Game Ideas

I wrote a blog post recently about the importance of play and why I use it (  But how do I use it is equally as interesting and really very simple.  I have a few favourite games and I am going to share them with you now.


Image result for jenga

This is a great game for children practising their fine motor control in can so easily incorporate maths or literacy skills.  I have a few different sets, for tutoring 1 to 1 I do not need a full stack so tend to split it.  I can then write on each wide side of the stick.  This means I can use a single Jenga tower for 4 different activities!  Here are a few ideas of how you can use them

  • Letter recognition – half a box gives you enough sticks for the whole alphabet and a couple spare. You can use it simply for letter recognition or with more confident children to think of words beginning with that letter
  • Times tables – I write on the times tables sum so the one stack can be used with any table (2 x _ = ?). If I am working on a single times table then we stick to one.  But, often we are working on a few.  I have a 12 sided dice and when the child removes the stick they then roll the dice to get the missing part of their question.
  • Vocabulary – I can use it to help children reflect and extend their vocabulary. All those nice words like good, walk, talk etc can be written on the sticks.  When the child pulls the stick out they then need to suggest a better word, i.e. muttered rather than said.
  • Number facts – write an addition sum with a missing number, much like the multiplication sums
  • Spelling – with my older children, we work on a number of ways to make the same sound, i.e. for long A we might use a-e, eigh, ay etc. we can write each way on to a stick and when the child removes the stick from the stack they need to say a word with that patter, spell it and use it in a sentence.

Connect 4

Image result for connect 4

Another favourite game.  I use this concept 2 ways.  It can be used with words on the edges to help build word recognition.  The child needs to say the word and use it in a sentence before they can drop their piece.  The alternative is a printed sheet where we use the glass counters to connect 4. does some brilliant sheets for spelling!



Playing cards are a great tool for maths.

Match – this is great for number recognition.  The symbols on the cards are really helpful and get kids counting.

Number bonds – I will often run through a deck of cards with a child and ask them how many more needs to be added to get to 10 or 20.  This is a great way to engage rote learning but in a fun way.

Doubles – children need to know their doubles to 20, it makes maths easier in the long run.  Again, we can use the pack to do so and the symbols to count if necessary.

Pontoons – an old game which I played when young though we called it 21s.  This is great for mental maths.


Image result for lego

Kids love Lego.  I love Lego.  Who doesn’t love lego?!

Times tables – the lego cube can be a visual representation of the times tables.  A piece with 8 dimples can be representative of 2 x 4.

Spelling – letters on the sides help children build the bricks to build words.  Quick and easy and if they get it wrong, easily corrected.

These are just a few of my favourite games for learning.  There are many more we could play and indeed do play.  I often find some of my favourite ideas on Pinterest or think of them whilst walking down the kids isle of B & M or other discount shops.  Parent’s will often spend significant sums of money on games but I hope you can see you can play fun, educational games with little effort or money and children really will enjoy them.

Making Maths Real

Collage 2018-04-01 19_35_45

When I start working with a new child in maths, I often find myself explaining to parents that I will use a range of tools that their child can touch and move to help teach concepts.  This is regardless of the age of the child.  I prepare the child and the adult to use materials they maybe used in younger classes and I find that once prepared, the parents accept this and the children enjoy it.  But why do I use this approach?

Well, this approach does have a name, CPA Approach.  This stands for Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract Approach.  It is helpful for teaching all ages and stages maths, even adults!  It is about giving learners the tools to solve the problems in front of them.  It links previous learning to their new abstract learning.  But, what does it really mean?

Lets start by looking at the stages.


This is the stage where children are “doing”.  In traditional teaching methods the teacher will demonstrate the problem and the child is expected to follow the process to complete follow up questions themselves.  In CPA the learning is brought to life.  For example, if children are learning to add they might have 2 dinosaurs whilst I have another 2.  The child can then count the number of dinosaurs altogether, doing the sum 2+2.  From this we can move towards using cubes, glass counters or other such materials.



This is the “seeing” stage.  Drawing can help children learn more complex theories such as division or multiplication.  It also helps them make the connection between this and the concrete stage.  So we might have 3 groups of dinosaurs with 4 dinosaurs in each group.  This equation is 3×4.




