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How to Gamify Your Math Lessons
Oct 07

How to Gamify Your Math Lessons

By Elephant Learning | Teaching Math

Gamification is finding a way to make math fun for kids, making math play rather than work. The gamification of math lessons happens when you identify where math occurs in either actual games or in the world around you — always using math as the foundation. It’s fairly simple to do and can make all the difference when it comes to your child’s relationship with math. 

Here, we’ll look at what gamification is, why it matters and how to put this concept to use in helping your child succeed in math.

Games With Math vs. Gamification of Math

The concept of “gamification” can be difficult for some parents to grasp, oftentimes because of the influx of math apps and programs out there that are, in reality, just video games with math problems dropped in. This often isn’t helpful to children struggling in math, because the math part of the game is still a chore. It’s something to just get through before you get back to the game. This is not gamifying math; it’s games with some math sprinkled in.

Related: 5 Common Math App Pitfalls — And How Elephant Learning Is Different

Making math fun isn’t a bad thing, though. It just needs to happen correctly. When you “gamify” math, you’re giving your child a fun math experience that keeps math as the focus. Elephant Learning’s approach is to use our proven effective math curriculum as the foundation and build games out of it rather than the other way around. You have to make the math itself enjoyable versus disguising math with fun from other sources.

How to Gamify Math Lessons in Real Life

Making math fun for your child within the confines of your everyday world is easy. Let’s say you’re walking down the sidewalk with your child and they say, “Oh, there’s a train.” That’s an opportunity for you to ask how many train cars they can see. How many engines are on the train? 

Even if it’s just their toys sitting out on the floor, you could ask them, “Can you give me three toy dogs right now?” Then your child has to identify what’s a dog, what’s not a dog and how many of them equal three.

Take whatever your child can identify and formulate a math lesson that’s on their level. 

How to Gamify Math Lessons Using Board Games

Board games are an excellent way to make math fun for your child. There are lots of ways they can practice math skills during a family game night. For example, they have to roll the die, they have to identify the number on the die, then they have to produce that number of spaces on the board. 

When using board games to gamify math lessons, though, it’s really important that the game not be beyond your child’s level of comprehension or, if you’re playing the game with them, that you understand what’s beyond their level and then you do those parts of the game for them. You don’t want to ask them to do anything beyond that, because that can cause frustration and your child will no longer enjoy the experience (thus defeating the purpose of gamifying your math lesson).

Some board games that might be a good fit for your child’s developing math skills could include Candyland or Chutes and Ladders. Both involve simple counting. If your child is beyond counting and moving on to other math skills, board games like Monopoly or The Game of Life could be more appropriate.  

Pitfalls and Problems

When gamifying a math lesson, remember that you’re working with a human being. You wouldn’t go to your job and start telling people that they’re blatantly wrong, so you can’t do that with your toddler or preschooler. You can’t say, “Oh, you’re wrong. Why don’t you get this?” Your child doesn’t know why they don’t get a concept. What are they going to say to you? Questions like these only lead to tears at math time — this isn’t making the math experience fun at all!

Related: Answers to Your Top Questions About Math Anxiety 

Instead of telling your child they’re wrong and asking why they don’t understand, you want to ask them why they think their answer is right.  

“Oh, you think five plus four is 10? Why do you think that?”

When your child tells you why, listen to the answer and do not try to correct them while they explain. You’ll be able to realize exactly what the gap in understanding is. It is typically easy to either help them through definition or give them a hint that helps them figure out the correct answer. The hint is the preferred method because when a student gets an “aha” moment from solving a puzzle in real life or a game, then they own the win and they build intuition. 

Related: The Three-Step Method to Teaching Math 

Bringing Math to Life for Your Child

Take math out of the classroom and bring it to life in a tangible, enjoyable way. Gamifying your math lessons, whether using an actual game or real life scenarios, is a great method of making math fun for your child, not just work.

No more tears at math time!

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The Early Years: Teaching Young Children Math Concepts
Sep 30

The Early Years: Teaching Young Children Math Concepts

By Elephant Learning | Teaching Math

Studies show that early math skills have far-reaching benefits beyond just school performance, so naturally you want to teach your child math concepts early to give them the best edge throughout their life and career.

But when do “the early years” begin? How early is too early? And, for that matter, where do you start when the time comes? Here is everything you need to know about teaching early math, from understanding when they’re ready to learn, to tips for teaching foundational math concepts.

