classmates at school. Many children are use to playing an app of an iPad or computer but will soon quit if it seems “too hard” or “boring.” Playing a game with an adult who helps you through the challenging parts and keeps at it until the completion of the game helps to develop persistence. Not all games can be played with a partner, but there are many games that can be played with a partner. Learning communication skills and cooperation are important for school, work, and life in general. No one likes to lose, but learning that losing is part of life and learning how to lose graciously are important skills. We are not all good at everything, but if we constantly avoid anything challenging we will not grow.

If you only have one child and one parent at home to play a game some of these skills are more difficult to practice. So, invite another family who has a child or children of similar ages to come and have a game night. Ask grandparents or even some elderly people in your neighborhood to play some games. I am forever grateful for the Japanese neighbors who often played shogi with my son when he was younger. If you are an international family living in Japan, what a great way to meet some neighbors and maybe even learn some Japanese. If you are a Japanese speaking family it is still a great way to meet people and maybe bring some fun into someone else’s life.

Puzzles are another way to teach strategies along with visual-spatial perception. When I was in the classroom, I was surprised on rainy days when students would choose to make a puzzle but had no strategy. Growing up, I learned to find all of the pieces with straight edges first and to make to outer frame of the puzzle. Then separating pieces by color/scene helped. Often children would just pick up random pieces and try to force them together. Several years ago our family worked on a large puzzle that we framed and hung in the house for several years. Working on the puzzle was fun even with teenagers and young adults. Seeing the finished product was satisfying and a good reminder of fun times.

There are a lot of great games available in stores and online. I was pleased to find this site by Bicycle, the card manufacturer. You can chose how many players and who is playing and then it will give you a list of card games and rules. A deck of cards is probably one of the cheapest and best investments to begin playing games. Even starting with the game of war or “high/low.” This is for 2 players. Divide the deck in half. Each player has a stack of cards in front of him. Turn over the top card. The high card gets both cards. If they are the same lay down 3 more and turn over the next one. The high card gets them all. You can also decide the low card wins. But that has to be decided before you begin. As a child gets older this can be turn over 2 cards and add them together, multiply them, or subtract them. It can also be played by turning over 3 cards and adding them together. Great mental mathematics. Decide before you begin if you are playing for the high card or the low card.

Learning the rules and playing games takes time. Knowing which game your child will enjoy can be difficult. Parent/Student/Teacher conferences are coming up October 30, 31 and November 3. We will be expanding what is happening on those days. Before or after your child’s conference and even a day that isn’t your child’s conference day, there will some activities on campus. One of them will be a game time. You and your child can come and play some games together or you can sign up for your child to come. More information will be sent home after Fall Break. This is a chance to try a variety of games and find out what game/s do you and your child enjoy. (Hint: maybe a good opportunity for Christmas or birthday present ideas.)

One more way to help and encourage your child at home with math is in the kitchen. Have your child help with cooking and serving. Reading a recipe, measuring, cutting, timing are all important skills. Even just cutting and serving an apple or cake. How many pieces to we need? How can we best equally divide this? Yes, it takes more time to include your child, but you and your child will benefit in the long run.

All of the parents who came to the Cafe were given a packet with some math charts and fun ideas. These I printed from Teachers Pay Teachers. If you are interested in getting a packet, they will be available at the game place during Parent/Student/Teacher conferences or let me know and I can send one home with your child. One mom went home and showed her child the cross pattern from the Logic and Strategy activities. Her 1st grader child brought these to school the next day. IMG_0363_2







God has created amazing patterns all around us. Help your child to see the beauty and wonder in the patterns and numbers and help to develop a love of exploring and seeing math in a new and fun way.

Please feel free to share some of the ways you encourage your child in math and learning at home.

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