My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up. This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside. It could easily be adapted for multiple players.
- large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game. If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money! You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
- area of clean floor. Have the child sweep the floor before playing. If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
- two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket. I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away. (We got sick right after Christmas….)
- a few small trinkets. These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are. Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.
Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.
Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor. If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.
How to Play:
- Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!” Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
- Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!! Go!!” and starts the stopwatch. (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number. You don’t want any confusion over what the number was. If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
- Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
- Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds! But . . . is it the correct amount?”
- Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
- If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!! You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!! YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
- If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars? How greedy!” Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
- If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww! One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars! You are not a winner. Better luck next time.” Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
- Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it. (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
- About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!! Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?” Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes. Contestant chooses. Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!! YAAAAYYY!!” Contestant hyperactively celebrates. Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won! This fine bottle of hand lotion!” (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
- If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!” (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)
Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge. He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds. I’m impressed!
With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money. You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too. If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.