A few months ago, my mother-in-law picked up a set of Pick-Up-Sticks (pun intended) at the department store. She thought it was a fun game her impatient grandson (my boy) would enjoy playing. Yes, the game teaches patience because you have to be very still and focused when playing it. I was the one who actually got excited when I saw the sticks (haha!) because it was one of my childhood games from long ago (a child of the nineties!!). And it would turn out to be one of a few old favorites that make great math games for kids.
Remember the days before “apple” was just a fruit and cellphones were like a hair compact? (You just fold them and put them in your pocket.) Well, those days were the days of the oldies but goodies games. As a homeschooling mama (Come on, agree with me here.), you would stretch your creative powers to make learning stick and turn almost any activity into an educational experience. Here is how I sneakily turned Pick-Up-Sticks into math time (cue dramatic drum roll).
First, how do you play Pick-Up-Sticks? A set would include 20 to 50 coloured sticks. (There really is no standard quantity.) You put them all together upright and just make a small splash on the surface so that the sticks would get disarrayed everywhere. The aim of the game is to pick-up the most number of sticks per turn without disturbing or moving the rest of the sticks.
It is a game of mental and physical skill. Mental because you have to think of your strategy on how to pick up the sticks. Physical because it also definitely does take a lot of skillful hand maneuvering. A variation of the game is that the players can take turns picking up one stick at a time instead of waiting until the current player loses a turn by means of disturbing the surrounding sticks.
But where does the math come in? You can count points by counting the most number of sticks (This is easier but not much of a challenge.), OR you can give a corresponding number of points per colour of stick. For example, usually depending on what set you possess, the black or white-coloured stick is only one piece. That makes it the “rarest” and thus has the highest value. The other coloured pieces (blue, green, red, etc.) have their own values. At the end of the game, you count points based on the colours.
I absolutely love this part because it was as if the game is made for math, specifically skip counting math! I ask my child to count how many greens he has (skip counting by twos), how many reds (skip counting by fives), how many blues (skip counting by tens), etc. Then afterwards, it is “addition” time! Add all the points. And because it is such a fun and competitive game, you would want to play the game over and over again (math practice!).
Another oldie but goodie math game for kids is Jacks or what we call “Jackstones” in the Philippines. You scatter the jacks or stones on the surface (like Pick-Up-Sticks). Then using your small bouncy ball, let the ball bounce then get a jack. Do it all over again until all the jacks are picked up.
How to turn this into a game for math? You increase the level of difficulty! For level one, you just get one jack. For level two, you get two jacks. And so on and so forth, until you reach the highest level where you need to get all the jacks at one time. While you are at it, do your skip counting to “intimidate” the other player with your skills.
To make things even more challenging, the player can do “exhibitions.” They are not called exhibitions for nothing—they certainly require a level of dexterity (proud exhibition-hustler here!). You can do “dot” (make a dot with your jack before catching the bouncy ball), “double dots” (make two dots with your jack before catching the bouncy ball), “around the world” (make a big circle with your jack in the air before catching the bouncy ball), etc. You can literally make your own exhibition if you are creative enough. Traditionally, it is the girls who play jacks, but boys would definitely enjoy and benefit from the game as well.
A variation of Jackstones is Mi Pao (or Chinese Jackstones). Mi Pao means rice bag in Chinese. The Philippines is home to many Chinese immigrants hence the cultural influences such as this childhood game. There are some lucky girls who would have moms make these tiny rice pillows for them in lieu of the store-bought plastic jacks. The classic Mi Pao has five pillows with one of them acting as the ball. As you can guess, you can insert math here by incorporating points. But do not forget to perform exhibitions as well!
Do you know any other oldies but goodies games which we can turn into a really, really fun math activity? Please share them!
And if you are looking for other great games check out our indoor games article for ideas.
Aside from God, her family, homeschooling (and books!), Katherine Tanyu’s love lies in stationeries. She and her husband manage growing stationery brands ForestmillⓇ, PrevailedⓇ and Boss StationeryTM in the Philippines.