16 Fun Back To School Math Activities To Beat The Summer Learning Loss

Fun back-to-school math activities for elementary school are a great way to start the year the way you want it to go on, even in the face of any summer learning loss.  

Sometimes referred to as “the summer slide” or “brain drain,” whether over summer or other holidays, summer learning loss is the loss of knowledge and skills which were acquired during the previous school year.

Elementary math seems to be the subject which is hit the hardest, with industry experts suggesting several months of math skills are lost over the summer.

While you’re using diagnostic assessment to figure out the learning gaps from this time – and many children will surprise you – take a break to try out some of these fun math games.

They are designed to remind you and your students of the joy and fun that math can bring.


Back-to-school and back-to-math lessons

Your new students’ retention of last year’s math concepts may not be as strong as you hoped but it will return. We know so much more now than we used to about how children’s memory works and much of what they used to know will return – it just needs some careful recall. There is hope!

To find out more about how best to manage cognitive load and your students’ working memory at the start of the semester, we recommend you read this article first on the summer slide and why children forget from curriculum expert, Clare Sealy.

Here at Third Space Learning, we encounter this even just week to week. Our approach is to make sure that each one-to-one math lesson not only covers new content, but encourages students to recall previously learned content too.

tsl slide multiplying dividing whole numbers and decimals
Every Third Space lesson starts with a recap of prior knowledge required: here’s an example from a lesson on multiplying decimals to ensure students have the prerequisite knowledge of place value.
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Only the best elementary math activities have made the grade

To get you and your students back into the swing of their math lessons, we’ve trawled the internet to compile a list of the top 16 (coincidentally happens to be a square number!) engaging and effective back to school, fun math activities to shake up your students and clear out those cognitive cobwebs.

We’ve tried to ensure a good balance of mental math activities as well as problem solving and reasoning.


Free fun math activities for elementary

When we first created our list of fun back-to-school math activities, we had 5th grade in mind but as we’ve added to the list there are now lots of ideas for you to use for back to school math in 4th grade, 3rd grade, or 2nd grade.

There are even a few, such as math bingo, which can be easily adapted for first grade if you’re looking for learning activities for younger students.

In fact, all of these math activities are suitable for any day of the week and any time of the year – you might like to try a few as math starters.

Right now, at the start of the year, we recommend you use them to help students regain their confidence in math, develop depth, and remember how to justify their reasoning.

These activities are teacher approved and fun at a time when fun is what you need to settle your class.

1. How Many Squares and How Many Triangles?

Elementary math activity for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade

Learners use a quick online math activity to find as many squares and triangles in the diagram as possible in this game, requiring them to think outside the square. Or triangle!

squares and triangles in a diagram
Time:10 – 20 mins
Why we chose it:Great for a starter on the first day back.  Students love counting the objects when you press the play button!
Our suggestion:Make it into a competition – closest person wins a prize! Get students to commit to an answer and write it in their notebooks.
How to support:Ask them to work in pairs. Or you could ask for an example of another square other than the individual ones.
How to extend:When asking for results, ask students to think of an efficient way to record the data.
Link to activity:How Many Squares?
How Many Triangles?
Original source:Transum.org


2. Here’s The Answer, What’s The Question?

Elementary math activity for 2nd grade – 5th grade – just adapt the calculation you give.

Give students a complete calculation and ask them to write their own word problem.

 example of student complete calculations
Time:10 – 15 mins
Why we chose it:It’s open ended! Just think of the responses, some students may even surprise you!
Our Suggestions:Ask students to copy the calculations in their books.
How to support:Ask students to come up with an example in pairs first so that they are having to verbalize their reasoning with one another. Then ask them to come up with another example all by themselves.
How to extend:Make it a 2 or multiple math problem.


3. Education Estimation

Fun elementary math activity for grades 2-5

Estimate the number of pens/pencils/books (and glue sticks?!) etc. needed for the class/grade level/whole school in this fun and informative counting activity.

elementary math student pens
Time:20 – 25 minutes
Why we chose it:Estimation is a key skill to practice and a nice way to link math to real life context. Plus, maybe they will be more respectful with your stationery!
Our Suggestion:If you are brave enough, get out a whole box of pencils at the start so that (as a whole class) students can manipulate/visualize how many would be needed. Again, only if you’re brave.
How to support:Use simpler numbers such as smaller containers, larger items or provide a comparison first. e.g. Here’s one cup and it has ten pencils in it. Now how many do you think are in this cup?
How to extend:Add in a cost per item. “What if I had 10, 20, 15 of these pots/packs?” “What if I had twice as many?” “What if I gave a third of them away?”


4. BINGO!

Back-to-school math activity for grades 2-5.

