5 Math Games and Activities That Help Make Learning Fun

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Math Games, Images: Green Board Game Company, Wildcard Games, Happy Puzzle Company
Math Games, Images: Green Board Game Company, Wildcard Games, Happy Puzzle Company

No kid wants to do homework after school, but math games help to make it that bit more enjoyable. My family has been using these math games and activities recently when my son is asked to practice his math skills at home. We’ve found them far more enjoyable than just reciting multiplication tables out loud and I hope you do too.

Mobi, Image: Sophie Brown
Mobi, Image: Sophie Brown

Mobi

The first of our five math games is Mobi, a tile-laying game somewhat similar to Bananagrams in which you compete to place tiles in a crossword-like grid. The game is packaged in a cute zip pouch shaped like a whale which contains 162 tiles. The white tiles are operators (add/subtract, multiply/divide, and equals) and the blue tiles are numbers from 1 to 12. There are a number of different ways to play Mobi in order to accommodate younger players, experts, solo players, and teams, but I’ll focus here on the main game.

Players tip out all the tiles and leave the white operator tiles in a pile where all players can reach them. The blue number tiles are flipped face down on the table. Each player then takes seven number tiles each in a 2-4 player game, or five tiles each in a 5-6 player game. One player calls “go” and all players begin building a “pod.” A pod is a grid of equations that links together like a crossword. Three examples of pods are shown below. “A” is a simple pod only using addition and subtraction operations, “B” is a slightly trickier pod that adds in multiplication and division, and “C” is an advanced pod using longer calculations where the Order of Operations (also called PEDMAS or BODMAS) must be applied.

Mobi Pod Examples, Image: Sophie Brown
Mobi Pod Examples, Image: Sophie Brown

Whenever a player only has one number tile left, they call “flip” and all players must take three additional number tiles into their hand. At any point, a player can call “swap” and return one of their tiles in exchange for two more from the pile.

When the pile of number tiles is empty, the first player to use up all their number tiles calls “Mobi” and play stops. The other players then check that player’s pod for mistakes. If mistakes are found the player is disqualified, their number tiles are returned to the pile, and play resumes for the other players, otherwise, they are declared the winner.

Playing Mobi, Image: Sophie Brown
Playing Mobi, Image: Sophie Brown

Mobi is a fantastic game for teaching fast-paced mental math, a key skill in elementary school math lessons. The game can also be tailored depending on math skill. Less confident players can play without the multiply/divide operation tiles, while those with higher skill levels can be encouraged to create more complex pods. For those who find the standard game too stressful, “Chill Mobi” has every player start out with the same number of tiles and compete to simply finish a pod, without all the flipping and swapping.

Arithmanix, Image: Sophie Brown
Arithmanix, Image: Sophie Brown

Arithmanix

The second of our math games is Arithmanix, a simple card game that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of the TV quiz show Countdown. The aim of the game is to use the Number and Operator cards in your card to get as close to the larger Arithmanix number in the center of the table.

Players begin by taking a set of Operator cards—one each of add, subtract, multiply, divide, and brackets. The dealer gathers in all the Number cards being used in the game (the number of Number cards used is dictated by the number of players) and deals six face-down to each player. The final two cards are placed, face-up, in the middle of the table to form the Arithmanix/target number. All players then look at their hands and begin attempting to use their Number and Operator cards to form a calculation which equals the Arithmanix number.

Calculating the Arithmanix Number, Image: Sophie Brown
Calculating the Arithmanix Number, Image: Sophie Brown

There are a few rules for players such as the Order of Operations is in effect at all times, cards can only be used as single digits, so a 4 and a 2 cannot be used as 42 or 4 squared, and calculations must equal whole numbers: no decimals or fractions. Once a player has finished their calculation and placed it on the table, they can call “Arithmanix” and turn the timer to give the other players 30 seconds to finish. The player who turns the timer cannot touch their calculation after doing so.

Once every player has finished, scoring takes place. Players whose calculation equals the Arithmanix Number score a point for each Number card used in their calculation. Players whose calculations do not equal the Arithmanix Number lose a point for each number away they are, up to a maximum of negative three (so if the Arithmanix Number is 42, a player whose calculation equals 44 scores -2). The player who turned the timer gets a bonus point if their calculation equals the Arithmanix Number. The overall winner is the first player to reach 10 points.

