My middle child, a four year old, is able to count fairly accurately and has memorized a few addition facts like 1 + 1 or 2 + 2. However when asked one of those simple math questions he’ll often freeze up and say “what is it?” instead of trying to figure it out for himself. The memorized answers are like magic spells rather than the natural result of grouping objects together. To encourage him to move beyond the memorizing, I invented a very simple game.

I drew four circles on a piece of paper and labelled them 1, 2, 3 and 4.  Following the general order of the rainbow I stacked red math tiles on one, yellow on two, green on three and blue on four. Then we took turns rolling a die and taking the number we rolled. If he rolled a three he could take a three red tiles, or one red and one yellow, or a green tile. By placing only a limited number of tiles available (six or seven per color) I could create shortages and force him to consider other ways of making a number.

After playing it a couple of times I introduced a new rule. When there are not the appropriate tiles to be able to take the number that was drawn, the person has the option of taking more than necessary and repaying the difference. A six could be two blue tiles with a yellow tile returned to the pile.

If your interested in other homemade games, check out my older blog post on boardgame ideas.