Get students to choose from a list of numbers on the board (or they can make them up). Then display a sequence of prepared numbers on the board and students cross them off on their grid. When students cross off all of their numbers they shout “BINGO!”

BINGO sequence of numbers
Time:15-20 mins
Why we chose it:You can do so much with them! Easiest way is to get the students to draw their own bingo grids on their mini whiteboards and fill in numbers e.g. “Choose 9 of the numbers from the list on the board.” or “Write down 9 multiples of 10 between 100 and 500.”
Our Suggestion:Do not reinvent the wheel – there are loads of bingo card games out there for you to use for free! Also, write down the correct answers to the questions (in order of course) before and this makes it easier to check.
How to support:Create cards with easier numbers. If in a mixed ability class, try to use a variety of questions, some easier than others.
How to extend:Create cards where the numbers are calculations/multiplication tables (e.g. instead of 64 you could put 8 x 8).
Link to activity:TES has a plethora of them (you will need to sign in/create an account.)
Original source:TES resources


5. Grid Multiplication

2nd and 3rd grade math activity

Students have to use their multiplication math facts knowledge to find the missing numbers.

Grid multiplication table
Time:10 – 15 mins
Why we chose it:Great for practicing multiplication tables and looking at the inverse and how they link with one another.
Our Suggestion:Do one as an example with the whole class. Then get students to create one for their friends to answer. They can do this by creating one on their whiteboards then just rubbing out some of the answers. This is a nice way to get students practicing multiplication. They obviously will make it as hard as they can for their classmate. What are friends for, right?
How to support:Pair work or possibly a multiplication table grid.
How to extend:Create a grid that requires a two-step solution like the example above.
Link to activity:Flash Math Grid Multiplication
Original source:Flashmaths.co.uk


6. Countdown

2nd to 5th grade math activity.

Choose six playing cards (royals count for 10). You are then given a target number. You have to make that target number with the cards you have using the four operations. You can only use a card once. You do not have to use all cards.

playing math cards
Time:10-20 mins
Why we chose it:It requires students to use the four operations and they really see it as a great challenge! Let’s play countdown!
Our Suggestion:Two from the top and four from the bottom is the easiest.
How to support:Give them an extension of time (say another 10 seconds?). Or ask a student what they would do first so that those struggling can have a start in the right direction. You could also provide struggling students with a number line or list of key number facts e.g. 2 x 75 = 150.
How to extend:Four from the top and two from the bottom of course!
Link to activity:Nrich Countdown activity (plus many more great math activities to enrich learning)
Original source:Nrich.maths.org


7. Coded Hundred Square

Math activity for grade 4 and 5.

This 100 square is written in code. It starts with 1 and ends with 100. Can your students build it up? Visit the link below for a full size version.

coded hundred square
Time:20-30 mins
Why we chose it:One of the longer ones in time we know, but this exercise can be so powerful. The hands-on activity allows students to see links between the place values of units, tens and hundreds.
Our Suggestion:Print out this free printable and get students to work in pairs while they cut out the parts so that students can manipulate and talk through their reasoning with their partner.
How to support:Give students a 100 square so they can visually make links
How to extend:Ask students to make their own versions with their own code
Link to activity:Coded Hundred Square
Original source:Nrich.maths.org


8. Flash Math Number Grids

4th and 5th grade level activity

In this fun game students have to fill the grid with numbers following the rules they are given.

flash math number grids
Time:10 – 15 mins
Why we chose it:A great starter that develops students’ problem solving skills while revising the special types of numbers.
Our Suggestion:Have a quick run through of the types of numbers before students attempt the grid. Perhaps you could have a glossary on a table for students to share.
How to support:Reduce the number of grids to two by two.
How to extend:Increase the number of grids to four by four.
Link to activity:Flash Math Number Grids
Original source:flashmaths.co.uk


9. Tell Me About It

4th and 5th grade math class activity.

Students are required to put their own definitions to the terms and the numbers.

tell me about it terms and numbers
Time:10 – 15 mins
Why we chose it:It’s a great way of getting literacy in math!
Our Suggestion:Before they write it down, get students to tell each other in pairs what they think each means.
How to support:This could be done as a matching activity where students are given the terms/numbers and then they have to match it up to the relevant description.
How to extend:Include harder numbers. Possibly a number that matches multiple terms, for example 64.
Link to activity:Credit for this goes to samang25 and it can be found on the TES website.
Original source:TES resources


10. Odd One Out

2nd – 5th grade math activity – easy to adapt.

Students are required to spot the odd one out. You could do it so there is only one odd one. The example here has two and is based on place value but you can use it for almost anything.

