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Ep #5: 5 Strategies for Improving Your Child’s Math Brain Through Games

Raising Healthy Kid Brains with Amy Nielson | 5 Strategies for Improving Your Child’s Math Brain Through Games

What is the number one best strategy you can do with your three-to-eight-year-olds to help them excel at math? The answer will probably surprise you and delight your child. Join me on today’s podcast to learn about “math brain,” the role that games can play in math, and strategies for helping your kids get the most out of playing games with you.

We’re getting ready to come up on a holiday break, which is the perfect time to get your kids to do math—right? As difficult as it might seem to get your child to sit down and do math over the holidays, it’s actually quite easy. All you have to do is play some games with them.

In this week’s episode, I talk about how parents have been playing fewer games with their kids, how to change that, and why those games (board games & card games) can change how your kids understand math. I also talk about number sense, your child’s ability to acknowledge chance and agility, and why you shouldn’t just let your children win the game.

We are a brand new podcast, which means we are harder to find than the perfect LEGO in a big box full of LEGO, and we need your help so that we can reach more parents and teachers with the information we’re sharing about their children’s brains. How can you help? You can follow this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and leave us a rating and review. To help us launch our podcast, we created a very special gift for you and your kiddo! Your ratings and reviews will unlock part of this gift over the next few weeks—to find out more, visit our podcast launch page right here!

What You’ll Learn:

  • Why playing games is one of the best things you can do to help your kids excel at math.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

What is the number one best strategy you can do with your three to eight year old’s to help them excel at math? The answer will probably surprise you and delight your child. So today we’re going to talk about math brain. We’re going to talk about why games are one of the best things you can do to help your child learn math. We’re going to talk about some of the math benefits. We’re going to talk about some of the emotional benefits and then I’m going to share some strategies with you to help your kids get the most out of playing games with you. All of that is coming up on today’s episode of the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast.

Welcome to the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast where moms and teachers come to learn all about kids’ brains, how they work, how they learn, how they grow and simple tips and tricks for raising the most resilient, kind, smart, compassionate kids we can. All while having lots of grace and compassion for ourselves because you know what? We all really need and deserve that too. I am your host, Amy Nielson. Let’s get ready to start the show.

Welcome. I am so happy you could come and hang out with me for this fun episode today. I have something special for you because we are coming up on a holiday break. And sometimes over holiday breaks we need something to keep kiddos busy, to not go too crazy with the screen time. And maybe keep their brains a little bit active over those longer breaks from school. So as we’re thinking about this and how we’re going to do this over a break. If you go and suggest to your child, “I know, let’s go do some math.” How excited are they going to be? But if instead you say, “Hey, let’s go play a game together.” Is that response going to look different?

Now, those two things, those two phrases or invitations from you to your child might look and sound totally different but this is actually probably one of my top favorite parenting hacks. So let’s first talk about math brain, I call it math brain. When our brain is working it uses connections and pathways inside of the brain. And I’ve often heard that learning math is a little bit like learning a new language. You’re building all of these new connections and new pathways. And in order to make them stronger you have to use them often. It’s kind of a use it or lose it situation with math.

So the more that your children are using these connections and pathways, their math brain, the more comfortable it’s going to become. It starts to take less work. They can go faster. It’s easier to picture what they’re doing and what it looks like. And they can understand numbers and math in different contexts. They start to gain mastery or I kind of think of it as thinking in numbers. So how is that related to playing games together over the holiday break?

I was talking with one of my friends a couple of years ago. She’s a math intervention specialist in second grade. And she was talking about how parents now play so many fewer games with children than they used to years and years ago. That makes sense. We have a lot more technology, things have changed dramatically. We have different toys and a lot more toys. We just play fewer games. And she said, “If parents played more games, referring to board games and card games with their kids, I would be out of a job.”

