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Easy Tips and Tricks to Add a Little Math to Six Nostalgic Kids Games

girl plays hopscotch
A classic game like hopscotch is great for practicing number recognition and sequencing. | Yana Tatevosian/Getty Images/iStockphoto
It’s time to get nostalgic! Retro games like Simon says, hopscotch, musical chairs and more are back, just with a few math makeovers to sneak some math learning into playtime.
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When I was younger, my brother and I would play indoor bowling. We would stack plastic cups into a pyramid then propel a small ball down the hall to knock over the tower. It turns out this classic game is still engaging all these years later. Using the same materials, my daughters and I played indoor bowling to practice early math. We talked about different ways to stack the cups — counting each row of cups, subtracted the number of cups knocked over from those left standing, and added up scores and compared if they were greater, less-than, or equal-to previous rounds. While we did, I had an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for this simple and classic indoor kids game.

Research shows that I am not alone in my deep feeling of security, engagement and happiness when participating in a childhood game. Nostalgia positively affects our moods, well-being and current outlook on the meaning of life, research suggests. As parents, we can lean into nostalgia by bringing back our past games for a new generation.

Similarly, children learn best when they engage with the adults in their lives, suggests research from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Taking a few minutes a day to play a classic game can help children form social-emotional bonds with caregivers while also facilitating a creative way to learn away from screens.

Here are some classic indoor games for your next family game night that boost early math skills:

Easy Bingo

family math bingo card
Number bingo helps kids practice number and pattern recognition. | Stephanie Murray

Create family bingo boards with numbers one through nine located in different spots on the grid. Using numbered strips of paper in a bowl, call out the Bingo numbers one at a time. Children can cross off the selected number on their board. Remind children that they should call out "Bingo!" when they have three in a row. This game helps kids practice number and pattern recognition.

Number Twister

Remember getting all scrambled up as someone called out, "Left foot, blue"? Bring back the fun with a math version of Twister. Lay out a bedsheet on the ground as your Twister mat. Cut out circles from paper and write a number on each one. You might have five of each number (five number ones, five number twos, five number threes, etc.) depending on the size of the sheet. Arrange the numbers in rows and use them to call out a direction for participants. For example, "Left foot, number 5," or "Right hand, number 4." Each time, the players must add a new direction to their stance. When a player falls over, they are out of the game.


Using masking tape, make your hopscotch grid on the floor, placing a tape number inside each box. Have children jump from each box using either one foot or two. As children jump, they practice remembering the sequence of numbers.

Counting Simon Says

"Simon says, turn three times." "Simon says jump five times." Take this classic game you played and add some learning by adding a number to each directive. That way, your child practices counting and recalling information.

Musical Chairs

The tension grows when one chair remains for two people at the end of musical chairs. Replicate that excitement for your children by lining up chairs in an open space. There should be one less chair than the number of players. As the music plays, players walk around the chairs. When the music stops, the players race to sit down. The player left without a chair to sit in is out. Count the chairs each time together, and practice subtraction by taking one chair away.

Hide and Seek with Numbers

Play classic hide and seek in a new way. In this version, one person calls out a number. The other players then have to run around the house to find that number of objects. For example, if the caller yells out "five," the players must run around to find five spoons, five tissues, five pillows, etc.

Expensive games aren't necessary for family game night. Simply sending time together in a constructive way can be a valuable moment for your family. Bring out some household items and your imagination as you tap into the memories of your childhood. Add a little math, and you have yourself an engaging learning experience for your kids and a walk down memory lane for you!

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