Trouble - A Fantastic Pre-school Counting Game

Players: 2-4
Ages: 4 and up
Cost: ~$8 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Counting, number recognition, one-to-one correspondence
Questions to Ask
    What do you hope to roll?
    If you can move more than one piece, which should you move? Why?

Say you have a four-year-old. She knows how to count to ten or even twenty, but you don't know what other math topics you should be helping her with. Should she learn to count to 100? To do basic addition? What's next?

The answer might be surprising: Your daughter knows how to count. Now she needs to know when to count.


Perhaps she knows the sequence of words "one, two, three" and so on, but does she know what counting is for? Why do we count? When is counting useful? 

Maybe she does! But you'll never know until you ask her.

This week's game provides so many great opportunities for counting, I think it should be a mainstay in any family's playroom. It's also my daughter's favorite game to play.

It's called Trouble

How to Play

Trouble has a similar structure to the game Sorry, which I wrote about for my very first newsletter. You are trying to move four colored pieces out of home, around the board, and into the finish zone. Along the way, you have the chance to land on your opponent's pieces, sending them back home to start their journey all over again.

Each turn, you roll a die by popping a clear plastic dome in the center of the board. This Pop-o-Matic mechanism is probably 80% of the game's appeal to my daughter, to be honest. She sometimes likes to make bonus pops between turns, just for fun. Whatever keeps them engaged, right?

Where's the Math?

As I mentioned, Trouble is a wonderful game for kids who are in the midst of learning how to count. First of all, the die shows the numerals, not the circular pips that you see on most dice. As a result, your child has to start getting used to reading that curvy-looking squiggle and recognizing that it means "three moves." Kids need lots of opportunities to make this basic connection between the numeral 3, the word "three" and the idea of moving three spaces.


Speaking of moving, this is the core of the game! If you roll a 4, you have to move one of your pieces four spaces along the board. In my version of the game, each space along the board is actually a knob that the game piece fits around. This little bit of physical interaction between the piece and the board will help your child make sure that each number in the sequence "one, two, three, four" is matched by moving one space along the board.

This idea, that each number matches a quantity, is known as one-to-one correspondence, and it is a huge developmental milestone. My daughter, for example, has one-to-one correspondence for the numbers up to seven or 8, but if you ask her to move 11 spaces along the board, she's likely to start racing through her number sequence and end up going farther, or not as far, as she was supposed to. That's all part of the learning process, and since she's playing a game she is happy to try again and again.


As your child gets more comfortable with the basics of counting, they can begin to use counting strategically.  Say they roll a 5. They could move one piece five spaces closer to their finish zone, or they could move a different piece in order to knock their opponent back to the start! Decisions, decisions, all based on the deeper elements of counting.

Questions to Ask

A great way to get kids to practice counting is to ask "What do you hope to roll?" This way, your child will count ahead of their turn to figure out their ideal roll, then pop the popper, and then move their piece. You've doubled their counting practice each turn with one simple question! 


If your child has multiple pieces in play, you should be sure to ask them "Which piece should you move? Why?" Whatever piece they choose, they'll have a reason. Maybe they want to get as close to the finish zone as possible. Maybe they want to send their opponents back to the start. Maybe they want to stay far ahead of their opponent's pieces, lest they get sent back to start themselves!\

In any case, they'll be required to count ahead in order to make that decision. They might even count for each piece before deciding which to move. 

Trouble is an easy, quick game that will have your kids begging to practice their counting over and over, if only so they can pop the popper.

Click here to buy Trouble on Amazon