Is My Child Ready to Learn Math Concepts?

Everything depends on the student. We’ve had two-year-olds in the Elephant Learning system that have thrived, but we’ve also had two-year-olds in the system that just aren’t ready yet. 

You have to judge your child’s readiness and honestly ask yourself, are they ready for this step? These are crucial years for a child. In some cases, they’re still learning to speak. Can they even say numbers? What’s the point in asking them “how many” in a math problem, if they can’t even articulate an answer?

Ask yourself: 

  • Can your child say numbers out loud?
  • Can your child see numbers as numerals and then say them?
  • Can your child begin counting?

If yes, great. Your child is likely ready to learn math concepts. But if not, no worries. There’s honestly no hurry and here’s why: it’s very common for us to have students in the Elephant Learning system at ages four or five years who start at the very basic counting skills, but then move on to multiplication and more difficult concepts in the span of three to six months. 

The First Step: Identifying What Your Child Already Knows

Regardless of your child’s age, when you want to begin teaching them a math concept, you have to identify the starting point of your child’s comprehension. This way, you can ensure you’re not wasting your time or confusing your child. 

Related: How to Evaluate Your Child’s Math Skills Based on Language 

Use language to find out what level your child is at. What words do they understand and not understand? 

If you’re teaching your child during their early years, around the toddler age, it’s likely that if your child is familiar with ANY math concept, it’s going to be counting (and if they’re not, as stated above, that’s fine, too — there’s more on how to introduce them to counting below). 

How can you test your child’s counting abilities? First, ask your child how many items are in a group. Can they count them?

Then, take the evaluation a step further and ask your child to produce, rather than just count. Have them separate out a certain number of objects out of a larger group of objects. This tests whether or not your child further comprehends the concept of counting and being able to stop counting once they reach the desired number. 

Finally, you can then see if your child is able to “count on,” by asking them to start counting beyond a number other than zero (i.e. “How many would I have if I had two more than the eight you just gave me?” If they can “count on,” then they’ll start counting at nine. If not, they’ll begin counting the total number of objects all over again, from one).

Does your child know how to count? If so, then you can move on to other concepts. If not, here’s how to get them started. 

Related: The Three-Step Method to Teaching Math

Teaching Your Child to Count 

When teaching children to count, it’s all about definition, recognition and production

The first step is being able to define a number. Can your child recognize a numeral? Can they say the word? 

Show your child a singular object, call it “one” and show them the numeral “1.” Use the language in context and help them learn to define numbers. If they’ve mastered this first definition phase, they’ll be able to say the word “one,” recognize the symbol “1” and say “one” when they see the symbol, as well as recognize one object. 

Once you’re confident your child understands the definition of “one,” then you can test their recognition. This test is as simple as holding up fingers and asking, “How many?” It’s asking “how many” all throughout your daily life. If you see them counting to get the answer, they’re showing recognition. 

After your child can recognize numbers and counting, move on to production. Ask them to give you a certain number of objects. If they’re able to slide over that number of objects and stop there, then they’re able to produce and they’ve mastered counting. 

In the Elephant Learning system, we start by teaching children to count with one to five. After they get to a certain level of recognition, we start teaching them to identify five through 10 while they’re learning to produce in quantities of one to five. After they can recognize those numbers, we move on to double digits: 11, 12 and 13. Then we can start to establish the rest of the teens and up to 20.

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Stay Calm Through the Learning Process

The one thing you want to make sure you do during this process is to stay calm. Keep in mind, children at this age are prone to forget math concepts from day to day. If, for example, your child learns how to “count on” on Tuesday, but then can’t recall how to do so on Wednesday, it’s no big deal. 

Additionally, children of this age often have issues with their attention spans. Just be aware of your child’s attention span and don’t try to push them beyond it. Hold their attention as long as possible, but don’t force anything — that can just make them tired and cranky. 

Remember: This is hard work for children. Counting on your fingers seems easy to me and you, but for a child, it’s a challenge. 

The key point is to understand where your child is and work with them where they are. If you start to challenge them and they don’t respond positively, just take things back a step and keep practicing. The more you practice a math skill, the faster they’ll learn it.

The Result?

If you can do all of the above and get your child counting to 20, then they’re entering kindergarten ahead of their peers and, statistically speaking, they have a good chance at going to college and being prepared for STEM fields. 

