My Short List: Books and Games for Parents and Young Kids

February 22, 2011

A parent recently asked me a great question: what books (and games) would be useful for home use?

There are lots of resources around, such as living math, or the book list from Love 2 Learn 2 Day, where you can find great ideas for math books and games to read and play at home.

However, sometimes the sheer profusion of options is a bit overwhelming. That’s why I want to give a short list of my current favorites for parents with young kids.

Books for Adults

What’s Math Got to Do With It by Jo Boaler
A great overview of what math is, how best to do it, how best to teach it, and why we should care.
An important read for parents and teachers.

Old Dogs, New Math: Homework Help for Puzzled Parents by Mike Askew
Sage advice on what’s ahead in the math curriculum, how it’s different than what we learned, and why the changes were made. Also some cool games, activities, and puzzles.

A Mathematician’s Lament:
How Schools Cheat Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form
by Paul Lockhart
A dazzling screed against the standard vision of math education, and one of the best pieces on what math really is and what it feels like to do it. Almost too radical for me, at times, and you should take his suggestions with a grain of salt, but still a tremendous read.

Books for Kids (and adults)

Games for Math by Peggy Kaye
Peggy Kaye brings such a sense of joy to these simple games.
Tons of great suggestions on quick activities for home use. Perfect for K-3.

Anno’s Math Games by Mitsumasa Anno
A beautiful and inventive books to communicate subtle mathematical concepts.

The Sir Cumference Series by Cindy Neuschwander
Math infused fairy tales. What’s not to love?

Family Math by Stenmark, Thompson, and Cossey
I haven’t read this yet, but it has been so highly recommended to me, I think it should be on the list.
My copy is in the mail.

Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip
I had this book as a kid, and loved it.
It’s not explicitly trying to be a math book, but I can’t think of a better introduction to infinity.

Games for Kids and Adults

I would describe all of these games as mathematical in some way.
All of them are worth playing, and worth getting addicted to.

Set — one of the all time best family games.
Nim — I spent many car trips playing nim with my little brother. Later, I read about “nimbers” and other contributions to game theory and set theory based on the game.
Hex — Phenomenal game, which I’ve used in math classes and with students for years. There are some beautiful geometric and topological questions that arise from the game, but the strategy alone is enough to make it worth playing.
Cribbage — I played cribbage incessantly when I was a kid. I credit it with my skill in adding and finding combinations.
Casino — Another classic from my youth. Really fun, and also great practice for adding and subtracting, and subtler strategies. I recommend Royal Casino, with Sweeps.
Backgammon — I played briefly when I was young, but didn’t see how much deep strategy there was to this game. I rediscovered it as a teacher, and was hooked. Excellent for probability.
Pente — Another I wish I’d known when I was younger. Simple to learn, but devious to learn to play well.
Dots and Boxes — All you need is pencil and paper, and kids can play this game endlessly. Some beautiful strategy, and also good exposure to arrays and multiplication.

Also, Games with Pencil and Paper by Eric Solomon has some more excellent games to play anytime.

For more, check out Avery’s blog for his top twenty games. While I haven’t played every one of them, I trust the man’s judgment. People who know how to play deserve one’s trust, I think. I have especially high regard for Avery in this area, because he and I are both Scrabble players, and we used to play together from time to time back when we were both at Saint Ann’s, and while I consider myself a pretty fierce competitor, it was all I could do to take one game in five from the man.

Happy playing and reading!

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