This is Part 4 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.
Learn to Use an Abacus
It’s true that the abacus was developed long ago in China, but you might be surprised to learn that it appears to have been developed independently in several parts of the world, including by the Maya in North America. Did you know that in contests between abacus and calculator users, abacus users are often able to solve complicated equations faster? This would be a fun experiment to try with family members and friends. In many parts of the world, the abacus is still used daily in markets, banking, and other practical mathematics. Encourage your children (and adults in your family, too) to use an abacus for practical math around the home. Playing with an abacus is a great way for children to discover counting and arithmetic concepts on their own, and a hands-on way to memorize and understand math facts. You can purchase an abacus quite inexpensively at toy stores, even though they really aren’t a “toy” but a useful calculation device–and they’re often available at thrift stores, too.
Bowling and Other Sports Are a Great Way to Practice Math
There’s nothing like keeping score at a bowling alley to practice those addition facts and skills–and have fun while you’re at it. Unfortunately, many bowling alleys now have electronic score-keeping devices, but usually, they’ll have some old-fashioned scoring forms tucked away under the counter if you just ask. You can find a thorough explanation of bowling scoring here and you can download a printable score sheet here . Besides keeping score, sports like bowling are a great way to develop strategy skills and even use probability to predict scores for games based on past statistics, also important aspects of mathematics. This can be developed into graphing and other math skills, too. If you have family or friends who are enthusiastic bowlers–or love baseball, football, hockey, tennis and other sports that require score-keeping and strategy, why not ask them to take your young sports enthusiast under their wing, and teach them these skills?
Math for Young Artists
“Copy and Colour” books are present drawings in grids, with blank grids on the facing pages. Show your child how to make accurate drawings by following the grid drawings. Alternatively, you can choose a sketch or even a photo. Overlay it with tracing paper, and draw dots at important points. Then your child can connect the dots with lines, referring to the original. Or, of course, you can number the dots (or just use a dot-to-dot book). Another slightly more complex method is to start with the tracing paper dot overlay–but then instead of giving the child the paper, you can first lay it over a geometric grid and write down the (x,y) points of the dots of a piece of paper. The child can then locate the positions of the dots and put them on the grid–and then, using the original picture as a guide, along with the dots, recreate the picture.
Another slightly more complex method is to start with the tracing paper dot overlay–but then instead of giving the child the paper, you can first lay it over a geometric grid and write down the (x,y) points of the dots of a piece of paper. The child can then locate the positions of the dots and put them on the grid–and then, using the original picture as a guide, along with the dots, recreate the picture. If you need a review on plotting on (x,y) coordinates, you and your child will have lots of fun watching and learning from this video!
Build and Use a Geoboard
Geoboards can be quite expensive to buy–but they’re really inexpensive to create and in the process involve using geometric skills. The picture at the top of this page shows a geoboard made of a board and some nails, with coloured elastic bands. The geoboard I made used a cast-off piece of pegboard and some leftover screws and bolts I dug out from a bucket in my hubby’s workshop. (Here’s a good set of instructions).
There are so many ways you can use a geoboard, and they’re almost all mathematical–just use your imagination, or better yet, let your children use their imaginations! For example, with my 25 point (5×5) geoboard grid, I drew 4 designs on graph paper marked with 25 point grids. My child chose two of them – the first a cross, and the second his initials. He used elastics to reproduce them on the geoboard. Next, I had him create his own design on the geoboard, and then reproduce it onto the graph paper. Finally, I had him create another design onto the graph paper, and then reproduce it himself onto the geoboard. He really enjoyed doing all these things, and even started “experimenting” by using combinations of different coloured elastics, stretching elastics to different lengths, using multiple elastics versus just one, and so on.
Then I put grid paper marked with 25 dots (which match the posts on the geoboard) set inside clear acetate. I drew a series of exercises/designs for the geoboard, one at a time, on the acetate/grid paper with an erasable marker, and then my child re-created the design on the geoboard. Then he created and reproduced his own designs. With the eraeable grid, endless designs can be worked out. If you’re having trouble thinking of some, check out these excellent ideas on a Pinterest board. (Scroll down to see more ideas on that page).
Also, I explained “right angles, acute angles, and obtuse angles” with sketches on the acetate/grid paper, and with angles of elastics on the geoboard. I showed my child how to use a protractor, and he was soon easily naming the degrees of different angles, and naming which of the 3 types of angle each was.
Probability experiments are always fun. Here are some examples:
- Draw a crayon from a bag that contains 1 brown, 1 red, 1 yellow, and 2 blue crayons (or colour combinations of your choice. Have your child predict what will be chosen more often and why (eg. blue because there more blues–you can also create a probability “tree” if you like). Do about 30 or 40 draws, and see if the prediction is correct.
- Roll two dice together and record (in a table or on a graph) how many times each possible combination comes up (1/1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/6, 2/2, 2/3, 2/4, 2/5, 2/6, 3/3, 3/4, 3/5, 3/6, 4/4, 4/5, 4/6, 5/5, 5/6, 6/6). Before rolling the dice, predict which combination(s) will come up most, or whether they will be the same. Do the rolls match up to the prediction? Why or why not? (There may be several suggestions for unexpected results). Then discuss how this information could be used in a dice game such as Yahtzee to plan strategy.
- Travel tips: predict what proportion of licence plates from different provinces/states will be seen and why; then graph how frequently different plates are seen. Discuss. You could do similar predictions, recording and graphing for a combination of highway stops such as rest stops, fast food restaurants and gas stations. For a long road trip, you could keep track of gas mileage between each fill-up. Theoretically, using the same vehicle, the children might predict similar gas mileage each time–but likely, the results will be somewhat different each time. Discuss the factors that might make a difference (eg straight highway vs towns that have stops and starts; weight in the vehicle after buying–or consuming–groceries; driving uphill compared to downhill or on flat stretches, etc.).