Fun Hands-On Math Activities

So many times, children (and youth and adults, too) “hate” math because it seems like nothing but a bunch of useless theory. If you can teach your child mathematical concepts through interesting real-life activities, instead of textbook work, they’ll develop a love of math in all its many aspects of life–often without realizing that they are actually doing math.  Here are a few fun activities I have done with my own children and my tutoring students:

 

Use dominoes to:

– construct structures. Try to make each structure more complex than the previous one. (You can also use blocks, lego type bricks, and other similar shaped objects–and combine them). Encourage the child to “talk through” the process. As a parent, build your own structure alongside and explain your process as you do it. Include how you use analysis, strategy, and probability, as well as other planning skills. Do sketch pre-planning on graph paper or even try using “architectural” software.

Use dry noodles and craft glue to

-build structures such as bridges. Plan ahead. Try different types of noodles (spaghettini, spaghetti, lasagna) to see which are strongest. How can different kinds be combined? Which should be used for spans? For the bridge deck? etc.?

Multiplication:

– calculate the number of bricks in a chimney or wall by counting across and down and multiplying. Since bricks are staggered, how many “across” rows will need to be taken into consideration?

Geometry:

– use balls of clay and toothpicks to build models of “square numbers and “cubic numbers” (etc.).
– use paper to design geometric shapes. Draw what you think a 3 dimensional shape would look like “flat,” then cut it out around the edges and try to assemble it into the 3D shape. Keep trying until you understand one shape, then try other shapes. If the child is stuck, cut a cardboard box along the edges so it lays flat. Examine it, and try to reproduce it with paper.

Fractions (and division and multiplication)

– Research and discuss how science has kept discovering smaller and smaller parts of what we once thought were already the smallest parts. Talk about molecules, atoms, electrons, protons … and smaller and smaller…
– Use dominoes or lego bricks to discuss fractions. Count how many there are altogether (start with a small number like 10; later work with larger numbers). Put all of them together to form a “whole.” Then start separating into equal parts. (For example, with 10 bricks, you can have halves and fifths. With 35 bricks, you can have fifths and sevenths.
– Use baking to understand fractions. Double or triple recipes–or halve them. When the product is baked, cut it up into x number of equal parts (think of different ways to do that; sketch them out on paper first; choose the “best” way).

Negative numbers:

– Use a thermometer to understand positive and negative numbers.

Probability and statistics:

– flip a penny or other coin and record the “heads” and “tails” on a chart. Discuss the “probability” of each. (Discuss things like: While theoretically, there should be an equal probability, the different sides of a coin have different amounts of metal due to the engraving, so there are slight differences in weight. How does that affect probability? What if you do the flipping in a windy place or in front of a fan? Would that change the probability? Why or why not?)
– Do the same with dice. Roll one and record/graph how many times it lands on each set of dots. Then do it with two dice, and record and graph combinations.
Predict which combinations will come up most and least; then check against the results. How many times did you have to toss the dice before the result came up even or close to even? What aspects of the dice, the tossing method, the surface the dice land on, etc. could affect the results? Using your graph of combinations and the same pair of dice, play a game like Yahtzee that uses dice. Use what you’ve learned to decide the probability of which dice combinations are most likely to come up when you’re playing the game. Can we use this to create strategies for playing a game?
– Discuss how we use probability and statistics in all kinds of ways. Look through news articles or listen to news reports. How often are statistics used? Are they accurate? Why or why not? How else could the same statistics be interpreted? (This is very interesting when there are elections or other events that use polls).
– Look at a Farmer’s Almanac or seed packets. Discuss how weather statistics are used to determine when is the best time to plant different crops in different places.
– Likewise, examine a tide chart (and go to the shore each day for a few days to observe the high and low tide marks). How is statistics used to determine tide levels and times? Why is it helpful to know these things?
– Go online and record the high and low temperature predictions (plus sun, clouds, rain, etc) for the next week. Record them on a graph. Then, using a different colour, record the actual results. Watch weather reports on TV; learn about “highs” and “lows” and other ways (including historical statistics) meteorologists predict the probability of upcoming weather. Do the same for the path of a hurricane (or tornado or other weather events) from the time it is first spotted forming until it has actually run its course. How did the predictions and actual events compare? What could have accounted for differences? What kinds of stats and probability were used to predict it?

Math and Mapping and Landscaping:

– discuss why mapping a yard would be a good idea (decide the best places to do certain types of plantings based on needs of space, sunlight, soil, etc.; planning the best place to set up a picnic table and barbeque; finding a good place to play croquet or other yard activities; etc.).
– Then map your own yard, recording the information on graph paper. Mark topography, trees and shrubs, soil types, compass directions (important for when different parts of the yard are in sun), areas that are in shade or in sunlight much of the time, and so on. You can even find “micro climates” by placing thermometers in different spots. Then decide how you could put your yard to the best use. This is a wonderful, long term activity! Do experiments like planting the same plant in a shady spot, a sunny spot, a rocky spot and a sandy spot. Keep records; make lots of graphs. Over time, develop some statistics and make predictions based on those statistics and probability.

Perspective:

– Take photographs of an object or scene from different positions: directly above, from different side angles, from below, from close up, from far away, with the whole object or just parts of it. Compare them. How does the perspective change what you see? What did you notice about the object that you never thought of before? Are any of the photos puzzling? Why not show one of the puzzling pictures to several people and see if they can figure out what it is. Why does an object or scene look like it has different sizes and shapes, depending on the angle of the picture? What angle do you think is most accurate, measurement-wise? Least accurate? Why does that happen?

This is Part 1 of a series on fun math activities you can do at home.

You can find a list of all the posts in this series in the “Fun Math Activities” section on the Home Education Tips page.

What are your favourite family fun activities for learning math?

Please do share your ideas in the comments. Thank you!

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