Physical math games for children

Written by contributing writer
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More and more educators are taking a new approach to teaching math, promoting not only computing skills but physical fitness as well. Research, such as that done by University of Illinois professor Charles Hillman, shows that children focus and process things better right after lively exercise. Through the competitive and physical aspect of games, math becomes a way for students to learn, enjoy and exercise all at once.


Inspired by East Carolina University's math middle-school energizers, this workout adjusts to the age of the students. The teacher gives easy arithmetic questions and physical exercises to younger kids and more challenging ones to older children. She reads aloud a math problem and a physical activity. The problem's solution is the number of times the students need to perform the exercise. Help the children warm up with easy questions and slow, stretching movements. Once the children have stretched, go on to more difficult problems. Knee lifts, squats, jogging and jumping jacks can get the blood pumping so end the game with cool-down exercises.

Shoot That Ball

Drawing from an activity described by Louella Nygaard, this game targets both the children's math skills and shooting prowess. You'll need beanie bags or small balls, a canning box or soft drinks crate, and four identical slips of paper each containing a (+), (-), (x) or (%). The teacher labels each compartment of the box with a number beginning with zero. The class then forms two lines. Each student stands at a designated starting point about four meters away from the box. Students then shoot two balls into any of the box's compartments. Once successful, the shooter draws a slip of paper and performs the operation between the two numbers. When the shooter gets the correct answer, she runs back to her team and the next student also starts. The team that finishes first wins.

Mission Impossible

This game combines cooperative learning with physical movement and math calculations. The teacher prepares five stations with a set of instructions, a paper and pencil and a student who acts as a marshal. The teacher then divides the class into small groups. To heighten the excitement, she can play the "Mission Impossible" theme song. The groups need to fulfil the tasks at every station in order to get to the next. The instructions at every station have a physical component and a math component. For example: “Perform ten jumping jacks,” followed by an arithmetic or fraction problem. The marshal makes sure that the group completes both. The first group that completes all five stations wins.

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