Practical and Fun Math Learning Tips

Are you experiencing the “winter blahs” right now in mid-January? Maybe it’s the cold, grey weather … but maybe it’s because you need some great ideas to liven up your Math learning. Sure, there are lots of worksheets and textbooks and workbooks and commercial “learning games” out there–but maybe some practical, fun learning would bring some summer warmth and inspiration into your family learning!

As you explore the posts in this blog, you’ll find lots of practical learning tips–but in case you’re wondering right now what I’m talking about, here are a few examples of Math tips to get you started.

Look around the house and yard, and have your child make up number sentences about things he sees. For example, you might have two piles of jigsaw puzzles sitting on a table, one with 4 puzzles and one with 2 puzzles, so he could make up 4 + 2 = 6. Then you could ask him, “What sentence would you make if I took away two of the puzzles?” If he’s a bit confused, ask him how many there are to start, move two puzzles away, and then he’ll get it: 6 – 2 = 4. Get some magnetic numbers and math signs and he could put the equations on the fridge (or use foam or cardboard ones). Then have him read them out loud. By doing this he is doing hands-on math (feeling and arranging the numbers and signs), speaking (saying the number sentence out loud), responding to questions, and very important, relating the numbers to real things he can see and touch. You can also have him write the equations on a white- or blackboard. Children often do addition in a math book, but often it is really a “theoretical exercise” without really understanding what the equation really means–so this should help to connect the theory with real life around her. Outside, your child can do similar activities, such as adding trees in different yards, subtracting flowers when she picks them for a bouquet, and so on. Children often learn much better with concrete, hands-on, viewable and touchable examples than with “theoretical” pencil-and-paper or textbook/workbook methods. And “talking through” math aloud is also very helpful. If the child can then turn around and “teach” a younger sibling or friend, or even a stuffie or a pet, all the better!

Lego blocks are handy math manipulatives. Use a group of 10 stuck together for “10s” and then smaller groups for each of the single digit numbers–put them together to create the “teens” numbers. To help your child make connection with numerals, put the lego groups with number cards (you can easily make these on bits of paper–and if you have your child make them, all the better!). Have the child count them aloud. Talk about how the “1” in a teen number says “teen” (which sounds like “ten”); and explain that for the teens, we say the single digit number first (fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen)–but some sound a bit different (fifteen [the “fif” sounds like “five”] and thirteen [the “thir” sounds like “three”]). For “twelve” say “two-elve” if she needs a reminder. For “eleven” just say “what comes after ten?”

Singing is a wonderful way to memorize math numbers and facts. You can practice number order by singing this song (and of course you can substitute the child’s favourite animal or object):

One little, two little three little penguins,
Four little, five little six, little penguins,
Seven little, eight little, nine little penguins,
Ten little penguins in a row.
Eleven little, twelve little, thirteen little penguins,
Fourteen little, fifteen little, sixteen little penguins,
Seventeen little, eighteen little, nineteen little penguins,
Twenty penguins in a row.
Twenty little, nineteen little, eighteen little penguins,
Seventeen little, sixteen little, fifteen little penguins,
Fourteen little, thirteen little, twelve little penguins,
Eleven penguins in a row.
Ten little, nine little, eight little penguins,
Seven little, six little five little penguins,
Four little three little, two little penguins,
One little penguin alone.

To help your child learn the “decades” numbers (ten, twenty, thirty, etc.), use dimes and pennies (hopefully, if you’re Canadian, you will still have some pennies kicking around the house, or you can get pretend ones cheaply at the dollar store). Set out pennies in single digit groups in rows, in order from 1 to 9, and have your child count and name each group–and for “10” just use a dime. Then put a dime in front of each of the penny groups, and help your child count/name each group. Then put two dimes in front of a group of pennies and ask what that number would be. Then three dimes in front of a number, and so on.

Use coins to skip-count: Use nickles to skip-count by 5s, dimes to skip-count by 10s, quarters to skip-count by 25s, and loonies ($1 coins) to skip-count by 100s.  Children especially enjoy using coins from their own piggy-bank if they have one; if you child gets coins for birthday gifts, chores, etc., they can save them up in a piggy bank and skip-count them to see how much they have.

While children can learn to tell time (analog) with worksheets or flash cards, there is nothing like telling real time with real clocks. Take every opportunity you can to point out clocks around the house and wherever you go, and have your child figure out the time. Children enjoy “setting clocks”–get an inexpensive clock from a thrift store or dollar store, and allow your child to play with it to set different times, and to set the alarm clock at bedtime or nap time.

On a road trip, use a real map, and figure out the distance for the whole trip, as well as the distance between towns. If the distance for the whole trip is, say, 350 km, and you pass a sign that says there is 125 km to that destination, have your child figure out how far the family has already gone. Road trips are actually a wonderful time to do lots of math–count numbers of big trucks, or red cars, or licence plates from different provinces/states; record mileage and amount of gas bought, and figure out the gas mileage; watch for signs with dates, times, temperatures; and so on. Have the children keep an eye on road speed signs, and an eye on the driver’s speed–kids love to “catch out” the driving speeding–or going too slow!

These are just a few ideas on how to do “real-life math” with your child. Now it’s up to you to think of lots of other ways to make math real and clearly understandable for your child. What are your favourite “real-life math” methods? Why not share them in the comments? Thanks!

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