What Are The Best Math Toys for Kids? – 2018 Edition
Mathematics is among the most important skills that your child will need to learn to be successful in our rapidly-evolving and high-tech world. But teaching math may not be your strong point, and you may have reservations about how effective your child’s school is at teaching math.
What’s a responsible parent to do? The answer lies in math toys. Finding the right math toys for your child will guarantee that they get a strong foundation for the rest of their mathematics study.
In this article, we’ll explain why your child needs math toys, which math toys will benefit your child the most, and what properties to look for in math toys that you may be considering for your child.
Math Toy Reviews
Our #1 Choice – Melissa & Doug Abacus – Classic Wooden Educational Counting Toy
The Melissa & Doug Abacus – Classic Wooden Educational Counting Toy is an iconic and durable math toy which your child can keep with them for their entire career in mathematics.
- Great for getting children engaged in mathematics
- Uses tactile tools to calculate
- Highly durable
- No instruction manual
Though abacuses are ancient counting tools, many children in the present day find them to be excellent ways of learning mathematics skills like basic arithmetic. Unlike calculators, abacuses show your child a counting system rather than spitting back the answer without any effort.
You will need to learn how to use the abacus to help your child along with learning using the toy. You will probably also need to arrange for a problem set for your children to do to practice with the abacus.
Learning with the abacus is great for your child’s mental acuity and their mathematical flexibility. Because it is a hands-on system, children who struggle to enjoy math when using a calculator may find that the abacus is the missing piece that they have always been looking for.
The cheerful colors of the abacus belie its durable design — this abacus will be around for years and years.
Our #2 Choice – Learning Resources Mathlink Cubes, Educational Counting Toy, Set of 100 Cubes
The Learning Resources Mathlink Cubes, Educational Counting Toy, Set of 100 Cubes are a unique approach to arithmetic and constructive play.
- Great for symbolic learning
- Instruction set is unclear
The point of these cubes is to teach your child how to count using symbols, much like with an abacus. The difference is that these cubes can also be used for constructive play.
When used as constructive play, your child can learn how to use fixed units like the cubes in the way that they would plan a house if they were an architect. In other words, the symbolic nature of these blocks can be a bit easier for your child’s imagination to handle in comparison to counting tools like the abacus.
On the other hand, there is no specific counting scheme that is popularly known regarding how to use the blocks to count. You will need to learn a new system and teach it to your child. This means that there may not be an ideal broadly applicable skill your child learns.
Our #3 Choice – Math for Love Prime Climb
The Math for Love Prime Climb is a mathematical board game that will teach your child how to think systematically and strategically at the same time.
- Good for two players
- Aimed at advanced mathematics learners
- Strategic thinking required
- May be too hard for many children in the target age bracket
Mathematical board games are often difficult for children. The difficulty of the game itself may prevent the child from understanding the strategic view of the game. It may also prevent them from competing on an even level with their peers.
The Prime Climb does not suffer from these issues. You will only need one child and one other person to play the board game. The game’s rules are simple, effective, and fun. You will find that making prime numbers out of the pieces is much harder than you initially expected.
The main drawback of this kit is that it does not explain to you what the utility of prime numbers is. The purpose of finding primes is unclear, which makes the entire exercise a bit arbitrary.
Nonetheless, if you can explain to your child the reason for the mathematical concepts which are used in the board game, you can use the game to stimulate your child’s love for mathematics in an entirely new way.
Our #4 Choice – Think Fun Math Dice Junior Game for Boys and Girls Age 6 and Up
The Think Fun Math Dice Junior Game for Boys and Girls Age 6 and Up is a great way to get your child learning mental math in a challenging way.
- Compact set
- Great for training mental math
- Easy to remember the rules
- Very little gameplay or fun value
Tossing a few die is a great way to challenge your child’s mental math abilities. It will also prepare them for later in their lives when they may become interested in die-based games like Dungeons and Dragons.
The core gameplay of this game is very simple: you perform an arithmetic function on the results of the die rolls, using the colors of the die to determine the exact function.
While simple, this game will quickly put your child’s nascent math skills to the test. Your child will need some basic competency in arithmetic before starting the game, however. This game is best played with a child and their teacher or parent.
There isn’t much “gameplay” per se — the point of this math toy is pure learning rather than any kind of competition. For children who need a gamified toy to learn, this toy may be a bit too straightforward and transparent in its goal of helping children to practice the core math skills.
