This is a quick and easy activity. I got it from a book my mom loaned me, called Teaching Number in the Classroom. All you need is your fingers, so you can do it while you're waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the car, or anywhere else.
Age: 3-6, depending on the conversation you have with it
Concept/ Skills: Odds & Evens, Addition Fact Fluency up to 10, Flexibility (more than one right way to do it), Subitizing, Mental Math with Fives and Doubles
How to Play: "I'm going to say a number, then as quick as a flash, use your fingers to show me that number." The kid flashes fingers at you and you lather on the compliments when they get it right and fast. That's all there is to it.
How to maximize the math learning: Let's say you called out 8, and they flash 5 and 3. You say something like, "That's right, 5 fingers and 3 more fingers makes 8 fingers all together. 5+3=8. Can you show me another way to make 8?" Give them a chance to figure out the 4 and 4 way, the doubles representation. "Hey, look at that, what do you notice about your hands?" "They're both 4s. They match." "Yeah, the left hand team and the right hand team are even now--they both have the same number of fingers up. That's why we call 8 an even number; 'cause you can split it into 2 even teams (or 2 equal groups)." Do an odd number next to show the contrast. There are all kinds of good thinking and mental math strategies that can start to bud in this simple game. Here’s a conversation I had with Elodie when we played this today.
Me: Show me 9!
Elodie started quietly counting up on her fingers, then she stopped and just showed me 9 fingers.
Me: That’s right! How did you figure that out?
Elodie: Well, this is 10 (shows me 10 fingers) and it goes, “9, 10” so 10 is more than 9, so this is 9.
Me: Wow! That was a really smart way to think about it! Good strategy! 9 is one less than 10, so you knew you could hold up one less finger than all 10.
That is really simple, but it is good mental math. It is a more efficient strategy than counting up, and becoming a good mathematician is all about developing increasingly efficient strategies for thinking and solving problems. I was very proud of my little budding mathematician! When you start to hear how your little mathematician is thinking, I’m sure you’ll be impressed, too!