Now that we’ve talked through the importance of choosing the right game and creating a positive environment, it’s time for the fun part – playing the game!
Over the next few posts, I will take a deep dive into individual math games for young children. For each game, I will explain the rules of the game, the math at the core of the game, and strategies you can use to bring out the math while playing. First up, how you can use your fingers to play math games!
A warning: I will use formal math vocabulary to explain the math at the core of each game. If you’re panicking, don’t. I promise you don’t need a masters in math or education to play math games with your child. To bring out the math, all you need to know is what questions to ask.
In order to ask the right questions, you need a basic understanding of the math your child is learning. Finger games are all about building the foundation of number sense. Take a moment to learn about early number concepts by reading through the images below. (Note the use of festive, fall-themed pumpkins to make the math jargon more digestible!)
How to Play
I love finger games because you always have your fingers with you! You can play while waiting in line, while at the laundromat, while out to dinner – the opportunities are endless.
There are many variations, but here is the basic game:
- Together say, “Fingers, fingers, 1, 2, 3, how many fingers do you see?”
- Use two hands to show a number. Start small with numbers 1-5, then move up to 10.
- Have your child tell you how many fingers you’re showing and show you with their fingers.
Connecting the Math
Children practice one-to-one correspondence as they count each finger. They build an understanding of cardinality as they say the last number counted is the total number of fingers. Through repeated play, children build subitizing skills as they start to recognize two and three fingers without having to count each finger individually.
Finger games also build decomposition skills as children see the same number in multiple ways. For example, you can show six with four fingers on one hand and two fingers on the other, or with three fingers on both hands.
Last but definitely not least, finger games build the brain’s finger awareness, which is linked to math achievement. (Learn more about the importance of finger awareness here!)
Strategies to Bring out the Math
- Show the same number in a row, but use different representations. For example, show 3 fingers with one hand and 0 on the other. Then, show 3 with 1 finger on one hand and two on the other hand. Ask, Are these numbers the same or different?
- Ask, Can you show me the same number in a different way with your fingers?
- Ask, How many are on this hand? How many are on this hand? When counting, focus on counting one number per for one finger.
- Ask, How many more fingers to make 5 fingers? How many more fingers to make 10 fingers?
- Extend by asking How many fingers are hiding? Can you show me one more/one less finger than I’m showing?
- Commit to playing finger games with your child at least once this week. To hold yourself accountable, schedule it in!
- Ahead of time, choose 2-3 questions you will ask during play to bring out the math.
- Learn more about the importance of finger counting by reading my previous blog post Counting Fingers and Toes.
Reed, K. and Young, J. (2018). Math Games to Excite Young Minds. Development and Research in Early Math Education. Retrieved from https://dreme.stanford.edu/news/math-games-excite-young-minds.
Reed, K. and Young, J. (2017). Play Games, Learn Math! Explore Numbers and Counting with Dot Card and Finger Games. Teaching Young Children 11(1). Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/tyc/oct2017/play-games-learn-math-explore-numbers.
NAEYC and NCTM. 2010) Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings. NAEYC/NTCTM Joint Position Statement.