Visual Math Games

Developing Foundational Number Skills Using Cards, Dice, and Objects

Fun and playful ways to increase your child’s enthusiasm for, and ability with, math. These games will soon become favorites as your child quickly learns math facts.

Until a child knows what quantity the number 6 represents, or that the number 4 also means 4 countable objects, she will not understand that the sum 4 + 6 is the same as 6 + 4. Developing her understanding of number and quantity is something easily done at home. See Developing Math Skills for information on developing a sense for numbers.

Visual Number Games

Holding up fingers is the easiest game of all. How many fingers? And quick is better – if the child is in kindergarten or above, no longer than 1 second. This should become automatic – given the chance to count one by one allows the opportunity for mistakes and indecision. If the child can’t yet do it, work instead with developing the number sense.

Fingers are fine until 10. One can also use shells, large seeds, or stones. With the child’s eyes closed, the adult places a number of shells and covers with her hand or a cloth. When the child opens his eyes, reveal the objects, and almost immediately cover them again. If he makes a mistake, okay, a second, and he is probably just guessing. Return to fingers and repeat until the child shows no hesitation for any number up to 10.

Estimation is an Important Skill

Estimating numbers is a very useful skill, especially in long multiplication and division. Once the child is counting and quantifying numbers accurately up to 20, she can begin to play with estimating how many objects there are and then counting to check her estimate (use the word estimate rather than guess). As an extra exercise that will support multiplication and division work, ensure that she checks her estimate by counting in groups of 3, 4, 6, 8 for example.

Games with Written Numbers

This is a good way to firmly attach number and quantity in the mind of the child. The simplest game is “Which Number is Bigger?” This game can be played with young children. The most fun way is by playing cards. The deck is split between two and each person turns over a card – the bigger number ‘wins’ and that pair goes to the ‘winner’, (it can also be played with the lower card ‘winning’). If the numbers are the same another card is played.

Visual Games with Dice and Playing Cards

Children love to roll dice and turn cards – these math games become favorites.

Dice: roll two dice (more can be added later); the child adds the numbers together, or multiplies, or subtracts. This is a good one, to begin with, because the numbers are smaller: the highest addition sum is 12, the highest multiplicand is 36.


  • add the two numbers together, or subtract, multiply or divide (add first then divide by 2 for example)
  • multiply the added total by the higher number rolled
  • starting at a high number, 100 for example, subtract each number rolled, first one to reach zero ‘wins’ – at the end, one has to roll specific numbers
  • recite the multiplication table of the two dice added together

Playing cards: same as above; adding, multiplying, subtracting, perhaps dividing two turned cards.

Pontoon: deal two cards and add the numbers together (face cards count as 10, aces can be either 11 or 1). The winner is the player whose total is close to 21. If the cards are low, another card can be requested.

Patience – place out 4 rows of 3 cards. The game is to remove all cards which add up to 11, face cards are worth 10, aces are worth 1. the game finishes when all the cards are removed.

Please remember, the most important thing is to make numbers fun and an everyday part of life. The more highly developed the number sense the easier all math will be. Numbers are everywhere, let’s help children embrace and love them!