Recently I was looking at a Facebook thread discussing this question, and I was delighted to see some of the great suggestions. So I copied them down–and then added some of my own that I have used with my own children, grandchildren, and school and tutoring students.
To start: Focus on learning together–exploring, playing, household tasks, shopping. Kids love to be involved in real family life math from a very young age. If your kids are attending school, avoid bookwork, worksheets, technology learning programs unless they ask for it–and even then, limit it. If you’re homeschooling, follow one basic math system–no need for expensive systems that take hours and hours of tedious work. A half hour a day of “book and/or computer work” should be plenty at the primary level, and at the preschool level, just use paper and crayons (avoid computers or anything that “babysits”) when they want to “play school” and let them decide what they want to write/draw. Simple colouring books with a few dot-to-dots are fine for when they want a math workbook. “Learning tools” and “math programs/systems” can be very expensive; spend less time earning money to buy them, and use that time with your children as you learn and explore together.
Some great quotes from parents:
“My kids got to a Grade 3 level easily and very early, with nothing more than delight-driven math play.”
“Math happens all day at our place.”
“I find that following my children’s interests helps; they are more willing to learn and not drag their feet.”
Play, play, and play some more:
- Play with dice (there are many kinds; you can use the ones from the games you have, or you can get packages of mixed dice very inexpensively–you do not need to buy expensive “learning game” dice!). Then use your imagination–or better yet, let your children use their imaginations! Same with:
- Mazes (life-size ones: in cornfields, at theme parks, etc. Or outline a real-life route to follow on a map–around town, etc.)
- Colouring by number
- Counting books, cars, all kinds of things
- Help matching socks
- Charting with numbers on dice
- Card games
- Construction toys
- Board games like Snakes and Ladders, Dominos, Uno, Blokus; there are “Junior” versions of many games, but kids love to play the “grown up” versions with adults!
- Guessing games
- Building–simple things like stacking blocks; design “playhouse/fort” plans together and “build” indoors with cardboard, blankets, etc.; spagetti bridges; or follow plans to build birdhouses, tree forts, etc. Outdoors, use twigs, pine cones, rocks, etc., to design temporary houses, teepees, etc. What works? What doesn’t? How is real-life math involved?
- Nesting cups (think: what kinds of “math applications” do things around your house have?)
- Books (borrow from the library!) that involve numbers. Lots of kids’ books that aren’t actually “number books” have all kinds of number involvement. Also magazines–especially “how-to” and “science” magazines–adult ones, too!
- Skip count hopscotch or trampoline
- Play outside – counting leaves, pine cones, arranging them in groups, patterning etc.
- Divide any bunch of things into equal groups. Sort by colour or number or type or any other criteria. Great with M&M’s or animal crackers.
- Singing or chanting songs that involve counting
- Road trips: look for licence plates from different places; count particular items or colours; calculate distances based on highway signs; compare speed limits; memorize math facts, formulas, etc.–make up funny fact association rhymes like “12 and 12 is 24, get out the eggs and shut the fridge door.”
- Play “store”–save up empty containers; use play money.
- With food: Helping bake and measure; Cooking; Counting out the number of fruits on the plate (like grapes or blue berries) and then doing simple addition and subtraction gives a concrete visual of concepts; setting the table (how many utensils, etc. are needed for X number of people).
- Keep inexpensive crafty items handy (you can get great deals on basic supplies at sales of leftover school supplies in mid-September; also save scraps from your own projects, left-over wrapping paper, packaging boxes, etc.): crayons, markers, paper, glue, various kinds of tape, rulers, scissors, etc. A great birthday or Christmas gift is a box full of bits and pieces–or a trip to the Dollar Store or a good sale, at which the children can choose the bits and pieces of “crafty” items they like (you can set cost limits, point out better deals, help them compare, avoid pre-made kits, etc.).
Some Real Life math:
- Take along a calculator to the store and let the kids add up the prices of items; compare the difference between prices of different brands; calculate taxes; etc.
- Open bank accounts for the kids and have them deposit a portion of each week’s allowance. Have them make “wish lists” (record prices from flyers, catalogues, shopping trips) and set up budgets from their allowances. Involve the kids in basic family budgeting sessions.
- Plan road trips (or other travel) together–distances, costs (gas, flight or boat costs, hotels, etc. Find tourist activities (museums, etc.) that have mathematical applications. Even at theme parks, talk about design features of rides, etc., and how math is involved.
- Use cash (rather than debit/credit cards) for shopping and have the kids figure out which bills and coins to use.
- Sewing using simple patterns–how much fabric is needed, what will it cost, what size, etc.?
- Involve the kids in gardening, constructing a shed or other outdoor furnishings, and so on–they can help measure, hammer nails, screw, etc. If you are getting them a dog, build a dog house together (make plans, determine amount of materials needed, shop together, build together).
Technology/Commercial “learning” products (minimal use):
- There are lots of free or low-cost computer/tablet/smart phone learning games–reserve as rewards for homework completed, etc. and no more than 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a day.
- Cuisenaire Rods; Geo stix; Inchamals; other “learning tools” — but use more for exploration and fun. If you are homeschooling, you can use them to illustrate theoretical concepts in the math program you use, but remember that counting, grouping, patterning, etc. can easily be done with what you have around the house: coins, pasta pieces, game pieces from table games, toys, and so on.
Are you wondering … how is all of this math? How can I use these things to teach math? What about my older children? Check out some more precise ideas here.
And check out the links to the many different math ideas under the math tips section here.
Your turn: What family fun math ideas do you recommend? Be sure to share them in the comments section!