Series: Ideas at Work

Games to Play at Home Using Attributes for Math Thinking

Crazy Train Games to Play at Home

Language and math have a lot in common! For example, every time you describe something—as red, tall, sticky, or loud, for example—you are helping to define and categorize things. And defining and categorizing is huge in mathematics! You can’t count all the apples until you are sure you know which things are apples and which are oranges. And a square is only a square because of the characteristics that define it: closed figure, four sides of equal length. When children use attribute language to describe and organize objects when playing games at home, they are preparing their brains for math thinking!

There are tons of opportunities to use attributes when talking with your kids at home, whether as a fun game or as part of regular cleaning and organizing activities. Below are some ideas that don’t require any special materials.

I Spy

One way to help kids think about attribute language is the classic game “I Spy.” We have played this for years as a waiting game in restaurants and doctors’ offices. It works just as well as a game to play at home!

To play, someone finds an object that everyone in the room can see, and describes it using one characteristic, as in “I spy something yellow,” and other players guess— “is it a banana?”

The whole family can take turns and get in on the fun. If you want to, you can make it even more math-y by using attributes that encourage mathematical thinking, such as numbers, shapes, measurement, and location words. 

The ways to use features to describe objects is endless… Think outside the box and have fun! 

*Note: younger children may need a reminder that for the game to work, the item they are “spying” needs to be one that everyone can see at that moment. When our kids were younger, our son would often choose things that he saw in the past while in the car or out and about.


  • I spy something round 
  • I spy something that has three parts 
  • I spy something bigger than my hand
  • I spy something heavier than the dog 
  • I spy something taller than daddy 
  • I spy something that is a pair 
  • I spy something that is under the window 
  • I spy something wider than your arms 
  • I spy something half the size of you 

Crazy Train

Another game idea is building a Crazy Train with just about anything you have around the house. Pencils, apples, keys, pillows, containers, toys, and books are all good choices for Crazy Train games to play at home. Gather them together on a table or the floor, and have the kids pick an object to be the locomotive, or the first object in the Crazy Train. In our game, the toy truck is the locomotive. Then look at your other objects: which one has something in common with the truck? As long as your child can justify their choice, they can add that item to the train! We chose a green die because it shares the same color as the truck. Next is an orange die because the dice have the same shape.

The goal of the game is to connect all the items in a long chain with each pair of objects connected by a unique attribute. The hard part comes as the game nears its end, when the remaining, passed-over objects have to be included. That’s when the attributes might get really crazy, like pointing out that both an eraser and a flashlight are “taller than an ant” or “don’t speak French” — as long as the statements are true, it’s a train!

Once all your objects are “train-ed” comes the fun part: Can you go back to the locomotive and name all the relationships that link everything, all the way to the caboose?

attribute train Games to Play at Home playing games at home

Sorting your Shoes

Is there a place in your house where people take their shoes off when they come in? If so, that’s a natural opportunity for talking about attributes. It can be a household cleaning project or a game—either way, it all starts with a question: how should we organize these shoes? When the sorting begins, attribute language is unavoidable!

Maybe it makes sense to organize the shoes by owner – all of Nana’s shoes over here and all of Toni’s over there. Maybe it makes sense to organize them according to purpose: sneakers in one place, sandals next to them, and all the rainboots lined up against the wall.

shoes attributes Games to Play at Home

If it’s more of a game than a housekeeping task, you can really get creative, and let the kids take the lead. “Let’s put all the shoes with Velcro closures together.” “Here are two pairs of shoes with red stripes.” “I wonder if we have more shoes with laces or without?”

If you and your family need some inspiration, below are links – in English and Spanish — to a great Pete the Cat video about using attributes to describe shoes.

shoes attributes Games to Play at Home 2