Finally, we have the abstract or “symbolic” stage.  Children here use abstract symbols to solve problems.  It is essential that children understand and are competent at the concrete and pictorial stages before we progress to this stage.  This is when we start using the mathematical symbols.  So instead of solving the problem of I have 2 dinosaurs and you have 3 dinosaurs, children will solve the equation 2+3=



Although there are 3 distinct stages I will move through them in a cyclical fashion, reinforcing earlier learning and using it to extend to new learning.  I will use a range of tools for each stage and ensure it is available for the child at all lessons.  This helps children develop a range of strategies for solving problems.

Difference Between Tutoring and School

Often in school the concrete materials are removed by the time the child reaches primary 3 or 4.  This is because they can be considered a distraction or babyish.  Even if available, children may be hesitant to use them as they do not want teased by their classmates.  However, this can lead to children being forced to encounter abstract concepts too early leading to children missing out a key step in their mathematical understanding.

Whilst children can not use concrete materials forever, I firmly believe this method helps build understanding and in turn helps the child develop confidence.  It helps children clarify their mathematical thinking and most importantly builds a strong foundation for future learning.

Why Play?


If you have a look at my Facebook page ( you will quickly realise that I highly value play as a tool in creating the right environment where children can learn.  This is not a new philosophy, indeed Plato stated that to keep children to their studies you should not use compulsion but instead use play.

The idea of play in education is nothing new to teachers either, at university we learn about Maslow, Piaget and countless other experts.  Many of these experts expunge the importance of play as a tool for learning.  Yet as I became more experienced as a teacher the myriad of demands I was met with moved play from a key aspect in learning to a by line, handy if I could fit it in amongst all the other demands from school, local authority and government.  At times, it felt easier to deliver lessons through the old fashioned chalk and talk method as opposed to coming up with creative ways to engage children in play to aid their learning.

Then I started tutoring.  Many of the unnecessary demands of teaching fell away.  That is not to say running my own business has no demands, it obviously has many.  These include accounts, marketing, planning, producing and procuring resources, the list is endless!  Yet somehow, I found more time to take my teaching back to what is important. That being the child.

The children I work with all have one thing in common; for one reason or another they are finding conventional education is not meeting their needs.  They are not shining in the way that they are clearly capable of.  It has been said that “You cannot make people learn. You can only provide the right conditions for learning to happen.” (Vince Gowmon).

I could attend their houses and provide the traditional style of teaching.  Indeed, many parents say they have hired me specifically as I am a practising teacher.  However, the traditional methods are not working for these children.  It is not their failing, neither is it their teachers failing, but we must change the conditions these children experience to help them improve.

Many, in fact almost all, of the children say they do not like textbooks or worksheets.  These methods clearly are not working for them.  Therefore, in an attempt to provide the right conditions for learning I use games and play.  I squeeze learning in through the back door, the children do not realise they are learning and pressures they often feel are lifted.  However, whilst the children may not realise they are learning their brains certainly do, “Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning.” (Diane Ackerman)

Whilst we sit and play I am sure many parents have wondered if their children are actually learning anything at all, certainly when it is a new working relationship I imagine them wondering.  I believe in time my methods speak for themselves, the children I work with make real progress.  But, you do not need to just take my word and experience on that.  George Dorsey famously stated that “Play is the beginning of knowledge.” And whilst we may look like we are just playing the children are making connections in their learning, building capacity and knowledge and this leads to real confidence within the curricular area that can transfer to the school environment.

“If children feel safe, they can take risks, ask questions, make mistakes, learn to trust, share their feelings, and grow.” (Alfie Kohn)  It is my experience that children feel safer, less exposed, when playing games.  They are more likely to take risks and make mistakes.  But in tutoring we can examine these mistakes and turn them into learning points.  This helps children make real progress both within tutoring and at school.  They realise that risk is not bad and in turn are often more likely to take risks at school.  Teachers often give pupil’s choice and many use mild, spicy and hot tasks as a way of differentiating work.  I find children who are used to taking risks in tutoring are more likely to take the risk of challenging themselves with either a spicy or hot task.  What is more, they often discover they are capable of them which boosts their confidence and helps them enter a positive learning cycle, where risks feel good and they are more likely to challenge themselves.

