Gaming the System.

Sometimes I lie to Ali.

I say things like, “I’ve got a game for us to play today!!”

When the truth is that I’m banging my brain against the inside of my skull trying to hurry up and concoct an idea to make school into a game while she asks repeatedly, “What?? What is the game??”

Sometimes I get lucky and she totally buys it, and other times I don’t and she says “That wasn’t a game. That was just schoolwork.”

This lying pattern is most prevalent in my life on the mornings when it is apparent that she’s not excited about school.  And yes – I know that one day, she’s going to have to learn that it doesn’t matter whether she’s excited or not.

But for now, I want her to at least think that learning is fun.  So I’d prefer to lie to her and hope I can come up with something before she loses faith.

Which is what brings us to today: one of my rare wildly successful game attempts.

I made an Excel template for her multiplication tables to save myself the manual drawing of it.  On a whim, I highlighted some of the squares pink before I printed it out.  And it looked like a game.

“Mommy!! Where are you?? I thought we were starting school!”

“We are! I’m just…I’m just getting a game for us to play!”

“What game?? What’s the game??”

thirty minutes later…

“I WON!!! I WON!!! THAT WAS AN AWESOME GAME!!!!  Can you call Gramamma and tell her that I beat you?  Can you tell everyone on your blog that I beat you???”

So I am here to tell you: She beat me fair and square, and practiced multiplication while she was doing so.

Here’s how to play:

Multiplication and Addition Math Game and Template

All you need is a game board template (feel free to download mine, modify mine, or make your own), two pencils, and either a dice, number cards, or a number spinner.

(We used 1-10 number cards from another board game.)


Print out the game board and put the first answer in the middle.  We were playing multiplication, so 5 x 5 = 25.  You can totally play as addition, though, in which case 5 + 5 = 10.

Multiplication and Addition Math Game and Template

Player One rolls the dice, draws a number card, or spins the wheel.  Let’s say they get a three.  They can choose to solve any problem that is three spaces away from the starting square:

Multiplication and Addition Math Game and Template

The answer to the square they choose is their point value for that round, and the pink squares are worth double.

Multiplication and Addition Math Game and Template

(For the pink squares, they still write the answer to the actual problem, but when figuring the score, double it.)

Player two then rolls, draws, or spins.  Let’s assume they get a five.  They can pick a problem five squares away from the last play.  In this case, they have less options available to them:

Multiplication and Addition Math Game and Template

If a player rolls, draws, or spins a number that is impossible to play (such as a ten, in the case above,) they don’t get to play that turn.  This will come up more as the game goes on and more squares are already solved.

Play until the board is filled, or until you’ve played a set number of turns.  We played until I could sense that Ali’s interest was about to downgrade.

Multiplication and Addition Math Game and Template

While thinking we were totally just playing a game, Ali practiced multiplication in a way that made her think differently,


practiced writing numbers,


and practiced her victory gloating.


Here are the benefits I see to this game:

  • It puts the kid in charge: will they choose an easier square and make less points, or a harder square to make more points?
    (It may also give you insight into their level of competitiveness.)
  • It breaks up the monotony of filling out a multiplication table, therefore making sure that the process isn’t rote.
  • The gameplay takes skill, but winning partially depends on the luck of the draw, therefore leveling the playing field between parent and child or between different aged children.  I drew too high of a number to play several times, and Ali lucked into some good very draws.

Ways to adjust for other learning levels:

  • Easier: Use it for addition rather than multiplication.
  • Easier: Use a smaller board – for instance, only go up to 5.
  • Harder: Make the kid figure out what the double score would be.
  • Harder: Modify the playing board to contain multiple colors of squares for doubling, tripling, and quadrupling the points.
  • Harder: Have the kid add up the final scores.
  • Variety: Change the location of the squares.

Enjoy, and be sure to let me know if you get beat by a kid!