This statement that she made was really impactful to me and it impacted our Mommy Me advanced preschool program I was designing at the time. And so that we have children playing games every week during some of their math time to help develop those math skills. I have seen this in action with kids that I’ve worked with having a kinder kid that was adding and subtracting by double digits up to 100 in her head, that is not normal in that age level. But she played so many games and it was just so natural. There was no flashcards, there were no apps, there was no intentional teaching of these math skills.

It was all developed very naturally through playing games with her mom and her siblings. Don’t underestimate the power of a child’s brain to learn something when they are playing. They can learn amazing things even if it’s math. So let’s talk for a little minute about how games teach math skills. There’s a variety of early math skills that games teach. We’re going to go through several of those. We’re not just talking about counting. Counting is important but we’re actually looking more at number sense.

We’re wanting children to understand numbers. So games do teach counting but another thing that they teach is one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is not just being able to count from one to 20, but to take a group of items and to be able to add one more, and one more, and one more as you count and understand that those numbers that you’re saying aloud or counting aloud are actually related to the things that you’re moving around, or the pieces that you’re seeing in your hand.

There are so many other early math skills we see in board games and card games, comparing numbers, whose is bigger, whose is smaller, patterns, sorting, critical thinking is such a good one. But then we also get into addition, subtraction, money. I mean can we say monopoly? Has anyone played monopoly before or done other games with money? So all of these are some of those math skills or number sense skills that children learn from doing games.

In addition to increasing their numerical fluency or understanding of numbers, their mastery of numbers there’s also lot of emotional benefits I believe from playing games. So one of those would be problem solving, which is something of course that we really want children to learn and is extremely beneficial later as they are developing math skills. They are also learning to acknowledge chance. We don’t always get to determine exactly what happens to us. And so being able to acknowledge that things just happen sometimes and then develop strategy around that, I think is very helpful and important.

They learn agility when circumstances change. They have to change and adjust so that they can try to win the game. And then also the inevitability of failure, you cannot win a game every time. And so you have to learn from mistakes or from other people’s strategy and be able to try again. Children are learning so much emotional regulation and communication skills while they’re doing this. And they can also start to develop empathy, which is such an important skill as they’re playing with other people, and seeing their emotions, and modeling that for each other.

We’ve talked a lot about the math benefits and the emotional benefits of playing games with your children. Let’s talk now about some strategies, as you’re playing to make the most of that time together, to make it the most effective for using that math brain and strengthening that math brain.

So strategy number one. Do not count for them. Let them count themselves. Now, this can be frustrating if they are maybe a slow counter but let them do the counting. Don’t count on their behalf.

Number two is very related. Let them move their game piece instead of moving it for them and have them move it one space at a time instead of skipping. So for example, if you are playing monopoly and you happen to know that there are 10 spaces on one side of the board and they roll an eight and you’re thinking, I know that is two less than 10, so you’re going to go to the second to last based on this side.

And our brain that is ready to be done with this game and make it go faster because monopoly takes forever, wants us to be able to just jump, and skip, and do that math for them. But stop yourself, take a breath, hang in there and let them count it out one space at a time. This is teaching them that one-to-one correspondence, that number sense that’s so important, such a good early math skill. So just remember that that’s such an important part of actually playing the game with them and go with it, let them do it.

Strategy number three is don’t just let them win. Man, it’s tempting to let them win because they want to win so bad, and we want them to be happy, and we don’t care that much maybe about winning them. And so it seems really easy to just let them win. But think about what you’re teaching them long-term. I don’t like to just let my kids win. I like to teach them as I go. So I teach them my strategy every step of the way. If I’m winning them, I’m telling them why I’m winning them and exactly how I’m doing it so that they can learn from my strategy.

Notice that I’m doing strategy and start thinking strategically themselves, maybe copy my strategy or start developing some of their own so that they can beat me at my own game. This is a way to teach them to think but it’s also a way to help them build confidence as they learn their own strategy and win of their own merit.

Number four is to play a variety of games. Sometimes our kids get stuck on one thing and they’re really, really into it and they just want to do that one over and over again. And it’s simple because they already know how. But we want to introduce a variety of games because it’s going to first of all, keep them interested probably longer, which gives us more of that repeated practice which is so good for building that mastery and that math brain. But it’s also going to introduce them to a variety of different math skills and strengthen a variety of different math skills.

