3 Simple Number Sense Games That Will Make Your Girl *Love* Math

Number sense games are an awesome way to help your child understand how numbers work…while having fun with math.

Sophia knows how to do the math, but if she forgets the fact or a rule, she’s stuck. When she solves word problems, she guesses: “Do I add? Subtract? Multiply? Divide?” Math doesn’t make sense, but she assumes that’s true for everybody.

Daniya also forgets her math facts, but this doesn’t worry her because she understands how numbers work. If she doesn’t know the rule, she can think about the math and figure it out on her own. She likes that math makes her think.

Number sense games are perfect for triggering that lightbulb "a-ha" moment.
Ohhhhh, I get it!

A child with good number sense has a practical understanding of numbers that goes beyond knowing a set of steps or rules. It’s a sense of knowing how numbers work, how they fit together, and what quantities look like in the real world.

Number sense comes from a variety of practical math experiences, not a mysterious gene that makes kids “good at math”. It’s learned best in real life or in play.

Play these three games to make math fun at home…while secretly helping your child understand how numbers work!

This is post #3 in the series: How to Have Fun With Math At Home. In case you missed them, be sure to read installment #1 on how to help with math, and #2 on how to make math fun with games.

I’ll share three of my best number sense games with you today:

  • Slap Down: a game for comparing big numbers
  • Fill the Stairs: a strategy game for putting numbers in order
  • Penny Nickel Dime: try to get closest to $1.00 without going over

Slap Down

AGES: 5 to 9

MATERIALS: a deck of cards with 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings removed. Aces equal 1.

PLAYERS: 2-4 players

THE GOAL: Make the highest number

WHY I LOVE IT: It’s simple to play, and there is a ton of learning going on: arranging digits to make the biggest number, reading the number out loud, comparing 3-digit numbers to see which is highest. You can teach it in about 2 seconds!

1. Put a deck of cards with face cards and tens removed on the table, face down.

Deck of cards face down on the table in preparation for playing number sense games.
Deck of cards, face cards and tens removed.

2. Each player takes 3 cards.

3. Arrange your cards to make the biggest 3-digit number you can. For example, with a 2, 9, and 5 you could make the number 952.

"Slap Down": one of my favorite place value and number sense games. From Miss Brain's Cool Math Games, by Kelli Pearson
My number is 952.

4. Read your number out loud.

5. The player with the highest number wins the round.

QUESTIONS TO ASK AS YOU PLAY: What is the biggest number someone could play? How much bigger is your number than my number?

NOTE: It can help to sit next to the other players rather than across from them. It’s easier to visually compare numbers that way.

Fill the Stairs

AGES: 6 to 11

MATERIALS: paper and pencil, two dice

PLAYERS: Two players or two teams

THE GOAL: Be the last one to write a number on a stair-step

WHY I LOVE IT: Easy enough for little kids to play, with strategy to keep older kids interested. It gives practice comparing and ordering numbers, with a dash of probability tossed in.

1. Draw 10 big stair steps on a piece of paper or white board.

2. Roll two dice. Make a number with the digits. For example, if you roll a 1 and a 6 you could make 16 or 61.

Photo of two dice on green background showing 6 and 1
You could make the number 61 or 16.

3. Write the number on one of the stairsteps. (Low numbers toward the bottom, high numbers toward the top.)

"Fill the Stairs" game - example from Miss Brain's Cool Math Games
Where should I write 16?

4. Take turns rolling and writing in your number. The numbers must go in order from LOW on the bottom to HIGH on top.

5. Play until someone rolls a number she can’t play. The last person to fill in a stair-step wins.

QUESTIONS TO ASK AS YOU PLAY: What is the lowest number someone could make? What is the highest number?

Penny Nickel Dime

AGES: 8 to 11

MATERIALS: Penny Nickel Dime game board, pencil, one die, coins (optional)

You can play with just paper and pencil, but I find the Penny Nickel Dime printable helps kids keep track of their scores. Younger kids may find it helpful to use real coins.

PLAYERS: 2 or more players

THE GOAL: Get closest to $1.00 after exactly 7 rolls, without going over

WHY I LOVE IT: So many reasons! It’s challenging, it’s fun (even for adults!), and there is sooo much math learning going on! Value of coins, skip counting, addition, probability…there’s a nice mix of strategy and luck in this game.

1. Print a copy of the Penny Nickel Dime game board and give a copy to each player.

"Penny Nickel Dime" score sheet: one of the best number sense games for older kids (from Miss Brain's Cool Math Games, by Kelli Pearson)
The game board helps kids keep track of their score.

2. Tell the players you will roll a die exactly 7 times. For each number you roll, players can take that many pennies, nickels OR dimes, but not a mix.

The goal is to get as close to $1.00 as possible without going over.

3. Roll the die. All the players take that many pennies, nickels, or dimes and write the amount on their paper.

photo of pennies on the table
I’m taking pennies so I don’t go over!

4. On the next roll, take that many pennies, nickels, or dimes, and add that amount to your total.

5. Take turns rolling the die until you have rolled exactly 7 times.

6. Add to find your total. The player who got closest to one dollar without going over wins!

QUESTIONS TO ASK AS YOU PLAY: How much is 5 nickels? What about 5 dimes? How much more do you need to get to a dollar?

Making the Most of Number Sense Games

Number sense games are so much fun; they don’t feel like math. This means your kids will likely ask to play again (and again).

Take advantage of that! The more they play, the more they learn–and the strategy games, in particular, need to be played a few times before kids start to get really good at it.

Here are some tips to get the MOST out of number sense games at home:

  1. Play math games each week for fun family time. It’s such a great way to feel connected to your kids, and they love playing with you. And the more they play, the more math will “stick”.
  2. Mix up the games. Repeat the favorites, of course, but keep bringing in new games to keep things exciting. And each game reinforces a slightly different skill, to round out their math learning.
  3. Buy Miss Brain’s Cool Math Games or another math games collection, so you can pull out the perfect game when your child needs more practice on something. (Stuck on division? Play a division game!)

I can’t wait to hear how you and your child like these number sense games. (If you think of it, drop me a line in the comments!)

Oh, and before you go, here’s one more free goodie I think you’re gonna la-la-loooove!

When your child is bored with math, homework time can be PAINFUL. Games help a ton in making math more fun, but unfortunately we can’t be playing games ALL the time. (I know, sad.)

Want more ways to get your kids excited about math? Download our free activity calendar for 20 Days of Fun Math for real-world explorations your kids will love!

Kelli Pearson
Author: Kelli Pearson

Kelli Pearson at Artful Math brings creative math experiences to kids who are underwhelmed by worksheets and tired of feeling like they’re bad at math. With a playful spirit and down-to-earth BFF vibe, she helps kids tap into their powerful brilliant selves and learn math with joy.

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