A few years ago, I provided training for teachers in how to teach maths in a more engaging way. My answer? Games. Always games. When you’re engaged in a game, you are playing. It’s fun. You relax. You focus on the end goal – winning the game. The maths you’re doing is a means to an end. You are motivated to do the maths to play the game. You want to delve a bit deeper into the maths, so that you can improve your gameplay. Playing mathematical games is a great way for parents to help children change their attitude towards maths or to encourage them to explore the subject more deeply.

Here’s a game you might like to try… The Highest Number Challenge

Initial set up: 

  • Take a pack of playing cards and remove the Jacks, Queens, Kings and Jokers.
  • Each player has a piece of paper, on which they draw a row of four boxes, next to each other. 

Aim of the Game: The winner is the player who ends up with the highest number. 

How to play:

  • Decide which player will start.
  • The starting player draws a card from the top of the deck.  They then write this number in one of their boxes. The player may choose to place the number in any of the four available boxes. If an ace is drawn, write 1. If a 10 is drawn, write 0. Once a number has been placed it can’t be moved later on. Each number drawn must be placed, no cards can be skipped.
  • Once a card has been used, it is placed on a discard pile.
  • The next player now draws a new card from the deck and places the number in a box, in the same manner.
  • Play continues clockwise with players gradually filling up their grids.


  • Aim for the lowest number.
  • Aim for the closest to 500.
  • Use fewer boxes and digits, e.g. try with just hundreds, tens and units.
  • Use more boxes and digits, e.g. try with tens of thousands, thousands, hundreds, tens and units.
  • Label the boxes in different ways. Instead of having thousands, hundreds, tens and units, add a decimal point to create tenths, hundredths and thousands. This won’t change how the base game plays, (though it may help children develop their understanding of the number line being infinite), but would change the ‘closest to 500’ variation. 
  • Use just one suit of cards. Or use one suit of cards and shuffle the used card back into the pack after each turn, so that there is always the same probability of each number showing up.
  • Allow players to skip a certain number of cards. Experiment with different numbers of skips. 
  • Add jokers into the pack. Experiment with different ways to use them… e.g. as a wild card (enter any number you wish), to swap numbers already placed, to force an opponent to redraw…