Dice encourage kids to learn how to manipulate numbers. Playing dice games is a good way for children to learn game skills like taking turns, staying on task, mentally adding numbers, observing others' game play and keeping/recording scores.
Another useful thing about dice is with kids' own invented games. Including dice will add an element of chance which the young creator can factor in. Making new games is a wonderful activity for kids - it provides opportunities for the development of all sorts of learning skills. Read more about the process in my article, It's Fun to be Frugal.
Here are some dice games I like:
Tower: I invented this game for my Kindergarten kids. It's simple enough for pre-schoolers to play, provided they can count dots to 6. As well as dice, you'll need some blocks that can be added to each other vertically to build a tower. You can play with two or more people.
The aim of the game is to build a tower that doesn't collapse. The first child throws the dice, takes that number of blocks and begins his own tower. Second/third child follows suit. The child with the last tower standing "wins". Try again.
With older kids, you could add another dice and have a possible total of 12 per throw. The kinds of blocks you use will make a difference to the game eg wooden blocks vs Lego vs Unifix. Joinable blocks will perhaps begin to lean and fall - experiment and ask kids to predict which will work best.
I know it's simple, but young kids need simple games. Most children love to try balancing blocks on top of each other, so this is where the fun part comes in. Meanwhile, they're practising one-to-one correspondence with dots and blocks.
Pig: I love Pig because of the risk-taking, and because it can be played with enjoyment by kids and adults together. There's a little Maths involved, because children must add their scores. Read the rules and a sample game in this wikipedia article.
Yahtzee: The boxed game of Yahtzee is reasonably priced, or look for it at Garage Sales or markets. If you lose some of your game, or run out of the score pad, make your own version and print it off using this wikipedia article as a guide. Basically, the game involves throwing five dice at a time, in an attempt to get different poker-related combinations of dice.
Lost the dice you thought were in the games cupboard? Never fear! Here's a dice simulator. The same site describes some other dice games, including Beetle and Craps. Education World have many card and dice games to practise Maths skills. KBConnected has many excellent links to dice resources.
Next time you're taking a trip, don't just pack the books and snacks, add some dice, and pencil and paper!
Original public domain image above from Wikimedia Commons, added to by Book Chook at Picnik.