In amongst all these positives, play has an even more important role.  “Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” (Abraham Maslow)  Maslow is another expert that we study as trainee teachers.  However, in this quickly changing work most of the jobs our children will do as adults likely do not even exist yet.  We need to teach children the skills to be able to adapt, to cooperate and to use their imaginations to be able to fully function in a world that we cannot even imagine.  Play helps in doing just that.  “Play will raise the child in ways you can never imagine.” (Vince Gowmon)  This is why I shall be ensuring I bring more play based opportunities into my classroom as well as my tutoring.







What is Place Value?

What is Place Value_ (1)

Place value is the value of each digit in a number.  But what is the difference between a digit and a number? Well, a digit is a single number which forms part of bigger number whereas number is the collection of the group of digits.   So, if we take 563, the 5, 6 and 3 are the separate digits but, combined in this order, they make the number 563.  Place value is the understanding that the 5 represents 5 hundreds, the 6 is 6 tens and the 3 is 3 units.  As can be seen:-


What makes this hard initially is the pesky zero!  Look at these numbers







I am sure, as adults, we can agree they are all different.  But imagine being a child where you are still learning about numbers and being faced with this.  Suddenly, it is really very complicated.  By the time children are in primary 2 they are being asked to understand numbers in the hundreds.  Often in writing they can circle the biggest number or sequence a set of numbers.  They can identify the digit in the hundreds, tens or units columns.  Worksheet assessments will show all this clearly.  But as soon as you start playing with numbers and discussing them with children they can often demonstrate a shaky understanding of the concept.

Asking children to count or skip count (counting in jumps, i.e. 3, 6, 9, 12…) can demonstrate they stumble when they need to jump from one decade to the next (29 to 30, 59 to 60) or to the next hundred (99 to 100, 299 to 300).  When asked to write a number they may struggle to know exactly what column each digit should be in, writing 563 as 50063 for example.  Or when asked which number comes first out of 57 and 302 they may say 57 as the 5 is bigger than the 3, it didn’t relate to the value of where the digit sat.

If children do not fully understand the concept of place value in their early years then as they progress to harder mathematical concepts in primary 3 or 4 is all of a sudden can prove difficult. They need to understand this key concept to be able to add and subtract bigger numbers, to use times tables, negative numbers and more.

Every single child I work with for maths tuition have 1 single thing in common.  They all have a misunderstanding of place value.  Helping the child start to understand that 563 is the same as 500+60+3 helps them break it down and play with it.  We use a range of techniques and resources to help children understand this.  Once understood, children can then use this knowledge to add and subtract, multiply and divide and are less likely to make errors in their work.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!  Today we start the website and the blog.  But how exactly did I get into tutoring? Well, here is a little about me.

I was born and raised in the Muirhouse in Edinburgh back in the 1980’s.  Have you seen Trainspotting?  Well that is where I am from.  It isn’t a bad thing though, it taught me the grit and determination I have needed to succeed in whatever I have put my hand to.

My parents valued education, indeed my father was a teacher, yet I left school at 16 years old.  I was not, and to this day am not an academic.  However, in my early 20’s I gave up a job in a law firm to go to college and then onto the University of Edinburgh to study primary teaching.  I am now back at the University of Edinburgh, this time studying a Masters in Learning for Sustainability.  It was daunting to go back to uni when I am no academic, a Masters degree is for learned people, no?  However, I recently met a lecturer called Dr Sam Harrison who has completed his doctorate, runs a great sustainability residential project up north and was quite frank in saying he is no academic (though he really knows his stuff).  He is the first person who made me think maybe this wee lass from Muirhouse might just find her way through academia!

But back to the matter at hand, how I ended up a tutor.  My studies taught me that it is essential that learning is engaging and meaningful.  Indeed, my best grades at university have been those where could see a meaningful reason to study and take enjoyment in doing so.  The subjects I struggled with were those that were dull, where I was expected to learn facts and figures but could not see how they might relate to real life.  As a teacher (I am currently teaching a wonderful primary 6 class on a Wednesday) and now as a tutor, I keep that in mind.  With over ten years experience I still hold true to the philosophy that learning must be real, meaningful and most importantly, fun!

To me, tutoring gives me the best parts of teaching.  I get to work closely with children and their families to help them progress.  I get to challenge them and help them achieve things they never felt possible.  The children themselves are inspirational and it is a wholly rewarding job.  The biggest compliment I get is when parent’s say the confidence their child is developing eclipses that of the single curricular area and carries over into their entire lives.  Children seem happier, more confident and are willing to challenge themselves.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton