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Connie McCarthy is passionate about her work as a teacher of young children. She has devoted her entire career to making sure that her students do well at school, right from the start. Connie has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She has been teaching first grade in East Providence, R.I. for 23 years, where she received the distinction of “Highly Qualified Teacher” by the Rhode Island State Board of Regents. Connie also taught nursery school for four years, and published numerous articles on early education in East Bay Newspapers in Bristol, R.I. She’s also been published in PTO Today Magazine. She lives with her husband, Brian, and has a daughter and a son, both young adults. Connie enjoys reading, writing about elementary education, and taking long walks with friends. During summer vacations, she likes to travel with her husband. She also loves reading readers’ comments on her weekly blog posts.

A Mystery Game To Improve Mental Math Skills

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Understanding basic addition and subtraction facts provides a tremendous advantage to kindergarten and 1st grade students.

The more a young child can quickly and accurately make addition and subtraction combinations mentally, the greater his math fluency will be. This is important because effortlessly retrieving basic math facts allows students to advance easily to higher level mathematics.

Here is a fun mystery game to help your young child increase his mental math skills. This game can be adapted for either kindergarteners or 1st graders.


You will need:

  • Something to use as a cover: a piece of construction paper, folded piece of newspaper, torn-off magazine cover, paper plate, etc.
  • Twenty small, flat objects, somewhat uniform in size: pennies, Lego pieces, Cheerios, or M & M’s, for example.

Here’s how to play: 
  • For a kindergarten child, start with five of the small objects. Let your child count out five so he knows there is a total of only five. Have him close his eyes or turn away so he can’t see what you are doing. 
  • To practice addition facts, show some of the five objects and cover some.  For example, cover three objects and leave two uncovered. Then tell him to look. Ask, “How many do you see?”  He answers, “Two.” Then ask, “How many are under the cover to make five?” If he is having trouble, uncover to show three and let him count up from two. Do this with all addition combinations of five, in random order: show 4, hide 1; show 3, hide 2; show 1, hide 4. And don’t forget to show 5, hide 0; and show 0, hide 5.
  • To practice subtraction facts, show all five objects, then have him close his eyes or turn away. Move three under the cover. Have him turn back to see two. Say, “We had five, now you see two. How many did I move under the cover?” Do this with all subtraction facts for five, including zero.
  • Once he has easily mastered all “five” facts, gradually work up to the combination facts for 10.
  • For a 1st grade child, start with combination facts to equal 10, then gradually build up to combination facts for 20.

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