Arithmanix is a highly flexible game which can be customized to suit the players. I have so far played it with and without the timer and also using additional Operator and Number cards. For younger children, you can choose to ignore the Order of Operations, remove certain Operator cards, and choose easier Arithmanix Numbers.

Arithmanix is a great game for teaching children how to use numbers in different ways to reach different results. My son is just at the age where the Order of Operations is a key learning target, and this game has been very helpful in helping him understand how placing the numbers in specific orders and using brackets carefully can influence the outcome of his calculations.

Maths Snap Plus and Eqivalent Fractions Snap, Image: Sophie Brown
Maths Snap Plus and Eqivalent Fractions Snap, Image: Sophie Brown

Maths Snap Plus and Equivalent Fractions Snap

I’ve grouped our third and fourth math games together due to their similarity, however, they do teach very different math skills. Everyone knows how to play Snap, but these variants take this very simple, classic game and give it an educational twist. The company who produce these math games also produce dozens of other math snap variants for kids from preschool to teens including My First Number Snap and My First UK Money Snap. We played with Maths Snap Plus and Equivalent Fractions Snap.

In Maths Snap Plus, players use a deck of 52 cards with calculations on them that equal one of ten different answers. Cards which show calculations with the same answer “snap” together, such as 4 x 0.5, 51 – 49 or 4/2. The box suggests two games—the first is traditional snap where plays take turns placing cards onto a central stack, shouting “snap!” if they see a matching pair. The second has the players lay all the cards face-down on the table then turn over two of them, keeping any matching pairs they find but any game that can be played with a child’s Snap deck can also be played with these cards.

Playing Snap with Maths Snap Plus, Image: Sophie Brown
Playing Snap with Maths Snap Plus, Image: Sophie Brown

The Equivalent Fractions Snap deck is mostly the same but contains 52 cards showing fractions. Each fraction has four cards which equal it, for example, one fifth, two tenths, three fifteenths and, four twentieths. This means that even more games can be played with this deck such as Happy Families.

Equivalent Fractions Pairs Game, Image: Sophie Brown
Equivalent Fractions Pairs Game, Image: Sophie Brown

Both of these math games come with self-checking cards which show all the matching sets together in rows because, if we’re being honest, not all adults can instantly calculate 43 – 19 or 8 x 0.5 at the mental speed required to play Snap effectively. These cards are designed to be used as a reference, but they can either be hidden away from more competent players or left clearly on display for those who might struggle more. We did notice an issue with one of these reference cards in the Maths Snap Plus deck where the calculations weren’t always on the correct line. After checking with the manufacturer, this problem has been resolved in later print runs but I would advise double checking any guides like these first before relying on them.

Times Table Explorer, Image: Sophie Brown
Times Table Explorer, Image: Sophie Brown

Times Table Explorer

The final item on our list is an activity book rather than a game. Times Table Explorer is one of the most unusual and different products I’ve come across for teaching math to kids. The book contains 30 quests in which kids use their times tables skills to move around a map and track their journey. A sample page begins like this:

The boat you are traveling in is caught in a storm and you are shipwrecked on one of the Cape Verde islands. Use the clues from the questions below to map your journey to the island.

Other quests have kids figuring out which planet is inhabited, where gold has been hidden in the Philippines, and which dragon is the friendly one.

Solving a Times Table Explorer Quest, Image: Sophie Brown
Solving a Times Table Explorer Quest, Image: Sophie Brown

The introduction is followed by 18 multiplication questions using the 2 to 10 multiplication tables. One number is missing from each question, kids figure out the missing number and move that number of spaces on the map grid in the direction stated. For example:

(E): 2 x _ = 8

In this example, you would move four spaces east.

Once the final clue has been solved, the child writes down which of the five possible islands you were shipwrecked on.

A Completed Times Table Explorer Quest, Image: Sophie Brown
A Completed Times Table Explorer Quest, Image: Sophie Brown

Every quest also comes with two additional activities. The first is a quick bonus question, for example, “How many times did you sail north?” The second is a larger space that allows kids to write or draw about their adventure—in the example above, they are encouraged to write or draw their idea of a house on a remote island.

Each of the 46 pages in Times Table Explorer is perforated, allowing them to be easily pulled out if you want to fold up a page in your bag rather than taking the full letter paper-sized book out with you. Because you only need a pencil to be able to complete a page, this makes Times Table Explorer highly portable and perfect for filling time in restaurants or waiting rooms. Each page took us roughly 15 minutes to complete, including the bonus activities, which I found was just long enough to maintain interest before boredom set in.