How to use the game "snakes and ladders" to teach mathematics

Updated April 17, 2017

Snakes and Ladders is a board game suitable for children ages 3 and up - - similar to the board game by Hasbro called Chutes and Ladders. In New Delhi, India, the Metro (train station) has come up with their own clever version of Snakes and Ladders to teach children about Metro etiquette. Most children's games provide other lessons that can be learnt by playing them, such as taking turns, colour identification and counting. Snakes and Ladders requires a lot of counting, creating an opportunity for parents and educators to use this game to teach mathematics.

Explain the rules of the game. Count the number of children who are playing the game out loud; if just one child is playing, let him "go first." Otherwise, tell the children that they will play from youngest to oldest, and let them determine the who goes first-- a math problem of its own.

Give each child a die to hold and ask him to find the different dots, numbers one through six. Tell kids that two dice are used to play the game of Snakes and Ladders, and on each roll the numbers are added together to see how many spaces are moved; therefore, the highest number someone can get on a roll is 12, and the lowest number someone can get is two.

Ask each child how many dots are on the face of his dice after each roll. Make extra effort to avoid prompting the child, and give him ample time to figure out the answer. Point to each dot and count aloud, if necessary, to help him learn the number of dots.

Move your playing piece slowly, counting the spaces aloud while moving it. Emphasise the difference between moving a playing piece forward on ladder spaces and moving a playing piece backward on snake spaces, counting out loud when moving backward as well. Use the opportunity of sliding "down" the snake to explain subtraction by demonstrating how to subtract where the game piece landed after sliding down the snake compared to where it started out when it landed on the snake's head.

Explain some rules of addition and subtraction as the game pieces are moved forward and backward, such as:

  1. An odd number plus an odd number equals an even number

  2. An odd number plus an even number equals an odd number

  3. An even number plus an even number always equals an even number


  1. An odd number minus an odd number equals an even number

  2. An even number minus an odd number equals an odd number

  3. An even number minus an even number is always an even number


Show kids how to roll the dice so that the dice do not land unshaken or fall off the playing table. Use a small, plastic drinking cup to shake dice if children are having trouble rolling the dice.

Things You'll Need

  • Snakes and Ladders game board
  • 4 different game pieces
  • Dice
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About the Author

Karen Nehama is a former chef and restaurant manager, currently serving as editor of a food review and recipe website. With expertise as a youth adviser, she is also a consultant for a teen advice column.