If you ever find yourself with some time to kill and a child to entertain, I recommend you give this one a try. It is very easily modifiable for preschool through fifth grade. I admit, I don't personally find this to be the most fun math game out there, but for some reason it really resonates with kids. My past students (and own kids) always got a kick out of it and often chose this activity as their "May Do" when waiting for others to finish their work.
How To Play
This game is essentially a Math version of Rocks, Paper, Scissors, in that you play as a pair (though you can add more people if you want a challenge), and you "shoot" out something with your fingers at the same time for each round. In this case, you use your fingers to make numbers instead of "rock," paper," or "scissors." You can play one-handed and use numbers 0-5, or you can play two-handed and use numbers 0-10. The first person who shouts out the correct sum (addition answer) or product (multiplication answer) wins that round, then immediately move on to another round. The goal of this game is to build fluency through a fun, fast-paced activity.
With my older students, we called these games "Hand Flashes" because you are flashing numbers with your hand quickly. Since they were often playing while other students were working, I did not want them to talk too much, so they flicked their wrists three times (like you do when playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, but without saying anything) then "flashed" their number at the same time. With my preschooler, we call this game "I Can Add," and we say this title before each round (Sorry if this sounds confusing, you can watch the video below for a visual example). I like that in verbalizing this, it is like saying an affirmation to remind the little ones that yes, they CAN add!
Although I originally created this game for elementary-age kids, I was easily able to adapt it for my four year old to work on simple addition skills. He loved it so much, he actually continued playing it by himself when we were done. Here is an example of how we played it in the car while waiting to pick up my older daughter from school (this game was SUCH a lifesaver that day!).
Different options for play include (from easiest to hardest):
One-handed Addition / Subtraction: The first person to say the sum wins. For subtraction, the child must know that you need to first identify the bigger number, then subtract the other number from that.
Two- handed Addition / Subtraction
Say 10 (not competitive): One partner flashes a number with 1 or 2 hands. The other partner must say the number needed to make 10 as quickly as possible. For example, if the first person shows 4 fingers, the other person must say, "6!" Switch roles and repeat.
Make 10 (competitive): Both players show a number with one hand at the same time. The first person to say how much more you need to equal 10 wins the round. For example, if one player showed 2 fingers and the other player showed 3 fingers, then the first person who says, "5" is the winner, because 2 + 3 + 5 = 10.
Make 20 (competitive): Both players show a number with two hands at the same time. The first person to say how much more you need to equal 20 wins the round.
For preschoolers or those who are still learning the concept of counting and basic addition, I basically just do a lot of slow paced "practice" rounds. So no, don't shout out the answer and beat them every time. Instead, I recommend using this as an opportunity to think aloud your math thinking (narrate how you are adding the two numbers together) or teach a strategy, such as counting on.
It is okay if you keep having the same pair of numbers, this allows the child to build fluency of math facts.
What I love about this game is how adaptable it is for a wide range of children. We can play this anywhere, any time, for almost any age. You can shout out loud for added excitement, or make whispering the answer a "rule" if around other people. I strongly recommend you keep this one in your back pocket of game ideas for those moments your kids are starting to get bored because this is basically as low-prep as you can get!