Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2 Simple Math Games

My son is hugely curious and competitive, but he also often needs to "tricked" into learning - in other words, math drills, flash cards, and worksheets are Not going to fly. That's why I love these two games. He asks for Math Dice nearly every day, and I'm usually willing to comply as I see his skills improving markedly - all without complaint or resistance!
My four-and-a-half year old daughter is only just now occasionally interested in Math Dice and needs a lot of help to play, but was willing and able to play the Yahtzee Jr variant described below. 

Once again, neither game is original, but we've added enough twists that it seems worth documenting. I saw the idea for "Kindergarten Yahtzee" on Pinterest (where else?!) We took it a bit farther and ended up with a single activity that combined writing, counting, and even probability.

Yahtzee (Very) Junior

  • 1 sheet of paper per player
  • 2 dice
  • A handful of buttons or other markers - at least 12 per player, preferably 20 or more. 
(You can always print out the sheets provided at the link above if you don't have time or inclination for the setup activities. )
  • Use a marker to divide each sheet of paper into a 12-celled grid. 
  • Depending on your kids' level, have each player write the numbers between 1 and 12, one per cell. I lightly penciled in each number and had my kids (ages 4 and nearly 6) trace them.
  • I also had my kids mark the corresponding number of dots in each cell. 
  • Immediately place a button marker over the 1. 
  • Each player rolls two dice, adds them together, and places a button over the corresponding number. 
  • The first player to mark out all 12 numbers wins. 
Of course, probability dictates that certain numbers are far easier to roll then others. In order to reduce frustration and boredom, I made sure there were plenty of buttons, and the kids just added buttons to numbers rolled in duplicate. This created a nice little probability graph that I plan to discuss and examine with them in more detail during future games.

Even so, we ran out of patience before everyone had rolled a 2 or a 12. When it was clear the kids were about done, I declared that the player ahead after the next three turns would be the winner. As it turned out, it was a tie!

In future games, I think I'll add a third die and on each turn the player will have the option to roll 1, 2, or 3 dice - at least once the numbers between 3 and 10 are taken care of. Get a little strategy in there!

Math Dice 

Math Dice is published by ThinkFun. You can buy Math Dice Jr here (if it's ever in stock), as well as read the official rules.  
But since the materials are so basic I felt no need to spend $8 on a custom set. 

  • 5, 6 sided dice.
  • 1, 12 sided die. You can also use a 10 sided die if preferred. 
  • Scoring board and one scoring token per player (we use buttons.) 
  • (Optional) An Altoids tin to store everything
  • (Optional) A flat tray with raised edges and/or a piece of felt to cut down on clatter and lost dice 
Of course, you probably won't find 10 or 12 sided dice in a pack at the dollar store, but you should be able to find them fairly cheaply at a game store or even a teacher supply store such as the Learning Palace. Or, if he's like mine, your husband may have a stash of old D&D supplies that you can raid. 
I actually lucked out and found a large tube of 60 or so dice of all shapes and sizes at Target for about $12. I haven't found a similar collection online, but you may be more fortunate. 

We drew our own score track on a sheet of paper. Actually, we've made several since my son keeps wanting to make the game longer and I keep trying to design one that folds flat and fits inside of the Altoids tin! 
In any case, I simply drew a rounded "N" shape and subdivided into cells. Our current board has 30 of them. 
At my son's request, we also added two bridges - think "ladders" in the classic "Chutes and Ladders" game. 

Roll all 5 6-sided dice and the 12 sided dice. The latter is your target number. 
The official rules allow any combination of addition or subtraction to obtain the target number, but my son is not quite 6 and this is too much for him. We use addition only at this point. 
Score one point for each die used to reach the target number, moving your counters along the score board. The first one to the end wins!

Edge cases: 
We decided that players must reach the end by exact count - no using four dice when only two spaces remain. 
My son didn't think it was right for two players to share the same space, so we eventually decided that if you land on your opponent's space, he/she is bumped backwards one space. 
If by chance it is impossible to achieve your target number, we've chosen to allow a re-roll all of the 6-sided dice. 
As my son has improved in his addition skills, we have slowly been incorporating subtraction into the mix. For the moment, it is only legal when the target die shows a 4 or less. And for now we're sticking to either-or, not both. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hot Wheels Shuffleboard

My son wanted to play a game with his Hot Wheels cars this morning, and here's what we came up with. All three kids, even the two-year-old, had fun, although the youngest just wanted to roll the cars around!
Best of all, setup was simple and fast, allowing me to happily class this as a "Quick and Dirty Toy."
(Disclaimer: While I don't specifically remember seeing it, I am SURE someone has documented a similar game in the past. No claim of originality, just fun!)


  • Long stretch of smooth floor
  • 6 Matchbox size cars (Test them to make sure they all run reasonably far and straight.) 
  • Tape (Blue painter's tape would be ideal. I didn't have any, but I found a couple rolls of low-tack paper "Washi" tape I was willing to risk on my floor.) 


  • Mark a starting line with tape. About one half of the distance to the end of your course, mark the 1 point line. Mark the 2 and 3 point lines about 1/3 of the remaining distance between the 1 point line and the course end.
    Also mark the course end if necessary. (One variation of the game allows for a wall or other "bumper" at course end.) 
  • If you don't happen to have two sets of 3 similarly colored cars, place a small piece of tape or a sticker on top of 1/2 of the cars. We had two colors of tape and marked both sets of cars. 
  • Optionally, mark the point values on the tape. 


I will give the base game rules along with several variations for younger or older players.

  • Each player sends one car down the course, beginning from behind the starting line. 
  • The car is scored based on where it stops rolling, with any piece of the car extending over a line counting as "in." (Or "out" as the case may be!) 
  • Alternate turns until each player has sent all three cars down the course. Note that cars *are* allowed to bump one another, and scoring takes place only after all cars have been played. 
  • The player with the most points wins, and gets to go first on the next game. 

In this example, the black and green car scores 0, the orange scores 1, the white scores 2, and the green and red cars 3 - unless they bumped the basket or drove off the edge.

Alternates for a simpler game 

  • Our first go-round, we marked a car as "out" if it either bumped a wall at the end of the course, or traveled past the wood floor into the kitchen. This was So easy to do that it got frustrating. So we set up a laundry basked across the kitchen door, and changed the scoring. Cars were now allowed to hit the wall or basket, but the area between the last line and the course end was now worth 1 point. The area between the 2nd and 3rd scoring lines was now deemed "most difficult" and set at 3 points.
    In theory it is possible to bounce a car off the wall or the basket and back into the three point line, but in practice it never happened. Remember that where the Front of the car is determines the score.
    Going back to the example in the photo, the green and red cars would be just 1 point, and the white car a 3.
  • For younger kids, playing just one car at a time and immediately removing it from the course may be less frustrating. Alternately, each player could play all three cars and them remove them from the course before the other player goes. 
Alternates for a more complicated game
  • Play in a hall-way and mark cars as "out" if they strike either wall. If playing in a more open area, mark "gutters" or "boundaries" to left and right. Cars outside the boundary are not scored.
  • Keep score for several rounds, perhaps using a white board or magna-doodle.
  • Set up a dual-ended course with scoring lines on each end and gutters to side and end. This, of course, will require some accurate measurements plus plenty of room on each end to be fair. Each player sends his cars from opposite ends of the course. (Check out the rules for "Table Shuffleboard" for more ideas.)