Our #5 Choice – The Learning Journey Match It! Memory – Mathematics – STEM Addition and Subtraction Game Helps to Teach Early Math Facts 30 Matching Pairs
The Learning Journey Match It! Memory – Mathematics – STEM Addition and Subtraction Game Helps to Teach Early Math Facts 30 Matching Pairs is a fun card-based game which will help your child learn matrices, arithmetic, and even some algebra.
- Great learning system
- Interactive and colorful
- Children find it easy to play
- Requires adult supervision
The objective of the game is to improve your child’s memory, mathematics, focus, and confidence. While accomplishing all of these objectives simultaneously would be a feat, you can rest assured that the game will improve your child’s mathematics skills.
The game encourages early learning by presenting complex mathematical concepts in a very simple and easy to approach format. You will need to be your child’s guide, but you will find that the cards do the majority of the tutelage.
Your child will still need to move the game forward by answering questions, but you shouldn’t expect any major need to interfere. Your child will probably take a while to outgrow the lessons in the kit, as it scales from prekindergarten through grade school levels of math.
If you are feeling ambitious, you can even modify the cards to teach more complex concepts. This set is a winner.
What To Look For In Math Toys
Math toys tend to come in two varieties: games and tools. Tools include toys like the abacus or a counting system. Games are card-based, die-based, or board games intended to test your child’s understanding of mathematical content.
Things like durability or build quality are not relevant to math toys. Instead, the principal concerns are ease of use and educational value.
Ease of use is critical because if your child can’t interact with the toy without a lot of friction, they won’t internalize the joy of learning mathematics. They will think of math as a chore, and they won’t flourish.
Likewise, educational value is necessary because there isn’t much point in playing with mathematics toys if they are not improving your child’s mind in some way. There are very few math toys which are explicitly low in educational value, however.
The main challenge is finding a math toy that is at your child’s level of math skill. Having a toy that is too easy will not be educational, whereas having a toy that is too hard will leave your child frustrated with themselves.
The age guides on mathematics toys are usually a decent ballpark figure for when you should be giving the toy to your child, but that does not mean that the toy will be of the right difficulty.
It can be helpful to test your child’s math knowledge before buying a toy. If they seem like they are competent in the skills that a toy purports to teach, you may want to look elsewhere. Your toys should aim to be at the edge of what you think your child can accomplish.
Picking challenging toys helps your children to learn perseverance in addition to the critical math skills that they need to succeed. Don’t be afraid to give your child a hint if they really can’t figure out a problem in one of the toys.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Skills Will My Child Learn From Math Toys?
Your child will learn mathematics from their math toys but the specific skills within mathematics will depend on the toy. Many mathematics toys build arithmetic or basic problem-solving skills rather than spatial relationships or geometry.
Others can build skills like strategic thinking or critical thinking. The skills which your child learns while playing with math toys should be picked carefully.
Toys which build your child’s basic arithmetic skills will rarely build their higher level problem-solving abilities. Likewise, if your child doesn’t have the basics down, the higher level toys will be very painful to engage with.
As a rule of thumb, the longer it takes your child to learn how to use the toy in the first place, the more it will focus on their strategic skills and problem-solving than it will on basic math. Your child needs both basic math and advanced problem-solving, however, so be sure to pick a good mix of toys.
What Are The Best Math Toys For Creative Play?
Math toys tend to be weak in the creative play department, but there are exceptions. These exceptions often appear to be more like puzzles than traditional math toys.
These puzzles provide a system of rules which may differ from the traditional rules of mathematics, but that doesn’t matter. The point is that they encourage your child to think in a rule-driven framework to solve problems.
This skill will serve them well elsewhere.
If you’re a stickler for creative play along with traditional math, you can often find building sets which have math rules incorporated into their use. These are usually not very fun, but they can be very educational.
What Is The Best Way To Use Math Toys?
Unlike with many other toys, your child will always need to be focused in their use of math toys. Likewise, they will not pick up math toys unless prompted, most of the time. You need to develop a mini-curriculum for your child to use their math toys.
You might want to find several math toys and make each into a separate area of study. Some math toys could utilize your child’s arithmetic whereas others could require integrating the basic concepts into multi-step problem-solving.
Generally, you should not be using math toys while on the road or when there are a lot of other distractions. Math toys require focus to use effectively. If your child’s attention will be divided by other goings-on, they will not be getting the benefits from the toy.
Your child will also need to have the occasional bit of assistance while using a math toy. Math is hard, and an adult’s mind is often the missing piece in solving a problem. You will need to use your best judgment regarding when you intervene on your child’s behalf, however.
Intervening too often will leave your child dependent on you for their mathematics abilities, which will not serve them well when they grow up.