Ice cream game – Introduction to probability for little kids




Finally!  Kids can have ice-cream, eat it, and learn something at the same time.  Both my 6-year old and my 4-year old adore this game.  Who wouldn’t?  Lot’s of tasting involved.  They are especially happy when they guess the flavor right.  But it’s not that important.  The purpose of the game is to figure out the probability of any particular ice-cream being a flavor that a participant picked.  This sounds much harder than it is.  It’s actually very simple to play.  My 4-year old played this game since she was 3.


You might be wondering how much of probability do they actually get and how much do they just follow the prompts?  We don’t know.  But even if they don’t really get it, the next time they hear “probability,” it will not be an entirely new concept.  And I believe that just being exposed to the new information increases learning capacity.  My kids love this game so much that when we don’t have ice cream, they still want to play it.  (Maybe it has to do with throwing dice.  Kids just love dice.  They suggested that the next time we play this game with 2 dice and 12 flavors).  When we don’t have ice-cream, we just imagine having it.  Write down six different flavors on a piece of paper and it’s (almost) as much fun. (I did say “almost”!) When you play this game without ice-cream, go wild with the flavors.  You are making it up, so make it hilarious.  Cherry Poop Chocolate Doodle is always a success here.  Gooseberry Hot Nuts, brings on some giggles.  And Donkey Kick Caramel Bananas starts an impromptu dance.  Just make sure they are not distracting you with that dance in order to sneak over and see what the numbers are.


What you need
tasting spoons for tasting ice cream (I buy a pack of 500)
paper and pens
6 tubs of ice cream of 6 different flavors (here we had chocolate, lemon, vanilla, cappuccino, caramel, raspberry)  Assign a number to each flavor.  1 – Caramel, 2-Vanilla, 3-Lemon, etc.  Children should not be able to see what those numbers are.  That’s what they will be trying to figure out.  I do ask them to write down the numbers 1-6 on post-its.


Objective of a game
Calculate the probability of an ice cream being a certain flavor.  Before the game explain Probability. Probability means how likely something to happen.  When we toss a coin, there are two possible outcomes: heads or tails.  We say the probability of the coin landing one way or the other is 1/2.  “1” is the number of ways it can happen, and “2” the total number of possible outcomes.  When a dice is thrown, there are six possible outcomes: 1,2,3,4,5,6.  The probability of any one of them is 1/6.  If you want to taste caramel ice-cream in this turn, the probability of you getting caramel ice-cream is 1/6. “1” is the number of times caramel can happen (we only have one tub of caramel), “6” the total number of possible outcomes.  (When you have played the game longer, you can add that if we had two tubs of caramel ice-cream, we would increase the probability of getting it.  The probability would be 2/6 or 1/3).


How to play
Player #1 rolls the die.  Say, “4” comes out.  Players write down number 4 and Player #1 writes down the desired flavor.  Say, “chocolate.”   Ask what is the probability of the ice-cream being Chocolate?  It’s 1/6.  Now the tasting time.  Bring over a spoon of the ice-cream that corresponds to #4, while the player’s eyes are closed.  (It’s just more fun to taste the ice-cream with the eyes closed). So, parent gets a bit of #4 ice-cream on a spoon and gives to player #1.  Player guesses the flavor by taste.  It’s Lemon!  All players make a note that #4 is Lemon.  Five more flavors to guess.



Player #2 rolls the die.  Say, #1 comes out.  The player makes a guess that this is going to be a Caramel.  Parent reminds kids that there are five flavors left.  What is the probability of this ice-cream being Caramel? It’s 1/5.  Parents gets a bit of ice-cream on a spoon.  The tasting reveals that it’s Chocolate.  All players make a note that #1 is Chocolate.

Keep playing the game until all six numbers make an appearance.  If the same number comes out as before, player can just keep rolling the dice until a new number comes out.  For little children it is sometimes useful to make a little chart that shows progress.


At this point the probability of getting the indicated flavor is 1/2

I don’t know how much of the probability concept they actually retain, but the game is fun.  We are spending time together.  We are laughing.  And laughing together is a great bonding experience.  What’s more they are convinced math is fun!  Give it a try!


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