For example if I am playing a game of Rummy Cube, we’re going to be doing a lot of sequences, or patterning. If we’re playing Candy Land we’re going to be doing counting and one-to-one correspondence. If we’re playing monopoly we’re going to be doing some of the counting and one-to-one correspondence but we’re also going to be doing money. So mixing it up just gives you a larger variety of those number sense and math mastery skills.

My fifth strategy suggestion is to ask how and why questions while you are playing. This really helps your kids start using their brain to think through how they’re doing something, why they’re doing it and helps them start building that critical thinking and strategic thinking that we want them to be able to use to solve big problems in the real world.

The last thing I wanted to share with you on this episode is just some suggestions of a few games that I recommend. Now, there are so many game options, games that are at their level or maybe just pushing their level a little bit are probably going to be the best ones. If you’re going too easy then you might not be learning as much. If you’re pushing too hard it might become overwhelming or frustrating and then they might not want to do it anymore. So I try to shoot kind of at their level or just pushing a little bit is kind of the perfect mix I feel like.

Also I would choose games that they enjoy because then they’ll keep doing it and enjoy it and want to keep going which means that again you’re building more and more connection time, more of those pathways and kind of strengthening that math brain.

So here is just a few suggestions. I’m going to share some of our top favorite card games and then board games. So for card games, some of our favorites that we like to do, we love Uno, Phase 10, Five Crowns has become a new favorite. Hero Realms, kind of more advanced but that one is amazing and teaches some great addition and subtraction, double digits, lots of fun, so much strategy in that one. 7-up is one of our favorite ones, is easy for everyone. And another one that my children have been enjoying lately is called Dalmuti, you can find it on Amazon. It’s a great game. We’ve had a lot of fun with that one.

So board games options, there is kind of the simple ones, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, anything like that where they get to count and move their pieces. Sorry! is a fun one. Monopoly is then a favorite for my kids and there’s different variations of monopoly so if they have a favorite of that, go with whatever they’re enjoying at the moment. We also really like Othello is a really good one. There is some counting involved, and a lot of strategy. And I feel like it’s also kind of a visual math thing, helping them kind of see the math which I really like.

Settlers of Catan is a longer game, lots of strategy, lots of counting, lots of fun in that one. And then of course chess is such a good strategy, math strategic game, visual, we love that one. So those are just some top options that we have. I’d love to hear if you have more, share them with me but those are some of our favorite suggestions. Again, my top tip is just play. It doesn’t have to be one of these listed play ones that you will enjoy and your children will enjoy, and just play together.

I hope that those tips were helpful and that you have an amazing time playing together over this holiday break, or if you’re listening to this and it’s not over a break, that you can play some games on a weeknight, or on the weekend. And just have some quality time together where your kids are getting to develop and work on their math brain. Have an amazing rest of your day and I will catch you on the next episode.

Thank you so much for spending some time with me today and listening to this episode of the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast. We are a brand new podcast which means we are harder to find than the perfect LEGO in a big box full of LEGO. And we need your help so that we can reach more moms, and parents, and teachers with this information about their children’s brains. So how can you help? You can follow this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and leave us a rating and a review. That would mean the absolute world to us.

And hey, we want to make it fun because at Planning Playtime we are all about fun. We made a very special gift for you and your kiddo. And your follows, ratings and reviews are going to unlock different parts of that gift over the next few weeks. It’s going to be so much fun so after you follow, rate and review the podcast, head over to\podcastlaunch to find out where we are and how much of that gift you can go and get for your child right now. Thanks a million and I will see you on the next episode of the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast.


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2 Responses

  1. Thank you, for all the tips I’m a New teacher also I’m a mom and all your videos, podcasts and work it’s simple amazing, Thank you a lot!

    I’m glad that I found the Page and also the wonderful ideas to work with my kiddos!

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