Mental maths: Games for car trips and around the home!


AN exhibition of strong mental maths skills often indicates the child's understanding of the concept involved. Regular practice with mental maths has been shown to enhance any form of maths programmes, resulting in significant improvement for children in tests of computation and problem solving. The following games and activities can be played on the move, at home or online. Perhaps these may inspire you and your child to create your own original mental maths games.

Car games

  • Prediction

1. At the beginning of a trip, have the adult (excluding the driver) or child guess how many green cars will be spotted before the trip ends.
2. All the green cars spotted make for a single total. Someone can act as the impartial recorder (an adult or the oldest child ticks on a notepad), while the rest become spotters.
3. At the end of the trip, the one who whose prediction was closest to the actual total wins.

Of course, the item to spot can be almost anything. Try to pick something that presents a challenge...thus exclude traffic lights or road signs.

  • License number maths

This is a game for two players. Get each child to guess if there are more license plates that end in an odd or even number. (plates that end in a letter do not count)
1. Give each child a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, or something to mark with.
2. Set a time limit, usually 10-15 minutes.
3. Have one child look for plates that end in an odd number, and the other look for an even number.
4. A tick mark or dash should be marked for each car they find.
5. At the end of the time limit, have the children add up their marks by the number of marks obtained.

  • License number maths extended

Follow steps 1 - 4 as above.
5. Group the marks in sets of the multiplication table you set, eg 2x, 3x, 4x, etc.
6. At the end of the time limit, have the children add up the number of groups obtained.

  • Mark!

Get your children to spot licence plates of the vehicles passing by. This can be done while on a car trip, a family walk, or just looking out of his home. The challenge is to see who adds up the digits most quickly. This is also an opportunity for them to employ any short cuts in number bonds to get the addition done more quickly.

  • Road trip multiplication
This is a game for two or more players. 1. Decide on a multiplication table to use, or start with the 2X and work upwards. 2. Beginning with the first person, start counting from one. 3. The player whose number marks a multiple, calls out "mark" instead of the number itself. (Note: Instead of "mark", any agreed word will do but keep it monosyllabic for easier calling out.)   Example For a 2X table and a three player game, the following applies: Person 1 calls out:   1 Person 2 calls out:   Mark Person 3 calls out:   3 Person 1 calls out:   Mark Person 2 calls out:   5 Person 3 calls out  Mark ...and so on.   4. If the player (at whose turn the number is indeed a multiple) does not say "mark" and instead says the number itself, the player drops out of the current game. 5. This will go on until only one player is left, who wins.   It is a fun way to revise multiplication tables especially on long car trips.
  • Road trip multiplcation extended
Repeat the above but by using not just a multiplication table but a combination of two multiplication tables, eg. 5x3 or 15.

Maths activities for around the home

  • Appreciating symmetry
1. Identify a list of symmetrical items in a particular area in the home. Then extend the area to different parts of the home. Remember that symmetry can be found in an individual item or in patterns on an item. 2. Use online search to discover symmetry in objects around the world. For example, in famous man-made structures.
  • Estimating weight
Using a standard item of about 100 grams (either use a fruit like an average sized apple or use the kitchen weighing scale), ask your child to: 1. identify a list of say 10 items in a particular area in the home (eg. the kitchen) that are heavier and lighter. 2. estimate the weight of each item by comparing with the standard item. 3. check how close the estimate is to the actual weigh by using a kitchen scale.
  • Keeping a journal
The younger children might find this more interesting. Basically, this means recording the time spent at various daily activities:  at school, entertainment, studying at home, sleeping, and so on. 1. Define a designated period, eg a day (24 hours), a week (24x7 hours), etc. 2. Make up the list of activities with your child and then set them to capture the times spent over the identified activities in the designated period. 3. You can introduce the concept of fractions (if they have not started on that in school) by showing them how to express the time taken for each activity over the total time (ie the number of hours in the designated period).

No doubt you can also use the journal recording results to impress on them other relevant life issues.