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Five games to build number sense and mental maths for girls with Fragile X

Tips for developing mental maths skills and number sense in girls with Fragile X
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As you are no doubt aware, girls with Fragile X almost universally struggle with maths. Many have Dyscalculia otherwise known as a Specific Learning Disorder in Maths. To be diagnosed with this disorder, the child's maths results need to fall under the 5th percentile for children of their age after at least six months of intervention (APA, 2013) on standardised testing such as the WIAT-III (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third edition). As parents, we need to set our expectations for our girls ability at a realistic level. Our goal may be not to catch our girls up to a comparable neurotypical age level, rather might be twofold: to focus on giving them life skills to manage money, time etc., and to help them get through their maths schooling with their self-esteem intact.

When our already typically anxious girls begin to realise maths is difficult- they want to avoid it. Who wouldn't! We as adults avoid or outsource all sorts of things we don't like (thank goodness for dishwashers and accountants!). Unfortunately, however, opting out of maths does our girls no service in the long term in terms of their ability to live independently and manage their life well. One way to work around maths related anxiety that I have discovered is card games. Card games and board games can encourage maths-related concepts such as basic addition, number recognition and number sense in a less threatening way than sitting in front of a page of sums. Below, I have listed five games that I have found add value and are tolerated (mostly) by my girls.

1. Sleeping Queens

This is a fantastic card game which has enough fantasy and interest to somewhat hide the maths! It involves 'waking up' queens with king cards, stealing them with a knight or putting them back to sleep with a magic potion. Children are able to pick up more cards (and therefore more potential kings) if they put down doubles of a number (e.g. 7 and 7) or even more if they put down an equation (1 + 4 = 5). It's a great game because it encourages and rewards maths equations

2. Skip Bo

This game is all about putting numbers in order, which can be useful if your daughter is a rote counter but finds it difficult to visualise numbers. Children win by getting rid of their stock pile, which involves slotting each number in turn into a building pile starting at 1 and going through to 12.

3. Monopoly Bid

This is a good game as every turn players have to 'bid' on a property card. Every player shows the amount of money they are willing to offer for the property, then children will need to work out who has offered the highest in order to know who can buy the property. It encourages quick addition and also teaches different combinations of number that may equal the same amount (e.g. 3 + 3 = 6, 1 + 1 + 4 = 6)

4. Gangsta Granny's Mental Maths Games

This is a great one but proudly proclaims its math-i-ness! Therefore, I find it is harder to get kids to play. However, it's great for building mental arithmetic and number sense. There are many versions (times tables, subtraction, division etc.) but we play only the addition version currently. Players pick the top two cards off their pile and compare them with other players. The person with the highest sum wins the cards from all players. It's good for repeated addition practice but I have also found my girls begin to estimate the sum of their two cards which is a great number sense skill. Number sense is the ability to know roughly what a sum will approximately equal, and helps kids self check their work to look for obvious mistakes.

5. Trouble

This game can also be called Pop'N'Go. It's similar to a lot of games involving dice and counters. This type of game (and others such as Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders etc.) involves reading dice and then using the counter to move the number you rolled. This is a surprisingly hard skill, even for neurotypical kids I see in my clinic. It's very difficult for kids to work out whether they start counting from the square they are on, or start counting after they have moved the counter one space forward. This is a lot like the 'head and hand' counting strategy for addition, where kids put the larger number in their head and count on from that number to add the smaller number with their fingers. My girls make the mistake all the time of counting the number they have put in their head as their first finger. For example, 7 + 5. The child puts seven 'in their head' and should then count '8, 9, 10, 11, 12' on their fingers, but my children will often count '7, 8, 9' etc. Playing board games like these encourages the skill of counting the number when you have moved forward, rather than repeating numbers you have already counted. It also hopefully helps the child understand the concept of numbers as relating to 'things' or 'movement' rather than abstract concepts.

This is intended to be simply thought starters to assist you in circumnavigating your daughter's maths anxiety. I want to emphasise that this is not something I practice everyday with my girls and there are days when I just want to throw up my hands and say that it's all too hard. I do like to believe, however, that my small and often inconsistent efforts do make a difference and pay off in the long run. I think that's the most helpful thought to have in terms of motivating yourself to continue to intervene with these difficulties that are not easily 'fixed' like we often want them to be!


American Psychological Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. APA


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