New Hawaiʻi Childrens Book Turns Tasks Into Fun Math Lessons

The best math games and apps, according to math professors at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s CRDG. Plus, a peek at their new math book for kids.


Photo: Getty Images


A trio of math professors and specialists from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa have published a children’s book that makes math fun and exciting for families. Who Has More? The Great Flood is about a girl and bunny who pour cold drinks after an outdoor playdate. A surprise happens when they pour too much!


Photo: Courtesy of CRDG-UH Manoa


Scheduled for release in October 2020, the book was written by assistant specialist Seanyelle Yagi, Ph.D.; associate professor Linda Venenciano, Ph.D.; and junior specialist Fay Zenigami. All are from UH’s Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG).


HONOLULU Family asked the authors to recommend their favorite math apps, online games and activities for kids. The authors also named top challenges that children face when learning math.


Math Games and Puzzles

  • SET(R) (ages 6 and older) or SET(R)Junior (ages 3 and older). Using a special deck of cards, this game challenges two or more players to form combinations of three cards that make up a “set” based on four categories of features: color, number, shape and shading. SET promotes visualization, logical reasoning and concentration, which are skills that support mathematical thinking. Find it at play


  • Hanafuda (ages 6 and older) was brought to Hawai‘i by immigrant workers from Japan during the sugar plantation era. The unique and colorful designs of the 48 cards build a foundation for understanding sets and provides computational practice with addition, scorekeeping and multiples of 5, 10 and 20. Information on a version developed with local themes (Hanafuda Nā Pua Hawai‘i) can be found at


  • Othello(ages 8 and older) is a two-player strategy board game that promotes reasoning and visualization skills. The game consists of discs that are black on one side, and white on the other. Each player represents one color. The goal is to flip the other player’s discs to one’s own color. A digital version is available online at


Photo: Getty Images


Math-Inspired Card Games


  • Concentration (ages 3 to 5), for two or more players, helps young children recognize numbers or colors. Starting with the cards face-down, each player flips a pair of cards right side up. The goal is to match as many card pairs as possible.


  • War (ages 3 to 5) is a two-player game that helps young children recognize numerals, and count and compare amounts. Find kid-friendly playing instructions at


  • Salute (ages 6 and older) is a three-player game using a standard deck of playing cards without face cards to help children learn addition and/or multiplication facts. Find it at


  • Gin Rummy (ages 8 and older) can be played by two to four players with a standard 52-card deck. Players strategize to create sets of three cards, and scorekeeping promotes fluency with addition. Written directions along with a video are available at


  • Cribbage (ages 10 and older) is a two- or three-person game played with a standard 52-card deck that promotes mental computation during play; game scoring is uniquely done on a peg board. Written directions along with a video are available at


Daily Activities Using Math

  • Physical Activity. For an outdoor activity, see how far each family member can jump in a standing long jump. Measure and record the distances over multiple days, and make a graph using each person’s results. Ask your children: “What do you notice about the graphs? Why do you think they look that way?”


  • Meal Prep. Cooking together offers opportunities to explore measurement. As you prepare ingredients, think about how a teaspoon compares to a tablespoon. Which is heavier: A cup of sugar or a cup of flour? How can you test your ideas?


  • Kitchen Items. A kitchen cupboard also contains mathematics treasures. Find two different-looking cups, bowls or containers that you predict will hold the same amount of water. How can you test the prediction? Find two different plates that have about the same area. What can you do to compare their areas?


  • Body Parts. How does the length of your foot compare to the length of your arm from the inside of your bent elbow to your wrist? Predict how they will compare and why you think this. How will you find out if your prediction is accurate?


  • Your Community. Take a neighborhood walk and notice different shapes around you. For example, how many triangles do you see? How are they the same? How are they different? Do you see any cylinders? What shapes do you observe in nature? Select a shape and take photos, then make a collage.


Photo: Getty Images


How To Choose Games and Apps For Children

With thousands of online games, math applications and digital tools available, how do you decide which ones engage your children in significant mathematical thinking?


Here are some tips for how to choose the best programs, according to Holly Hope, a math educator at Stanford University:


  1. Consider your child’s math level as she or he uses a digital tool or game. Does the game help the child solve problems, or does it help understand concepts, fluency and skills?
  2. High-quality games encourage children to think and do not rely on random, isolated facts. The mathematics should be an integral part of the game mechanics and should not seem like an add-on feature. A good question to ask yourself is: “Are there different ways to solve or attain mastery?”
  3. High-quality games allow children to think about the world in ways that do not negatively impact the way they see themselves. Be aware of gender or racial stereotypes portrayed in the game that may negatively impact your child’s identity during play. Consider whether children are able to preserve their identities as they engage with the game.


Consider these online games and digital tools that meet the above guidelines.