This game can be adapted for middle school or even high school. 

odd one out number grid
Time:5 – 15 mins (depending on how many you do!)
Why we chose it:This starter is great for gauging how much a student has retained about a topic in a fun way. And do you know the best thing about this? There is no wrong answer as long as a student can justify their answer!
Our Suggestion:Do this activity as a class, or in small groups as the conversation could just take off!
How to support:Have a combination where there is no wrong answer (like the one above).
How to extend:Design a combination where 3 (or 4) are the same and only one is the odd one out. Great for simplest form!


11. Guess My…

Upper elementary math activity

In this game, the teacher thinks of a number/shape/angle etc. Then, students ask questions to the teacher where the answer can only be yes or no. Challenge students to guess within a set number of questions.

example of a number shape angle
Time:5 – 15 mins
Why we chose it:It requires students to be thinking about the questions they are asking. They are also required to use key terminology and remember previous answers too!
Our Suggestion:Do not break the rules! Responses like ‘kind of’, ‘hmmm’ and ‘’nearly’ are not yes or no responses!
How to support:Increase the number of questions students can have.
How to extend:Decrease the number of questions students can have.


12. Find 5 Different Ways To Make 24

3rd-5th grade math activity

Make 24 in 5 different ways whereby all four of the operations are used.

find 5 different ways to make 24
Time:15 – 20 mins
Why we chose it:Order of operations, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, number fluency, problem solving, need we say more?
Our Suggestion:Do an example first. Perhaps include one with a misconception that does not follow the order of operations.
How to support:You could decrease it to three ways to make 24.
How to extend:Include variations such as square numbers, square roots, only odd/even numbers must be used or even must use all different numbers in each equation.


13. Fizz Buzz Game

2nd and 3rd grade fun math activity.

Decide on the multiplication table you’re going to chant. In turns, students list the multiples in order, but are not allowed to say numbers that match with a rule (e.g. numbers that are divisible by 2).

Instead, they have to replace that number with a word that you have come up with.

fizz buzz game multiplication table
Time:5 – 10 mins
Why we chose it:It gets them on their feet, improves their multiplication tables and we bet you will end up in fits of giggles!
Our Suggestion:Go crazy with the word! We came up with pickles, umbrella and ice cream!
How to support:Make the rule easier.
How to extend:Have two rules to keep them on their toes!


14. Macaroni – Proportion Starter

5th grade math activity.

Students are given a picture like the one above (or you can use real macaroni) and then a set of questions where you have to find the value of each piece of Macaroni.

set of questions to find the value of each piece of Macaroni
Time:20 – 25 mins
Why we chose it:It involves bar modeling!
Our Suggestion:Do not do this one right before lunchtime.
How to support:Make numbers and problems easier
How to extend:Make the numbers harder and include two step problems, e.g. if Q=6, what does K equal?
Link to activity:Credit for this goes to BW_2012 and can be found on TES
Original source: TES resources


15. Fractangle

3rd and 4th grade math activity.

The shapes below are shown on the board. Students have to figure out what proportion or fraction is shaded.

shaded rectangle and circle fraction
Time:5 – 10 mins
Why we chose it:It requires students to think outside the box. Also, watch their faces as the answer is revealed.
Our Suggestion:Give it time. They may not get it at first but then there will be an ‘oohh!’ and then watch that spread like wildfire!
How to support:Students could work in pairs.
How to extend:How much of the shape is not shaded. Can you write an equation for this? Also, create your own fractangle!
Link to activity:Fractangle
Original source: Transum.org


16. Place Value Charts

Elementary math activity – 1st grade to 5th grade math fun

Students practice making a number from a number that is represented either by digits or by words.

place value charts represented by digits and by words
Time:10 – 20 mins
Why we chose it:If you are lucky enough to have tablets, then it can be more interactive!
Our Suggestion:Get the students to speak out the number before they answer the questions.
How to support:You can select an easier place value option.
How to extend:You can set it so it can go into tenths and hundredths. You could ask students to round answers to the nearest whole number/tenth.
Link to activity:Place Value Charts
Original source: topmarks.co.uk

We hope you liked these 16 back to school fun elementary math activities !

Looking for more? We’ve got lots more math activities here for you:

Do let us know how you liked the games @thirdspacetweet

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The content in this article was originally written by primary school teacher Sophie Bartlett and has since been revised and adapted for US schools by elementary math teacher Katie Keeton.

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12 Math Club Games & Activities [FREE]

Make math even more enjoyable for your students with this easy-to-use collection of games and activities to try during your math club.

From multiplication skills to reasoning, the minimal resources needed for each activity means you won’t spend half the time setting up and packing away!

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