Here’s a fun game – kids don’t even realize that they’re learning arithmetic. You will need a set of base ten blocks and two dice.
The smallest of these blocks are 1cm x 1cm cubes (1’s units). Also included in the set are 10’s rods, 100’s flats, and 1000’s cubes.
For our game, we take turns rolling two dice. Players receive one 1’s unit for each pip on the dice. Three-year olds can play to (at least) 50. A four-year old who already knows the game can have fun playing to 200. Older kids might play to 500 or 1000 (part of your goal-score depends on how many sets of blocks are available).
As an example, if a player rolls a 3 and a 2, say, “here’s your 3 (set down three units), and here’s your 2 (set down two units).” While it might be tempting to say, “3+2=5” and hand the child 5 units, that is defeating the purpose. Take your time, and the child will eventually (quite quickly if you play often) memorize all the addition basic addition facts and have fun while doing it! If the player rolls a five and a six, say “Here’s your 5 (set down five units), and here’s your six (set down six units).” Younger children will want to count their units every turn, older children will be able to remember. You do not have to formally instruct your kids to count – they’ll do it on their own and have fun doing it if you don’t make it “schoolwork” for them or get impatient about all the time they take counting up their score every turn.
Whenever a player has ten of the 1’s units, they can be exchanged for a ten-rod. Younger children will need to count them every time; older children will get to where they recognize combinations and be able to make more advanced exchanges. Again, do not prompt the math involved in calculating the exchanges. When kids do this on their own (and observe you doing the short-cuts), they’ll figure it out.
Children who have played this game should not have any difficulty understanding carrying and borrowing (regrouping) when they get to those concepts in their written arithmetic.
In our family, we have a rule that if the dice fall off the table, we still look at the number on the dice but the player loses that many units. Three-year-olds can play to at least fifty; attention spans increase with age (my four-year old always wanted to play to three hundred). This is an amazingly simple game that kids have a lot of fun playing, and don’t even realize that they’re learning to add.