Cool Math Games For Kids: Thief


Continuing the topic of cool math games for kids, we bring to you one of our favorites: Thief.

 Thief is the general name of the game we like to play, which has many different variations. The only thing you will need to enjoy a variety of engaging math games is some Cuisenaire Rods. We love using Cuisenaire Rods in our math circles, and we recommend getting a set!  

What Are Manipulatives and Cuisenaire Rods?

In math, a manipulative is an object designed to help the learner perceive a mathematical concept by manipulating it. With the use of manipulatives, children can learn concepts through hands-on experience.

Cuisenaire Rods are manipulatives that are great for learning and understanding numbers. They mainly help young learners visualize numbers and amounts. They also provide endless opportunities to reinforce key math topics. For instance, addition, subtraction, geometry, measurement, multiplication, and division. 

These rods don’t have numbers written on them, so it’s all learned through abstraction. For example, colors are attached to size. Then, when you work with the rods, you think of colors and memorize sizes. The only way to know the numerical size of the rod is by ordering them and comparing them. The abstract element is the color, and then we figure out numbers from there. Furthermore, they are an excellent way for young math learners to visualize 2-digit numbers.

You can also use Cuisenaire Rods for the previous game we posted: I See 10!

How To Play One Of Our Favorite Cool Math Games — Thief 

Thief is good with any type of manipulative, but we prefer to use Cuisenaire Rods. There are two types of rods: ones with divisions, which are easier to count; and the harder ones with no division lines. We recommend starting off with the simpler ones and then switching them out to the solid rods. 



  1. Ask your child to “go to sleep” (to close their eyes), and steal 2-3 numbers (rods) from them.
  2. The child “wakes up”
  3. They need to catch the thief by telling you the correct number and the correct color which was stolen
  4. You can play this with many people too. This way, each thief steals at least one rod. It’s a good memory game where the child memorizes numbers and colors.


  • You can play this game with only odd or only even numbers.
  • If the rods are laid out in succession, you can ask the child to “jump over gaps” and count the numbers left. Then, count the gaps and tell which ones are missing.
  • Of course, you can play with numbers higher than ten, too.
  • You can steal all the “10” rods and ask the child how many you stole. This helps to count up to 100.
  • For younger learners, make sure to go slowly. Ask the questions one by one, step by step. Slowly adding up the rods.


  • Always give the child a turn to be the thief and make mistakes on purpose so the learner can be in power and have fun. That way, they can also correct you and learn along the way
  • Don’t only go “up the staircase,” but also go down. That way, you can practice both adding and subtracting.
  • Always ask, “is there any other way.” Encourage the kids to make as many variations as possible!
  • Most importantly, put an emphasis on practicing number drills and create fluency through playfulness!

Cool Math Games — Let’s Build A House!

For this game, we build a house using the Cuisenaire rods. Every floor of the house is made of a variation of the number 10. Students must make different number variations and make sure the house has every floor to build the house. 

You can play this game similarly to how you would play Thief — by stealing floors and asking students to find the missing numbers!

Try to create more mental association and stories instead of solely talking about numbers. You can say things like “building floors,” “building a house,” etc. 


How To Play One Of Our Favorite Cool Math Games For Kids — Toys and Tools

Another great game we like playing with Cuisenaire Rods is something we like to call “Toys and Tools.” 


  1. Make two piles of Cuisenaire Rods. One is the “toys” pile. While the other is the “tools” pile.
  2. Once again, the teacher can start off by being the thief.
  3. The thief has to steal at least 2 rods from the “toys” pile.
    (Let’s say 9 and 8 were stolen, totaling in the number 17)
  4. The thief then asks for some tools in exchange for the toys. The total number of the tools has to be the equal of the stolen toys.
  5. So now, the child makes 17 from his “tools” pile. For example, he can give the thief 10 and 7.
  6. Continue playing and exchange rolls!


This kind of game is perfect for establishing the skill of counting above 10. With rods, kids really feel the amounts — 3 of 10 versus just the written “30,” which can confuse young learners. 

Math Games Vs. Worksheets

Why would you do worksheets forever when you can play more engaging games? Too often, we see children learning math through endless repetition and loads of worksheets. We’re not saying to give up on worksheets completely. However, we do suggest complimenting them with some cool math games for kids! 

Young math learners usually don’t become fluent by only doing dry drills with “squiggles” (aka, numbers). The truth is, it’s not very efficient. 

We need to give worksheets meaning by having a physical and tangible “5”. That’s where tools like Cuisenaire Rods come in. You will surely notice your students or kids understanding math better than ever. Then, you can start complementing their studies with more worksheets. But only do this after you are sure they’ve gotten a good grasp on tangible numbers. Furthermore, you can use the rods side by side while completing worksheets.