Practical and Fun Ways to Use Art in Math and LA

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 of how to use art to liven up your Math and Language Arts 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 some art tips for Math and LA to get you started.

Kids love reading that leads to fun, practical experiences, and this might be very motivating for your child who enjoys arts and crafts. Why not introduce your child to simple arts and crafts instruction books in which she can “follow the directions” — getting great reading practice while encouraging her creativity.

When studying sight words, spelling rules, math facts and equations, and other potentially “boring” lists and concepts, make these important “basics” more fun (and learning them more effective at the same time) by encouraging your child to use art. In addition to practising math facts, reading words repeatedly, and writing spelling words over and over, your child can also illustrate them, which is fun and also is a mnemonic device (helps with memorization). Introduce different fonts (on a computer or by hand with calligraphy)–an artistic child will love practising with fancy writing styles. Another idea is to have him look for “list words” in newspapers and magazines, on cereal boxes and other packaging, and in flyers or catalogues from the mail–with a variety of colours, sizes, fonts and illustrations–and cut them out and glue them onto colourful paper. Alternatively, the cut-out words can be used to create sentences, stories and poems using the list words. The same thing can be done with numbers for math facts and equations.

Children’s magazines are a great way to integrate art into Math and Language Arts learning. For example, with one particular child who was a very reluctant leader but loved arts and crafts, I loaned her a copy of Highlights High Five magazine (Jan 2012) that has an article/activity called “W” Worm School. The goal is to find all the hidden “W”s in the picture (and any words that start with w). I made her a photocopy so she could colour all the Ws and w words she finds. We also looked through the rest of the magazine at the many poems, stories, activities, recipes, crafts and so on. She was intrigued and was excited to try out the activities–and of course, she got loads of reading practice–and writing and math practice–at the same time.

Combine real-life Science and Social Studies explorations with Math, Reading, and Writing. As an example, I gave a child a magnifying glass and sent her to find a bug to examine. I also gave her a sheet of plain paper, a clipboard, and a pack of pencil crayons. She was soon putting her art and entomology skills into practice together, drawing the bugs she found and their environments/habitats. Under her colourful drawings, she wrote observations about each bug. Then she enthusiastically used books and internet research to find out the common names and scientific names of the bugs–and she even gave even one a special name she came up with. She made a booklet with her work, and signed it “By Entomologist (her name).”

Read aloud–using art–is also a great way to encourage children who are reluctant readers and writers–and even mathematicians. When you read to your child, make it a really interactive experience. Ask questions (especially ones that start with “who, what, where, when, why, how” because those lead to conversational answers that go beyond “yes” or “no” or other one-word responses). Stop and respond to her chatter about the story, even if it seems to you that it’s interrupting the storyline or taking too long. Encourage her to retell the story in her own words, and even add to it or make changes–and be sure to write down what she says, then have her read it aloud, and even copy or trace it. And of course, have her illustrate it with colourful drawings. If she doesn’t like to draw, she can make plasticine models, get friends together and make it into a play to perform and/or videotape, take photographs for it, cut out appropriate illustrations from magazines or comics, find suitable recipes and make the foods–use your and her creative imaginations! Have fun together! You can also encourage math this way by integrating math concepts into the storyline–using clocks, money, calendars, weights and other practical math in the story–and then applying the concepts in real life.

Does your child find her math or sight word flash cards boring? Have him draw (or cut-and-paste) illustrations on the back of each card. Then he can “test” himself by reading the word side–and flip it over to see if he was “correct.” Children will actually learn the words or facts much better this way than with commercially produced illustrated cards. In fact, have your child make his own cards (using index cards–possibly in different colours for different types of words or math facts) from scratch–or, if the child enjoys doing computer art, make the cards on the computer. You can purchase blank “business card” printer sheets and have your child type the words on one side (with an interesting font of his choice) and copy-and-paste or self-illustrate the other side. Another idea is to have the child also write a sentence under the picture.

Is your child having a hard time with math facts and equations? Along with “finger counting,” manipulatives, number lines, workbook sheets, etc., encouraging your child to illustrate equations or facts with sketches of objects she enjoys doodling (hearts, circles, stick people, flowers, cars, etc.) often can be very helpful.

Does your child struggle with memorizing spelling words? Encourage him to draw pictures to go with them. It doesn’t really matter if the picture actually illustrates the word. In fact, it often turns out that “silly” illustrations create a better “mind match” than sensible illustrations. (The same goes with writing sentences with the words in them–silly works well, especially if there is rhyming in them). The key is to match a word’s spelling and shape to a picture; then, if the child can’t remember how to spell the word, he can sketch the illustration (or even just “imagine it” in his head), and that connection will often bring the correct spelling to mind.  Of course, as already mentioned, if the child doesn’t like drawing, he can always “cut-and-paste” pictures from old magazines, comic books, etc.

And speaking of funny sentences with rhyming words… Here is a fun activity to do together with a child who is struggling with basic reading and handwriting: pick simple rhyming/family words, and make up funny sentences together. Encourage your child to help think of the sentences. If they are “silly” that’s often even better because it’s more memorable and fun. Write the sentence out, and have her trace and/or copy the “family” words, then encourage her to draw a funny picture to illustrate it. As her writing skills improve, have her trace (and later copy) all the words, not just the family words. Experiment with different widths of lined paper to see which she is most comfortable with. An alternative thing to do is to get a book of simple rhymes (many nursery rhymes work well with this, for example, Little Boy Blue, or Little Tommy Tucker), read them to her, and have her identify the “family words.” Then have her make up her own rhyme with those words, or write the family words from the poem and then illustrate the poem.

Is your child hesitant when it comes to handwriting? Does he know his letters, but is hesitant, and seems to worry about doing them “right”? You can do a variety of art-related activities to help build his confidence. For example, finger tracing and handling plastic/sandpaper/magnetic/foam letters, writing in whip cream or finger paints, finger-writing letters in his palm or on your back (and making you guess the word), drawing the words in “fog” on a window, writing with chalk on a sidewalk, writing in mud or sand… what ideas can your child come up with that seem fun and adventuresome?

What about those words that follow the rule: “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking and the second one is silent”? I’ve found that drawing little sketches of the two vowels walking (putting “stick person” body, arms and legs below the vowels), with an open mouth on the first “vowel face” and a closed mouth on the second “vowel face” (inside the vowel) can be very effective. Do it 3 or 4 times to give the child the idea–and then encourage him to draw his own, for words he has difficulty with.

If your child is already drawing things, ask what the “middle sound” is of things in the picture, and talk about, for example, how “the short a in cat is the letter a” — and encourage her to label them if she can. You could write the beginning and end sounds and she could fill in the vowel. Start with short vowel words; later add long vowel sounds later, and then “blends and digraphs.” To make it even more fun, she can illustrate the letters–for example, draw ears and whiskers on the “a.”

Likewise, encourage her to create her own “picture letters.” I suggest printing the letter with black marker or black crayon, then having her create a picture around and within it. You can together come up with a list of words (nouns! people, places, things) that start with that letter/sound, and then she can choose which one(s) she wants to use to make the letter picture(s).

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