Learning Math Through Play, from Guest Blogger Dawn Morris

by Dawn Morris, M.A. of Moms Inspire Learning

I can remember making “trains” with upright dominoes as a child.  It took a long time to set them up just right, but then it was so much fun to watch them falling into each other so quickly! It was kind of like watching a tiny roller coaster in motion. Little did I know, though, that playing around like that was actually helping me to develop important spatial skills! It’s important to remember that children learn a lot through play, including how to be creative.

Children love “hands-on” learning, and manipulating objects like these dominoes is not only great for improving fine motor skills, but it can also make it easier for them to understand important math concepts.

Dominoes math game

Children between the ages of 4 and 6 are just beginning to understand addition. The dots on the dominoes make them the perfect tool for beginners. While 4 year olds will enjoy simply counting up the dots and matching up the ones with the same number of them, 5 year olds can begin to make simple equations with the dominoes.

For example, you can ask your child how many ways he can add to five. Let him have fun showing you which dominoes add up to 5.  If your child already understands what a “+” and “=” sign is, you can also ask her to write the equations that add up to 5:

4 + 1 = 5        2 + 3 = 5        5 + 0 = 5

Then, have your child turn them around to get:

1 + 4 = 5        3 + 2 = 5        0 + 5 = 5

A great book to go along with this activity is called Domino Addition, by Lynette Long, Ph.D. The same process can later be used to reinforce the operations of subtraction and multiplication as well.

People from around the world have been playing all kinds of games with dominoes for many centuries. If you’d like to learn how to play them, and learn a little bit about culture and geography along the way, a great picture book is called Dominoes Around the World, by Mary D. Lankford.

Children of all ages can learn important math and social skills through games played not only with dominoes, but with dice and cards as well. Board games and card games, such as Uno, make number recognition and other math concepts fun to learn, and children can also learn so much about the importance of cooperation and taking turns by playing math games regularly.

How has your child learned math through play?

  • There are a lot of terrific games to teach kids math as well as geography, social skills, language, science, etc. and research about games in learning at http://www.gamesforeducators.com. Great site!

    Mary Couzin
    Chicago Toy and Game Fair

  • Thank you for calling our attention to this fantastic resource! I love the articles, and linked to the one from School Library Journal in one of my recent blog posts. I especially got a kick out of the “Letter to Barack.” It’s so true that people of all ages can learn so much about life through games.

    I will have to take a must closer look at this site when I get a chance. Thank you for your comment!

  • I love the idea of kids playing and learning at the same time. It sounds like a win/win to me. As well as the roller coasters, my kindergarten kids used to love to build towers with our dominos.

  • Thanks, Book Chook. It sounds like your students had a lot of fun learning and playing in your class!