This is a fun game that you can play with your toddler or young child where they have the opportunity to experience maths concepts. They may not recognise or fully understand the ‘maths’ behind the game at first but this hands on experience can help your child to build an understanding of integers (negative and positive whole numbers, including zero) and how to add and subtract integers. This is a concept that many high school students find very abstract and difficult to understand.


Equipment needed:Big Dice


Sidewalk chalk


The Game:

This game can be played by either imagining the scenario or by using sidewalk chalk to draw the scenery outside.

Set the scene. You are perched on the middle of a plank. At one end there is a shark waiting to gobble you up and at the other end there is the safety of the big pirate ship.

You might like to begin with six steps to the shark and six steps to the ship, so the plank has thirteen steps. Draw the plank and label the centre step as zero then label the other steps as shown in the picture. This should be drawn as large as a hop-scotch board. The B is for Boat and the S is for shark. S1 is the first step into shark territory.

walk the plankThe pirate flips the coin and rolls the dice to decide your fate. Flip the coin and if it lands on heads you will move towards the boat, if it lands on tails you will move towards the shark. Roll the dice to determine how many steps you will move in that direction. For example, if the coin lands on heads first, face the boat. If you then roll the dice and it lands on 3, walk three places towards the boat. If the next flip of the coin lands on tails, face towards the shark. If you then roll a 4, walk four places towards the shark. You should now be standing on S1.

You can play the game in pairs, either with two children on the plank or both you and your child on the plank and you simply flip the coin and roll the dice for each other. The game ends when either one of you falls off the plank into the water to get gobbled by the shark, or when you make it to the safety of the boat.

 Further considerations:

  • You can extend the length of the plank and see how this changes the game.
  • After playing this game a few times, start to describe the direction indicated by the coin as forwards and backwards instead of towards the shark or boat. ‘Heads’ represents ‘backwards’ and ‘Tails’ represents ‘forwards’.
  • Then later simply change this language to -/+ when you flip the coin heads/tails. The – symbol means walk back (left) and + symbol means walk forward (right). You can then also change the plank to look like this next picture.
The plank is a number line!

The plank is a number line!

This is a very fun game that I guarantee your child will love! By making the transition from the boat/shark direction to the +/- direction you will be teaching your child about integers. Starting off with something very concrete and slowly building to the more abstract concept makes it much easier to grasp and remember. Adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers is a concept which many high school students struggle to understand, but by introducing the idea through play, your child will have the advantage of building a solid foundation of understanding before they even start primary school. I bet they’ll be explaining it to their friends using the pirate ship and shark as an example while their peers aren’t quite as fortunate.

 If you know someone who you think might enjoy this activity please email it to them and please share with us your experiences with this game in the comments below.