Multiple Ages

  • Math Playground is a website with a wealth of mathematics games for children in grades 1-6. Some games focus on developing kids skills while others involve problem-solving processes. Available at


Ages 3-5

  • Lipa Train is a mobile application that involves problem solving, directional and cause-and-effect thinking as children direct a train along different paths toward a token award. Available on Android and iOS.
  • Hoopa City 2 is a mobile application in which children use directional and spatial reasoning, predicting and problem-solving to build their own city with roads and buildings. Available on Android and iOS.
  • Dexteria Dots 2 is a mobile application that involves counting in a unique way. Children interact with different attributes to solve problems. Available on iOS (cost involved).


Ages 6-8

  • Pattern Shapes by The Math Learning Center engages children in spatial reasoning through geometric shapes on an open workspace. Children can explore and build shapes, or they can fill an outline provided by the application using different shapes. Available on Android, iOS and on The Math Learning Center.
  • Flow Free is a mobile puzzle game that involves problem solving and spatial reasoning. Children connect matching colored dots by determining a path that does not cross other paths. Available on Android and iOS.
  • TouchTimes is a mobile application that allows children to explore representations of multiplication concepts within a tactile environment. Have your child begin by placing their fingers on the workspace to create pips. Then explore and discuss how the pictures and equations that appear relate to each other. Available on iOS.
  • Bridge Builder on the Math Playground website engages high-level thinking, while building their fluency with addition facts. Children add numbers and trade lengths of bridge blocks so that the smallest number of blocks are used to build the bridge.


Age 9-11

  • Solve Me Mobiles is a web-based application that engages children in early algebraic thinking through problems involving deciding on values that balance mobiles. Children can begin with pre-made mobiles and move to building their own mobile puzzle.
  • The Daily SET ® Puzzle is a web-based version of the game SET (described previously) designed for individual play. Available at
  • Outfolded is a puzzle game that involves spatial reasoning and problem solving to unfold various three-dimensional shapes along a two-dimensional surface to reach a particular goal. Available on Android and iOS.


Photo: Getty Images


How To Help Children Understand Math 


Sometimes, it’s not the math problem that stumps children, but the idea of math itself. Here are common challenges that parents face when teaching math to their keiki.


Challenge #1: Convincing children that math is more than computing with numbers.

  • Early math learning isn’t only about adding and subtracting numbers. We can encourage children to be curious about patterns and other regularities (or irregularities) in real-world and mathematical situations.
  • With young children, this might begin with counting the number of petals on a plumeria flower. The sum of all the petals could be calculated by counting by 5s. You can select another flower and say, “I wonder how many petals are on this flower?”
  • This gives your child an opportunity to make a prediction, which could then lead to insights for knowing larger quantities without counting one petal at a time. This approach to engaging children takes time and patience, but the potential payoffs could be a boost in confidence for tackling new problems in unfamiliar contexts.


Challenge #2: Convincing children that you don’t have to be fast at computing to be good at math. 

  • Research mathematicians will say that problems they find the most interesting are not problems they do because they can solve them quickly. They relish problems that are beautiful and worth spending time on. Some problems take a lifetime to solve, and most problems require collaboration and teamwork.
  • As you are probably well aware, children are not very good about being patient, especially with themselves! Developing the perseverance and grit needed to be successful in mathematics takes time and some maturity, but even the youngest students can begin to develop these skills.
  • Educators use the term productive struggle to describe the sweet spot that students find when they’re successful with a math problem. When solving a problem that is either just within or just beyond their reach, they are more likely to develop tolerance for learning something new.
  • At home, involve children in activities that build on previous learning and have a new challenging element. Monitor your child’s progress and make adjustments to keep your child engaged, without completely removing the challenge. For example, if you’re playing a strategic card game together, take time to notice plays that could lead to a guiding rule, such as always playing the highest cards first.


Challenge #3: Convincing children that math is not just about following a set of procedures.

  • Nothing will kill the joy of doing math faster than forcing rules and procedures that should yield a result that teachers and parents already know.
  • It’s easy for adults to overlook the fact that the evolution of efficient procedures took a long time to fine-tune. Children need practice with thinking and exploring, so allow them time and space to tinker with ideas.
  • You may have a favorite way to solve a problem, but by first giving them that space, you are showing that you trust them to be independent thinkers. This doesn’t mean you have to be completely hands-off; some monitoring will allow you to nudge and redirect when needed. Listen to how your child explains their thinking and try to hone-in on productive thinking.


By acknowledging children’s thinking, they learn that doing the math is much more than producing an answer.



Mahalo to assistant specialist Seanyelle Yagi, Ph.D.; associate professor Linda Venenciano, Ph.D.; and junior specialist Fay Zenigami. All are from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa UH’s Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG). Find their new kids book, Who Has More? The Great Flood at