The Three-Step Method to Teaching Math
Sep 23

The Three-Step Method to Teaching Math

By Elephant Learning | Teaching Math

If you want to help your child learn new math concepts, then effective teaching and communication methods are your best tools. The first step is understanding your child’s level (learn how to do that here). If you are not working with your student at their level, then it will be difficult for them to understand you and that can actually inhibit your student from learning.

The following three-step process to teach math effectively is what we use at Elephant Learning and it is something you can use in your own work with your child. It includes defining an idea, determining if a child recognizes a definition and then allowing a child to produce the idea in order to demonstrate their comprehension. 

For example:

  • You show your child three objects and say, “This is three.” This is defining.
  • You hold up three objects and ask your child, “How many do I have?” If they respond with “three,” you know they are recognizing.
  • You ask your child to give you three objects and they do so correctly. Now, they are comprehending

This last step is the proverbial checkmark. If your child can do this, then they truly understand the math concept.

This three-step process can be used with all math concepts that you would want to teach your child, including counting, subtraction, multiplication and fractions. 

1/ Define the Idea

Defining a math concept for your child is where the primary “instruction” is going to occur. You’re going to show them an idea, have them exhibit the idea and then label it with the name of the concept. Let’s go back to a previous analogy we’ve given on how to teach a child their colors.

Related: The Real Reason Math Curriculum is Failing Your Child

You can’t just verbally tell a child what the color red “is” and expect them to understand it. What you do is you show a child red objects and then label them as red, so they can then recognize the color at a later time. Similarly, you have to show a child a math concept and then label it, therefore defining the idea, before they can truly comprehend the concept. You can’t describe to a child what addition is if you’re not doing it. 

Defining a math concept with a child isn’t as complex as it sounds. Ask the child to give you five things and then four more things. Now how many do you have? Nine. That’s addition. After the child counts to get the answer let them know, “That is right! Four added to five is nine.”  

2/ Recognize the Definition

Can your child accurately give you four building blocks, then five more building blocks and then tell you how many they have total? Then they recognize addition. At first, your child is likely going to count all nine building blocks in order to give you an answer, and that’s okay. 

But at some point, you want them to move to a more advanced counting strategy. They should be able to “count on,” or start at five and then count on to nine, without having to count all of the building blocks over again. The Elephant Learning app accomplishes this by hiding the first amount of items from the app user, so they’re forced to start at their original number (five) and add on the four items that they can see to get to the correct answer of nine. 

3/ Demonstrate Comprehension 

Once your child is confidently and correctly using the concept to solve problems, they are demonstrating comprehension. For counting, this would be if they are able to produce, for example, seven objects and stop at seven.  For addition and subtraction, that is identifying that addition or subtraction would answer a word problem, or a real life problem. For multiplication, that is using it as a tool to solving questions with grouping or arrays.

Related: How to Evaluate Your Child’s Math Skills Based on Language

How to Deal With Pitfalls and Problems

If you’re working with your child and he or she is not demonstrating that they’re able to recognize the definition, it’s just a matter of going back to the definition and explaining it again. This is where you don’t want to get frustrated. You want to remain calm and patient, but don’t repeat yourself too much. If you and your child are both frustrated because they’re not getting the answers right, it can only lead to math anxiety and later avoidance of math on their part down the road.

Maybe it’s not a matter of your child not understanding, but it’s that you’re not teaching the definition properly, at which point it might be time to consult Elephant Learning or another online resource to see how best to teach these definitions. 

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Teaching Math Effectively

Teaching math effectively is so much more involved than giving your child a math sheet filled with problems or asking them to memorize some multiplication tables. It requires passing on the experience of math concepts and ensuring a child truly comprehends a math concept before going on to the next one. However, with a little bit of work and a lot of patience, parents can teach their children math in a way that sets them up for future success. 


How to Evaluate Your Child’s Math Skills Based on Language
Aug 27

How to Evaluate Your Child’s Math Skills Based on Language

By Elephant Learning | Teaching Math

In order to increase your child’s math skills, you have to identify the starting point of your child’s comprehension. There are strategic ways to do this to ensure you’re not confusing your child even more. 

Rather than evaluate your child’s math skills by giving them a problem like “What is 5+4?” or “What is 7×9?”, where they could have memorized the answer, try to evaluate your child’s math skills based on language. If your student does not understand what is happening with the symbols behind what is on a piece of paper, they are not going to be able to apply the math to solve real life problems. Because success and ease at teaching comes from comprehension rather than proficiency, this will also ensure that your student is able to understand what you are saying when you are introducing new ideas.

