Photo by Dino Reichmuth

Continuing on our series on educational games suitable for children stuck in a car, we bring you math games that you can play on the road without any preparation or materials.

Math has a reputation for being a difficult subject which many children struggle with. This reputation is unwarranted, as all you need is a little imagination to bring the topic to life.

Surprisingly, it an easy subject to inject some fun into while traveling, especially for younger children. With these learning games that are easy to learn and play, you will no longer have bored, restless children on your hands anymore!


Sign Calculation

This is a great game for unending road trips. What do all the signs you pass have in common? Whether it is directional signs, navigation signs or speed limits, they all have numbers!

There are endless variety to this useful game. The simplest is to get your kids to add up all the numbers they see. Tack on a few subtractions, multiplications or divisions for advanced learners.

The next step in teaching is to get your children to work backwards. If you pass a ’90’ speed on Route 101, ask them how they can use 90 to get 101 or 101 to get 90.

For the really mathematical kids, throw the order of operations into the mix. Remember BODMAS? Challenge them to divide the first number by the second, multiply the result by the third, add the fourth then subtract the fifth.

Divide, multiply, addition, subtraction. Divide, multiply, addition, subtraction.

After a few more rounds of Sign Calculation, we guarantee that your kids will remember the orders of operations as fluidly as their ABCs!


License to Math

Fun with license plates (Photo by Clem Onojeghuo)

License plates are a good source of random numbers for practicing math. They are a step up from two or three digit numbers you find on signs.

An easy introductory learning game is to get younger children to identify numbers on license plates. This is not as easy as it sounds because the numbers are disjointed by alphabets.

For instance, a license plate like 23W4A6T becomes 2346.

This game trains them to stitch together numbers to recognise patterns and think more abstractly about numbers as they have to keep the numerals in mind.

For a step up in difficulty and more educational value, create math problems with the numbers. Ask them to add the next plate they see to 2346.

License to Math is a great way of familiarizing them with larger numbers. Soon, three, four and even five digit numbers will not be an issue anymore!

Word Problems

Word problems are a dreaded part of tests, combining the worst aspects of essays and math.

Too often, many children are so terrified of it that they miss the point. They fail to see word problems as an educational puzzle to explain a mathematical situation.

On the other hand, ever notice how many word problems have to do with traveling, distance and time?

There is a natural solution to this. Create word problems that they see is relevant to their circumstances. If you do it right, word problems become applied games, much like cracking a safe. Concrete word problems that are useful are far superior to theoretical word problems seen on a test.

Reinforce their learning on speed, distance and time. How long will the trip take at the current speed? What if we drive 10 miles faster? What if we go 10% faster? What time will we reach at the current speed?

Another topic is to teach them to estimation, like estimating the speed of other vehicles using your speed.

Beyond estimating, teach them also to verify their findings. For example, if 2 cars travel at 60 and 70mph, the faster car should take about 9 seconds less to travel 1 mile.

This can also inspire them to think about word problems not as rote learning, but as road learning – a way to understand how they can apply math in daily life.


I Spy Numbers

I Spy Numbers in a colorful landscape (Photo by Redd Angelo)

I Spy Numbers mixes numbers into a game of I Spy.

For reference, you play I Spy by having 1 player be the spy. That player looks for something and say ‘I spy with my little eyes, something red.’ Then the other player(s) have to guess what red object he or she is looking at.

For I Spy Numbers, every time the car passes that object, he will say he spies something blue once, twice and so on.

You can also spy numbers directly, like ’34’ and get your children to figure out where the numbers are. Train their observation skills like a real spy!

This works best in an urban area like a city or town. Hint: If you say you spy pi, your children will be guessing for a loooooong time. Sure, it’s cheating, but we do what we can to keep our sanity!


Competitive Spirit

As with all games, inducing a little competition into the game works wonders to stimulate motivation. If you have 2 or more children, your work is so much easier.

Play the game and make use of the friendly sibling rivalry to entertain them. Promise the winner a small prize and any game will be as intense as the Wimbledon Finals.

If not, you can have a parent-child competition to sneakily motivate them. Again, give them a reward if they win and they will be instantly eager to play. Be sure to keep the competition intense for maximum effect!

Try out these fun yet educational games the next time you have a long road trip and let us know how it goes! After all, what is more satisfactory than not wasting your travel time and spending it productively?

Originally published on Productive Playing. Follow them on Facebook.


Nicholas is passionate about taking learning to a fun level. He believes in providing educational games for all: children, adults and seniors!