Mastermind

My wife really shouldn't let me go to Target. Every time, she sends me to get one simple item, and every time I show up at home with a new board game. I keep telling her "It's helping the kids learn!" but honestly they'd probably learn plenty from the other 28 board games we have...

But you, dear reader, get to benefit from my game addiction! A few weeks ago, I spied a game in retro packaging that I'd never seen before. I eagerly snapped it up and brought it home.

Within minutes of playing the game, I couldn't wait to see what my own students could do with the mathematical implications of the game. It's a great game for a 3rd or 4th grader, but the mathematical ideas that the game uses are taught in high school and college courses on discrete mathematics. Not that your kid will know that! To them, they're just guessing which colors match your secret code.

Read More

Magic Square

I really, really dislike state testing. The kids get stressed, the teachers get practically crazed, and in the end I have a great deal of skepticism about the validity of our particular tests.

The silver lining of state tests is that my principal asks that we decrease the workload on that week so that kids are fresh and ready on each testing day. I take that as an excuse to pull out some of my favorite math puzzles and problems, in order to keep my students' brains working without overwhelming them with new math material. 

One of my favorite puzzles is the Magic Square.

Read More

Peg Solitaire

When I was a kid, my parents bought me a triangular peg solitaire game from a Cracker Barrel, and I never could figure it out. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't end the game with one peg. I always ended the game with two or three pegs, no matter how hard I tried.

Well, I am happy to announce that I dug this game out of the closet recently, inspired to finally conquer my old nemesis. And I did it! At long last, this deceptively challenging game of pegs and holes was within my grasp.

Read More

Table Talk Math

I started this newsletter because I believe that games are the easiest, most consistently entertaining way to introduce math ideas to your kids. Despite this, I know that games are far from the only way to get your kids talking about and exploring math. As a parent, I have many other tools in my toolkit for provoking an interesting conversation. Many of those tools I cribbed directly from Table Talk Math.

Read More

The Between Game

I went on a trip with my son this past week, so I invented this game for those moments when even the iPad couldn't hold his attention any longer.

The goal of the Between Game is simple: yell out the same number at the same time. The only constraint is that you must each choose a number that is between the two previous numbers. That way, the range of numbers shrinks and shrinks until both players think of the same number.
 

Read More

Othello

When playing a game with your child, should you let them win? This is a common dilemma for any parent who routinely plays games with their kids. On one hand, you don't want to beat your kid at Go Fish or Battleship or chess every time; they'd get sick of losing and quit playing with you eventually. On the other hand, you don't want your child to get so accustomed to winning that they can't handle a loss. 

Read More

Dragonbox Numbers

I have a skeptical outlook on the value of screen time. It's probably not hurting my kids too much, but it's probably not helping either. And the math apps I've found have mostly been underwhelming. Mostly, these apps focus on repetitive practice of math facts, which doesn't exactly sound like a rich mathematical experience. 

But Dragonbox Numbers is a different sort of math app. I was skeptical at first, but the game won me over with its well-designed activities that get kids thinking about the relationships between numbers, rather than simply drilling math facts.

Read More

Pyramid Solitaire

I firmly believe that our kids learn best when they have casual, patient conversations about math with an adult that cares about them. But my new baby has been a stark reminder that I am not going to have time to talk deeply about math with each of my kids every day. Fortunately, I have some back-up plans.

Pyramid solitaire is a game my own parents taught me when I was in early elementary school, and I happily played it for years afterward. It's quick, it's tough to win, and all you need is a deck of cards.

Read More

Bedtime Math

I love games. I mean, I started a weekly newsletter just so I had a place where I could talk about games with someone other than my poor wife.

But even I can't pull together the energy every day to get down a board game, dump out all the pieces, and play with my kids. Some days, I just don't have it in me.

I still want my kids to have some sort of mathematical experience each day, though. Usually, I find a way to ask a couple of math questions during dinner or bath time.

But what about parents who are a little math-phobic, or just unsure of what questions to ask? For those parents, I have a great recommendation: Bedtime Math.

Read More

Mancala

Of all the games I've recommended so far, Mancala is the one that I recall most fondly from my childhood. I vividly remember playing match after match with my friend John, arguing over strategy and trash-talking the way that only eight-year-olds can.

I loved this game as a kid for the same reasons that I love it as a parent: Mancala is a breeze to learn, easy to set up, play,  and clean up, and contains far more strategy than you might expect. 

Read More

The 100 Game

Sometimes as a teacher, I find myself with a classroom full of kids and nothing to do. Maybe the fall musical ended at 2:55 but school doesn't let out until 3:15.  

Whenever this happens, I pull out the 100 Game. This game can be taught in two minutes but always keeps my students occupied for at least twenty as they battle each other and develop strategies to try to unseat me, the 100 Game World Champion.

Read More

The Fold-and-Cut Challenge

Last week, my city of Birmingham was predicted to have 0.5 inches of snow, so naturally my school district shut down for two and a half days. Welcome to Alabama.

By the last day, I was going pretty crazy trying to think of activities for my kids to do, so I pulled out an activity I've used with kindergarteners and 8th graders alike: the fold-and-cut challenge

Read More

Equilibrio

Want to hear something crazy? Back in the 80s, researchers watched a bunch of 4-year-olds play with blocks to see how sophisticated their block play was. Were the kids stacking the blocks at random without regard to their shapes, or were they using the properties of the blocks to make sturdy, steady castles and towers?

When the researchers checked in on those same kids in high school, they found out that the kids who had been more sophisticated block builders at age 4 were more likely to take higher-level math courses and to perform well within their courses. 

Seems bizarre, right? But actually, the connection between block play and mathematical ability is one of the most heavily researched areas of young children's development. Block play is heavily tied to spatial reasoning, which is how kids and adults think about objects in relation to each other.

Read More

Which One Doesn't Belong?

This week's "game" is actually a book by one of my favorite authors and math thinkers, Christopher Danielson. Christopher is the creator of the Talking Math with Your Kids website, where he has collected all sorts of great resources and conversation prompts for you and your kids. Many of my ideas about mathematical talk come from Christopher, so if you like what you read here, be sure to check out his site.

Not only that, Christopher has a side business making beautiful mathematical toys for kids. I own a copy of just about every set of blocks that he has made, and I can't recommend them highly enough. On to the book!

Read More

Tiny Polka Dot

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.

Read More

Higher and Lower - Asking Questions with Uncle Wiggily

The motto of Games for Young Minds is Play games. Ask questions. So far, I've spent most of my time recommending games that have innate mathematical ideas. But I firmly believe that your children will learn more when you talk with them about the math ideas you encounter in the games you play together.

Today, I'd like to share a mini-game I invented with my son that enriched his comparative thinking, while making game time more fun for me.

Read More

Holiday Gift Guide 2017

Your kids are home for two weeks, running circles around the dinner table and driving each other crazy. You need something, anything to keep them occupied for half an hour. Well, not to worry! Games for Young Minds is here to help.

I've already written about SorryBlokus, and Shut the Box, all of which make great gifts. But there is a world of other games that help your kids encounter mathematical ideas that will keep their brains moving throughout winter break. Not only that, your children will be having so much fun, they won't even realize that they're learning!

Read More