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What is Recreational Math and How Can it Help Students?

A young child partakes in a recreational math game by hanging up a circle with the number six spelled out on it.

When it comes to math, games could provide the key to generating interest and unlocking a student’s true abilities. Recreational math has become a popular topic with teachers who want to maximize young student’s chances of succeeding in math. Recreational math uses games to help students understand many of the concepts in mathematics at a very young age. For teachers who are searching for ways to get students engaged in math, it provides another strategy.

It’s one that has proven successful for many.

What Is Recreational Math? 

The term recreational math can refer to any game, puzzle or activity that teaches math skills to help participants “win.”

This can range from playing Sudoku to solving brain teasers that require basic math skills. Some examples of recreational math could include classic games such as Monopoly or any number of card games requiring addition and subtraction.

Recreational math goes beyond those games and into puzzles and brainteasers that require math to solve but are not the typical “learn the formula and apply” approach. Instead, using math to solve problems is part of the game itself.

Recreational math perhaps reached the height of fame through Martin Gardner who for years provided recreational math puzzles to solve in the Scientific American.

How Recreational Math Benefits Kids 

Although it’s not typically part of the curriculum in most schools in the United States, recreational math is part of the education system in India, China, England, Japan and Sweden, among other countries. In the U.S., teachers must take it upon themselves to learn how to apply recreational math into their classroom.

The benefits of recreational math are many. The first and most obvious is that using math to solve a puzzle makes it more fun for students. With a goal of simply figuring out the puzzle, students will find themselves motivated to understand the math principles involved.

Some other benefits of recreational math include:


As mentioned above, motivating students—especially younger students—to learn and put math principles into play can prove very difficult. With a puzzle or game, students now have a direct reason to want to learn math.


Once they understand how to do a puzzle such as Sudoku, students do not need to be supervised. They learn as they go. On some websites, students can move through a variety of increasingly harder games as they learn more math skills.

Improved Scores 

Games and puzzles improve student scores. That’s true across all subjects, including math. Students who learn math through games have more success in remembering the lessons taught. They can also learn skills in solving grid puzzles that they will later use in solving math equations.

Some teachers have reported an overall improvement in math skills after learning how to solve recreational math puzzles.

Anything that can help young students enjoy learning about math is worthy of consideration by teachers. For those who learn how to get recreational math into the classroom, the benefits could prove substantial for their students.