The WSJ Recommends Six Math Games, Three of Which Are From Motion Math, A Startup Company We Invested In

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Board games can offset some of the disadvantages of speaking English, though only if played in a specific way. Some kindergartners who played a board game with the numbers 1 through 100 lined up in straight rows of 10 improved their performance at identifying numbers and placing numbers on a number line, according to a 2014 study led by Elida Laski, an assistant professor of applied and developmental psychology at Boston College. The rows of 10 helped children see that the number system is based on tens.

But the children improved only if researchers had them count aloud starting with the number of the square where they had landed; if children landed on square 5 and spun a 2, for example, they would count, “6, 7.” This skill, called “counting on,” is useful in early arithmetic. Kids who counted starting with “1” for every turn improved their performance only half as much.

Games such as “Chutes and Ladders” can have the same effect if children count on with each turn, Dr. Laski says. Studies show games without numbers in the squares, or set up in a winding or circular pattern, such as Candy Land, don’t provide the same benefits.

Just drawing a board game on paper or cardboard and playing it with a preschooler a few times can firm up counting skills. “It’s definitely more fun than doing a work sheet, and just as valuable,” Dr. Laski says.

Children whose parents exposed them to number games and showed they enjoyed playing with numbers tended to have better skills, according to the 2014 study co-written by Dr. LeFevre.

Math teacher Andrew Stadel wants to pass on his interest in math to his 4-year-old son Patrick. A video game, “Hungry Guppy” by Motion Math, based in San Francisco, drew Patrick’s attention at age 2; players drag together bubbles with dots to add them, then feed them to a fish. He is now playing its successor for older kids, “Hungry Fish.” Patrick is “curious about what numbers will pair up to make the desired sum,” and if he makes a mistake, “there’s not a huge penalty and it’s not deflating to him,” Mr. Stadel says.

Such video games build fluency in doing calculations, freeing mental energy for learning. A game called “Addimal Adventures” by Teachley teaches different strategies for addition, showing “there’s more than one way to solve a problem,” says Allisyn Levy, vice president of an educational digital-game line, GameUp, offered by BrainPOP, New York City, a creator of animated educational content.

Ten-year-old Luke Sullivan of Marietta, Ga., says a game called “Addition Blocks” by Fluency Games of Smyrna, Ga., helped him learn when he started playing it two years ago. “You realize it’s educational, but then you start to enjoy it,” Luke says.


Read the entire article on, and learn more about Hungry Guppy, Hungry Fish and Match. 

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