Connect 4 - Add to 10 Variation

Players: 2
Ages: 5 and up
Cost: ~$10 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Spatial reasoning, addition
Questions to Ask
    What do your rows add up to so far?
    Which number do you hope to draw? Why?
    What do I hope to draw? Can you block me?


Do you have a Sharpie handy? I hope so, because today we are going to be defacing a classic game, Connect 4!

Connect 4 doesn't need any improvement, honestly. The game is great for young kids developing their fine motor skills and their spatial reasoning. But I found a lovely little variation from Catherine Reed at Brown Bag Teacher and I just had to try it with my son.

As it turns out, it's a hit! If you already have a Connect 4 game lying around the house, you are just a few minutes away from trying out this game. If not, they are among the cheaper games you can get on Amazon.

How to Play

In typical Connect 4, each player tries to connect four of their pieces in a row, either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. The board is vertical and you must drop your piece to the bottom of each column, which limits your options and deepens the strategy of the game. 

In order to make the Add to 10 Variation, you need to get a sharpie and write numbers on each of the pieces. Catherine put the numerals on one side and dots on the other, so that her students could connect the numeral and the quantity. I liked that idea because it helped my younger daughter count more accurately.


I'd recommend that you label your pieces as follows:

  • Six 1s
  • Four 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s each

That should account for all 22 pieces for each player.

To play the game, each person draws their pieces randomly without looking. You can use a paper bag, or you can simply hide your pieces under the box tops like we did. 

Once you have a piece, you play it wherever you'd like. The goal is slightly different, however. Instead of trying to line up four pieces in a row, you are trying to line up pieces so that their numbers add to 10. 

After playing the game a few times, I decided that two-in-a-row was simply too easy. Once you draw a 5, you can basically wait until drawing another and easily win. So I require a minimum of three pieces in a row that add to 10, but you can also win with four, five, or even six in a row. 

The game has a nice balance of strategy and luck, since you can't control which number you draw. I think it helps if your kids have played the normal version of Connect 4, which they can always do simply by ignoring the numbers.

Where's the Math?

Connect 4: Add to 10 helps your child build fluency with the numbers that add to ten. Often in math, kids learn a concept but need an opportunity to practice those skills repeatedly in order to commit those ideas to memory. 

Think about it: What adds with seven to make ten? Did you have to count up, or is that a math fact you just know

Of course, we want our kids to be having fun while they are learning, right? So instead of breaking out the flash cards, you can play Connect 4 with them. Each round, they will perform multiple addition problems mentally while deciding the ideal spot for their new piece. As they get better with the game, they'll start adding your rows as well, trying to find your winning strategy and spoil your plan if possible. 

Along the way, they are still building those same spatial reasoning skills that normal Connect 4 provides - finding vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines all across the game board.

Questions to Ask

One great question that works in this version of Connect 4 (and many other games) is "What do you hope to draw?"

I like to ask kids this question because they inevitably do some anticipatory math, counting up the points they have so far and figuring out exactly what they need to draw in order to win. They're unlikely to draw that precise number, so then they'll spend some more time thinking about where best to place the number they've actually drawn.


Similarly, you can ask them the same question on your turns: "What do you think I hope to draw? Can you block me before I win?" As kids grow more comfortable with games, they often stop seeing the game solely from their perspective and start analyzing the game from each player's perspective. This habit, which is irresistible in a game that they want to win, also helps them think strategically and, frankly, do a lot more mental math.

Your child should definitely build fluency with the numbers that add to ten, but if they are looking for a new challenge, you can always say "Want to play a version where we add to another number?"

Playing with numbers close to ten, like 9 or 11, work best, although you can experiment with letting your child pick the number and then playing the game out to see whether it's fun or even possible to win.

Maybe they pick 20 - that's going to be a tough game! But that's fine. Play it out, and then you can have a mathematical conversation about why that number isn't a great  choice for the constraints of this game.

By the way, any time your child suggests a rule variation, go for it! They are being creative and logical at the same time, and you should cultivate that combination of traits in your kids. Maybe their suggestion is terrible. Honestly, it's probably terrible. But don't just tell them it's a bad idea; let them play it out and feel for themselves the way that it affects the game. Honestly, that's just a habit of parenting I try to use whenever possible: whenever possible, give your kids experiences rather than advice.

Ok, that's enough time on my soapbox. You came to me for games, after all. So grab that Sharpie and get to work!

Buy Connect 4 on Amazon