Math Games for Ages 3-6

Once children have developed basic pre-math skills, they begin to learn the concept of number and counting. Here are some engaging games that can help with that, and tips on how you can push your child's thinking while playing these games.

Early Counting Games

The classic Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land give many opportunities for children to master counting skills, particularly one-to-one correspondence. Along with this concept comes the ability to count without losing track, double-counting, or skipping objects. The act of tapping each space with the game piece while counting reinforces the idea that for every number you say, there is one and only one object counted. 


  • If your child is still working on one-to-one correspondence, continue to model counting by saying each number as you tap your game piece on each space on the board. Slow down your moves so that your child can see the way you count.
  • Pretend to lose track of your counting, and then start over. Make it obvious that you have hit a snag and that you are trying again. For example, you can say, "Wait, I think I lost track. I'll try that again."  Doing this demonstrates not only counting skills, but also an even more important life skill: not giving up.

Hi Ho, Cherry-O!

Like the more popular games, Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, this game helps children learn to count. But unlike these other classic games, the object of Hi Ho, Cherry-O! is to fill up a basket with ten cherries. This provides a lot of opportunities for children to engage with the very important concept of "10". Our entire number system is based on 10 (most likely because we have 10 fingers), so knowing how to put together and break apart numbers within 10 is extremely important.


During the game, ask questions such as,

  • Who is winning? How do you know?
  • How many cherries do you have so far?
  • How many more do you need to win?
  • How many cherries do you think you will have altogether? (Have your child make a prediction, then count to check.)

You can also use this to model counting skills, such as moving one cherry from one pile to another to keep track of counting. As your child become more comfortable with working with numbers within 10, you can introduce more fluency-oriented games like I See 10.

Sum Swamp

In Sum Swamp, you traverse through a board by rolling two number dice (1-6) and an operation die (+ and -). You put them in order of larger number/operator/smaller number, giving you the number of moves. 


  • For children who have not yet mastered all of the skills needed for this game, consider having the child's "job" during the game be one specific thing, such as identifying the numbers, or telling you what to do based on the operation, or telling you which number is larger, and you (or another player) perform the rest of the calculations.
  • If necessary, have a bunch of objects (beans, coins, fingers, toes, etc.) available to help them add or subtract.
  • For children who have not yet discovered strategies for addition or subtraction (such as using beans or fingers), model this for them. For example, when it is your turn, use your fingers and say what you are thinking when you perform the calculation. 
  • If your child always starts from 1 when counting with fingers/objects, model counting from a number other than 1. For example, if you have 4 + 3, say, "okay, I already have 4 here, so... 4, 5, 6, 7. I have 7 in all." 
  • As children become better at using objects to determine the sums or differences, ask them to make a prediction of what the answer will be, prior to counting.

Gearation Refrigerator Magnets

I like Gearation Refrigerator Magnets because--well, they're just cool. You can arrange these magnets in any formation, turn on the motorized gear, and watch them go. 

Tip: Consider whether or not every arrangement of gears will be able to turn (for example, the one shown in this picture). Is there a rule that determines whether or not the arrangement will allow the gears to turn? 


Also in this series: Math Toys for Ages 0-3, Math Games for Ages 7-9