Ask your child some word questions to determine if they understand what you mean when talking about math. Here are some examples of how you can test understanding math concepts.


To test counting, there are several things you can do. If you want to see if your student has comprehension, you may try a producing exercise with them. 

Ask them to give you eight things. If the student is able to pass over eight items, stopping at eight without help, then they are proficient at counting. If they continue, it is okay; let them continue to see how high they may get, but you may then see if they are proficient at “How many?” This is what many parents play with their children already. You hold out eight fingers and you ask the child “How many fingers am I holding up?” If they are able to count and get the answer, that is good. If they say something like “Five and three,” then you will need to continue easing the problems until you can find which numbers they understand and which they do not.

If they are showing that they can produce, you may move ahead a step further. Ask them if you had one more, how many would you have. Remember, it is okay if they count to get the answer or use their fingers; they will develop proficiency at mental math in time. Until then, let them use the strategies they understand to solve the problems. The slowness of the solution should cause them to come up with better strategies.

Subtraction and Addition

When it comes to subtraction and addition, some questions you could ask would be something like, “If I had eight peaches, and someone came and took four away, how many would I have left?” You can do this with or without fingers.

Because addition and subtraction are two sides of the same idea, you can alternate between addition and subtraction such as asking, “If I had 14 ships and someone brought me two more, how many would have?” 

Remember — it’s okay for your child to count to get the answer or to use their fingers. It means that they understand how to solve the problem and because of that they understand the language. That’s good. 

If they are not proficient, that is okay, too. Go to easier subjects and find out what they understand and do not. Catching them up will be fast and easy if you know you are starting in the right place.


When it comes to evaluating multiplication, and knowing whether or not your child understands the language and concept versus having just memorized their multiplication tables, we use groupings by rows or collections. 

You may arrange six rows of seven items and ask “How many are there?” If your child is counting to get the answer and they’ve memorized their times tables, then this may be an indication of a problem. You may quickly be able to catch them up if you say something like “What is 6 times 7?” after they count to answer. 

A lot of times, when students who have memorized their multiplication tables make this real-life connection of what multiplication actually means, they’re able to get the concept. They glide through multiplication moving forward. 

Fractions, Decimals and Percentages

These three math topics are all representations of proportionality. Students that are having issues understanding the idea of proportionality will have issues with all three.  

They are best evaluated visually. The easiest way to understand proportionality is through fractions and the best way to do this in real life is through measurements — anything that breaks out a measuring cup, ruler, or measuring tape. By working with your student on a project like this, you will quickly see what they understand and do not. Where they do not understand, take note and back off; where they do understand, you may give them more challenging questions.

When it comes to fractions, it’s important for children to understand that fractions, decimals and percentages are all representations of the same idea: proportionality. It’s just a quirk of human language that we’ve agreed upon these three different ways to represent the same idea. No one way is more correct than another. Telling a student this is important. It is often overlooked in the classroom and ends up contributing to anxiety around these topics.

What to Do When Your Child Doesn’t Understand

What can you do if you’re working with a student, but you’re seeing that they don’t understand something? It’s pretty simple, actually.

Let them answer the question incorrectly. Ask them why they think it is the correct answer. Based on their reasoning, you should be able to see exactly what the child does not understand and then give them a hint that allows them to have that “aha” moment or clarify the idea that is misunderstood.  

Related: Answers to Your Top Questions About Math Anxiety 

This is the process we encourage our parents to use when working with their child in the Elephant Learning app. Every parent we have spoken to that has used the above advice has been able to coach their child into understanding. For example, one parent discovered that her daughter thought “older” meant “taller” and that was causing the issue!

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It’s very important not to get frustrated if your child does not understand a concept. This is where Elephant Learning really excels. We help you find your student’s level without the exhaustion. The computer has infinite patience.

Please don’t keep pounding away at the same concepts in the same manner if your child isn’t getting it. Sometimes it is best to take a break. Go online and see how other people are teaching these concepts; you can even look at how the Elephant Learning app is teaching a concept and replicate our methods. 

Building a Solid Math Foundation 

Evaluating your child’s math skills is so much more than just giving them a math sheet filled with problems, or looking at how well they’re doing in class. It’s all about ensuring they have a strong math foundation that holds up over time as they move into harder and harder concepts. Evaluating their comprehension based on the language surrounding math makes building this foundation that much easier.