Kids who get bored while traveling often start bickering or complaining, making every minute feel like an hour. Parents are often tempted to give in to the easy fix, allowing more screen time than usual. If you’d prefer to limit screen time and keep kids entertained and engaged with family, we’ve got some great ideas. Rather than have the kids “tune out” with electronics, have them “turn on” their brains with math games!
These games will teach the kids to think mathematically and to work together cooperatively. You don’t need any special equipment, but you might find paper and pencil useful for some activities. You can play Guess my Number, The Counting Game, Bing, and Storytelling with a Math Twist anywhere. The other three games work best when traveling by car, bus, or train.
License Plate/ Signs Games
- Ages 3-5: Identify as many different numbers on license plate and signs as possible.
- Ages 6-8: Add up all the digits on a license plate or sign.
- Ages 9-12: Pick any target number under 50. Use other numbers on license plates or signs to get to the target number. You can use any operation (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing). For example, if you pick the number 44, and they see the numbers eight, nine, and four on a sign, they could say 4 x 9= 36 +8 =44. Choose a new number after successfully getting three ways to make the chosen number.
- Ages 12+: Same activity as ages 9-12 but chose a higher target number and let them use the other numbers as exponents. For example, to make the number 150 they might say 82 + 86.
Math skills developed: Number Sense, Divergent Thinking
- Ages 3-5: Count how many horses and trucks (actual objects should depend on the current scenery) you see in five minutes. Which object “won” the race? Were there more horses or trucks?
- Ages 6-8: Think of two creative categories of things you can see out the window. Examples could be, “things that never move,” “things that breathe,” or “things bigger than a house.” Set the timer for five minutes, and count how many objects you find in each of the two categories. After five minutes, determine the winning category and choose new categories.
- Ages 9-12: Use the same rules of with ages 6-8, but make the categories math-related. Examples could be, “things taller than twenty feet,” “things that can travel faster than ten miles an hour,” “things that have a conical shape.”
- Ages 12+: Use the car’s speed to calculate the distance between two objects. The formula for distance is rate multiplied by time (D=R x T). To play this game, it helps to use miles per minute instead of miles per hour. Use the knowledge that 60 MPH equals one mile per minute, and then multiply accordingly or use this chart for quick reference.
30 MPH=.5 miles per minute (mpm)
45 MPH= .75 mpm
60 MPH = 1 mpm
75 MPH = 1.25 mpm
For example, if you saw a cow at 8:52 and a fence at 8:54, and you are traveling at 75 mph, you could calculate that the cow and the fence were 2.5 miles apart.
75 mph = 1.25 mpm.
Distance = 1.25 mpm x 2 minutes.
Math skills developed: Counting, Logic, Algebra, Sorting
- Ages 3-5: Take turns counting by ones. Your child says, “one,” then you say “two,” then your child says “three,” and so on. See how high you can go.
- Ages 6-8: Take turns counting by twos, but any number that has a 0 in it, like 10, 20, or 30, say “Bing!” instead of the number. Anyone who says the number instead of “Bing!” gets a point. See how high the family can count before anyone gets five points. Then change the number the “Bing” represents or try counting by a different number.
- Ages 9-12: This is the same game as ages 6-8 but a bit more challenging! Take turns counting by threes, but replace any number that is a multiple of two with “Bing!” When someone gets five points, change the multiple that gets the “Bing” or count by a different number.
- Ages 12+: This is the next step up in the game. Start with 400, and take turns counting backwards by threes. Replace any number that is a multiple of nine with “Bing!” (Helpful hint: If a number is a multiple of nine, the digits will add up to nine. 3 + 3 + 3 = 9, so 333 is a multiple of nine.) Anyone who says the number instead of “Bing!” gets a point. See how long the family can go before anyone gets five points. When someone gets five points, change the multiple that gets the “Bing” or count by a different number.
- For an extra challenge, replace all prime numbers with “Bing.”
Math skills developed: Number Sense, Counting
Guess My Number
This game is like the classic 20 Questions game with a math twist. One person thinks of a number but doesn’t tell anyone else which number. Other people try to figure out the number by asking questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” The aim is to guess the number in as few questions as possible.
- Ages 3-5: The chosen number should be a whole number between one and 10 (or 30, if your child understands numbers that high). Questions might include, “Is the number greater than two?” “Does the number start with the letter F?”
- 6-8: The chosen number should be a whole number between one and 100(or 1,000, if your child understands numbers that high). Questions might include, “Is the number greater than 50?” “Does the number have a zero in it?”
- Ages 9 and up: The chosen number should be a whole number or a decimal between one and 1,000. Questions might include, “Is the number divisible by two?” “Is it a whole number?”
Math skills developed: Logic, Number Sense, Mathematical Reasoning
Storytelling with a Math Twist
Take turns telling stories or adding on to the same story. The storyteller should include some math riddles in the story. A story could include something such as, “Jack sold his cow for only 10% of what it was worth at market. Other cows at market were selling for 900 magic beans.” After finishing the story, the storyteller asks the listeners to solve one of the included math riddles. Whoever can solve the riddle gets to tell the next story. The storyteller will determine the level of the math riddle, so choose the youngest person gets to tell the first story.
Math skills developed: Number Sense, Divergent Thinking, Word Problems
Mathnasium loves to find fun and unique ways to engage kids in math every day. We'd love to know how you use math to keep kids from asking, "Are we there yet?"