Fun Hands-On Math Activities Part 2

This is Part 2 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.

Do research on, and keep an eye out for, the many different uses of a specific number:

Different numbers have been used in a wide variety of ways throughout history. For example, “7 is lucky” while “13 is unlucky” (which is why many tall buildings will have a 12th floor and a 14th floor, but not a 13th floor).  Different cultures have different feelings about certain numbers. In some cultures in the past, children might be named by their number in the family. The number “666” comes up often in futuristic movies and books. We talk about the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” We also use the number 7 in our calendars: seven days in the week. The moon cycle involves 7 (days in a week), and 4 multiples of 7 (four weeks in a full cycle). All through nature there are patterns of 3–which can you think of? These number uses and patterns are intriguing–watch out together for examples all around you, and do some research on what you discover.

Measurement systems–and why we’ve decided to use the metric system (usually…):

Did you know the metric system was first used during the French revolution? Look it up! Various ancient methods of measurement (using body parts, grains of barley, baskets etc) are interesting but unfortunately, they could be imprecise and cause some big disagreements–now that’s an interesting topic to explore. The “meter” was developed, based on the distance from the North Pole to the Equator. The history of measurements is diverse and curious. Check it out! Why do you think the metric system is most widely used today? Why would people still want to use Imperial/American standard measurements? Why do ships use a different way to measure speed and distance than cars do? Why do we easily accept using metric for scientific purposes but still like to use imperial for personal purposes (like our weight, or the cost/pound for food at the store)?

Keep an eye out for the main ways we use measurement – length, weight, and capacity –  in daily life. Figure out how far your family travels on their holidays, the length of things your children are interested in, why newborns are weighed in grams and adults in kilograms, the weight of chocolate bars, and the capacity of toothpaste tubes, and recipes that offer measures for baking in both metric and imperial (experiment: are the two measurements really the same?). Try using some of the different historical methods of measurement for different objects, distances, etc. Which is easiest? Which is more accurate?

Here is a fun video, created by NASA, on the “Metric and Standard Measurement Systems.” It’s a great way to get a discussion going on measurement!

Using calendars for more than just checking the date:

Next time you’re buying a calendar, look for more than the pretty pictures! Some calendars use two or even three languages for the month and days. What a useful addition to your children’s language studies. Calendars also often include national and even international holidays, religious celebrations, and other cultural events. Some calendars have extra information like the history of a month’s name, the cycles of the moon, tide charts, and more. Choose an interesting, detailed calendar–or a selection of a few different calendars, and you’ll have access to instant “daily” activities and learning opportunities. Of course, you can also create many other activities, including planning for upcoming events, recording weather and so on. Calendars with good-sized squares for each day are a great way for children to learn to keep a daily diary, or if used as a planner, provide an easy “month-at-a-view.” Blank calendars can be used to create a personalized family (or child) calendar with important dates, events, and more, and personal illustrations (photos, drawings, etc.). Children can count “how many days/weeks until…” Christmas, birthdays, and so on. They can lead to discussions and research on a multitude of topics in all kinds of subject areas: English/other languages, social studies, science, art … and of course, math!


Dominoes and other games with mathematical uses:

“Dominoes” are so much fun to set on end and create the “domino effect” – which can lead into an animated discussion on how the “domino effect” is used to describe political and historical events as well as all kinds of other “cause and effect” situations, expected or totally unexpected.

Then, once you get around to playing the game, as the dominoes are matched, you can add “mathematical skills” into the process. Add the “scores” (the total dots on the original domino, plus the total dots on the added one)–or subtract, multiply, create fractions and so on. I had a student who hated addition but loved winning games. And it didn’t seem to occur to him, as the scores mounted up into the high decades, that he was adding larger and larger numbers.

You can even use the domino game pieces for other purposes, for example as building blocks or to lay out a floor design for a house. Each piece can represent a certain length, width and area. Often, it will be your children who will come up with imaginative alternative ways of playing all kinds of games, and unexpected ways of using game pieces. All very educational (but don’t tell them that…). Dominoes and all kinds of other games (including outdoor sports, and even simple activities like walking) have so much potential for math learning fun.

What ideas can you come up with?

Share your ideas and experiences in the comments, please!

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