Ride the Pilgrims' Mayflower! Activity

3.8 based on 276 ratings
Updated on Nov 2, 2014

Ride the Pilgrims' Mayflower with this math-inspired game! When the Mayflower finally left England on September 6, 1620, its passengers had already been through some hard travels. They had expected to sail with two ships, for example, but the second one, the Speedwell, turned out to be too leaky to sail. In the end, some passengers stayed behind, while 102 others finally boarded the Pilgrims' Mayflower for the historic journey to the New World.

Around Thanksgiving, kids can expect to study this famous voyage in school. Here's a game you can play at home that adds an extra dimension to the story. The game begins with the idea that only some Pilgrims were able to travel to the New World; winning the game means securing a seat on the boat. From there, the game dives into math! “Ride the Pilgrims' Mayflower” is based on the ancient games of Mancala or Nim, which require kids to practice logical problem-solving and can strengthen their grasp of mathematical principles. So have fun this Thanksgiving by indulging in a little history and math!

This game requires two players.

What You Need:

  • Picture of the Mayflower (download here)
  • At least 10 toothpicks to serve as "anchors"

What You Do:

  1. Start by printing out a picture of the Mayflower. Place the picture on a flat table, then arrange ten toothpick "anchors" around it to connect the ship to its harbor posts.
  2. Now each player takes a turn picking up a toothpick. You can choose to pick up one or two toothpicks per turn. No skipping turns!
  3. Continue taking turns picking up toothpicks until there are none left. The person who takes the last toothpick "wins" a ride on the Mayflower!

This game is fun to play many times, especially if your child can begin to see patterns and strategies for winning. (For example, is it better to start by picking up one anchor or two?) Once your child has the hang of it, try adding more toothpicks—eleven, say, or seventeen. How does this change your strategy? It's great practice for young math scholars, and good for wholesome family times, too.


Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.

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