Tiny Polka Dot

Players: 1-4
Ages: 3 and up (various games for various age levels)
Cost: ~$15 (Buy on Amazon
Math Ideas: Subitizing, equivalence, multiple representations, addition


Tiny Polka Dot was developed by Katherine Cook and Dan Finkel, the math teacher and designer of Prime Climb that we featured in our Holiday Gift Guide a couple of weeks back.

Prime Climb is a great game for kids who know how to multiply and divide, but Dan wanted to make a game that was accessible to younger players as well as older kids. In my opinion, he succeeded marvelously.

How to Play

Tiny Polka Dot isn't exactly a game - it's more like buying a deck of cards that you can use to play all sorts of games. I've played Tiny Polka Dot games with my 3 year old daughter and my 8th grade Algebra students.

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Instead of suits, the cards in Tiny Polka Dot differ in the way that they represent the numbers from 0-10. They include numerals, dots in a ten frame, dots evenly spaced around a circle, and more.

The game's website, which is full of great resources, includes a list of games for kids of all ages. Children as young as three can play matching games, where they try to flip over cards that have the same number of dots.

Older kids can play lots of different games, including a more advanced variation on the matching game, where they try to flip over pairs of cards that add to 5, 6, 7 or more. I love playing this game with my son because he feels a sense of accomplishment when I decide that he's mastered Match 6 and is ready for Match 7.

For kids who are in 2nd grade and older, Tiny Polka Dot has some intriguing puzzles that are fun at any age. For example, take a look at the puzzle in the quick video below.

Doesn't that make you want to grab a deck of cards and figure it out yourself? 

You can even play classic card games like Go Fish and War using these cards. A fun variation on War - instead of flipping over a single card, each person flips over two cards and adds them. Whoever gets the highest sum wins that round. For older kids, flip two cards and multiply them!

Where's the Math?

Many of the games in Tiny Polka Dot can also be played with a deck of cards. But these cards have something that normal cards don't: multiple representations of a quantity.

As young kids begin to think about number, they need to see it in many different ways, so that they understand that four is four is four, no matter how it is displayed. Different suits in this game change the arrangement, color, and size of the dots, helping your child to focus specifically on the quantity of dots, rather than the other visual elements of the pictures.


In particular, the ten-frame helps kids start to build a model for understanding how numbers fit into our number system, which is based on ten. As kids encounter the figure at right, they will start to notice that 8 is made from a 5 and a 3, and also that the two blank spaces indicate that 8 and 2 make 10. If your kid is in kindergarten or first grade, chances are they're spending lots of time with ten-frames at school. So why not build on that knowledge at home?

Beyond multiple representations, the games you can play with these cards can involve addition, subtraction, multiplication, logic, and probability. 

I'm only stopping here because I gotta keep these emails short! I could write another thousand words about this game, but I'll spare you. Just promise me you'll check it out.

Questions to Ask

Since the games vary so much, it's hard to recommend specific questions. Instead, I'll share a couple of common question types I use whenever I play games with my kids.

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The first type of question I ask is "What do you hope will happen?" I like this question because it gets my kids to reflect on the game before they make their next move. Maybe we are playing Match 7 and my son has drawn a 5. If I ask him, he might take a moment to think about the number he wants to draw.

I also like to ask kids to compare numbers whenever possible. As I wrote about last week, number comparison is a huge part of number sense in early elementary students. If I'm playing Match with my daughter and I flip over a 3 followed by a 6, I'll ask her whether the 6 is too many dots or too few. She can tell that the cards don't match, but she might stop her thinking there unless I push her to compare.

Buy Tiny Polka Dot on Amazon