When the New Year rolls around I always feel a little guilty thinking that I should be making grand self-improvement plans when really I just want to get the kids back to school and catch my breath. I have friends who talk about their resolutions, and the goal setting they’ve done, and to be honest I feel like a bit of a slacker. Goal setting? Sheesh, I just survived the holidays with some shred of sanity intact, isn’t that enough? But even though I won’t be committing to losing 25 pounds, or writing my first novel, I do feel like there are areas of my life I want to put more effort into. The most important of those areas right now is trying to make homework time more enjoyable for everyone involved.
There will be less pencil-pushing, and more active learning. I fully believe that learning by doing is more effective that learning by rote.
I am blessed beyond measure with smart, healthy, boys whom I dearly love. But the one time of day that I truly dread is homework time. My 2nd grader will read books until his eyes just can’t stay open, but when it comes time to do math homework, he dons his armor for battle and fights the good fight. I sense myself shutting down, getting frustrated and impatient, and closing off the channels of communication.
I am lucky in the sense that this year his teacher just wants them working on math practice for a certain amount of time. There isn’t a specific worksheet that comes home needing to be done, so why on earth am I finding worksheets online and printing them out to stick “busy work” in front of him? Why not spend those 20-30 minutes doing something more engaging? I have a group of kids that I do some math enrichment with after school, and over the past year I’ve found some tried and true math activities that are worth passing along. From here on out I’m shifting my focus and will be doing some of these activities with my son during our allotted homework time. There will be less pencil-pushing, and more active learning. I fully believe that learning by doing is more effective that learning by rote.
There are a few games out there that I just love for learning math. I’ve detailed my favorites for you to try out at home!
We picked up Sumoku over the holidays at Southerland Station, and have loved it! An addition-based crossword puzzle of numbers, this game is suitable for young learners who can add several numbers together, but incorporates enough strategy to make it enjoyable for adults.
Mindware offers two sets of dry erase puzzles that encourage spatial thinking and build problem-solving skills. Lab Mice and Find Your Way Gnome both challenge the user to create increasingly complex pathways that don’t intersect. I bought the gnome version of the game last year at The Toy Place Downtown and my math club kids still ask to play it!
My budget is still reeling from holiday expenses and I can’t even think about buying one more game, so I totally get it if you’re in the same boat. But I bet you can all scrounge up a pair of dice. There are a ton of games that you can play using a simple pair of dice. A quick search on www.TeachersPayTeachers.com shows 1,750 hits for FREE downloads when I search with the keyword dice. From addition and subtraction, to fractions and introducing the concept of probability, the possibilities with dice are endless! Even younger siblings can get in on the action by helping count the dots when the dice are rolled.
Junk Around Your House
What about other stuff around the house? If you don’t have a flexible measuring tape like the type used for sewing, you need to grab one. It will be the best dollar you’ve ever spent. Your kid might spend the first few minutes swinging it like a lasso, but once you get them focused on their mission of measurement they will love it. Make it a scavenger hunt! Give them a sheet of paper with various shapes or objects listed that they need to go find and measure. The beauty of the seamstress’ measuring tape is that you can wrap it around circular and cylindrical objects. Give your child a healthy dose of Pi by introducing the ideas of radius, diameter, and circumference. For older kids, have them convert their findings to another unit of measure. Don’t stop at inches and centimeters, make it tricky… how many miles long is your pinky finger exactly?
Your kitchen is chock full of math waiting to happen! We’ve probably all let our little ones use measuring cups during sensory play, but those cups need to come back out of the drawer once your child is old enough to start thinking about fractions and volume. If you have a dietary scale (or postage scale) you can also begin to teach them about density. What weighs more, a cup of popcorn kernels, or a cup of popped popcorn? Why?
Don’t let bath time go by without a shout out to math. I’ll be leaving the detailed explanation of Gauss’s theorem in vector calculus up to my engineer husband at a much later date, but I can have a little chat about buoyancy and experiment to find out how many toy cars can be ferried across the tub on a boat before the boat will sink. Or how about using a tub crayon to mark the difference in water level before and after your child gets into the tub? Using water displacement to measure the volume of an irregularly shaped object is a fun way to quickly find an answer. Try it outside of the tub too. Have your child calculate the volumes of a few small objects, and then “check” their math by submerging those objects in measuring cups and comparing the answers. Quick tip, one milliliter is equal to one cubic centimeter of volume.
More Money, More Math
Finally, make your child money smart! Even if you are strictly a plastic person for the sake of expediency when you’re on the go, get out some coins and bills at home and practice, practice, practice. We’ve all encountered that cashier who just can’t figure out the correct change when you unexpectedly hand over a few extra cents to round out your change. Please, for everyone’s sake, don’t let your child become that cashier. You can make it fun by challenging them to make the same amount of money using different numbers of coins. Or assign different prices to things in the pantry and see if they can tally up how much money they would need for different “grocery lists” that you give them.
Math is everywhere we look, and it is the foundation for so much of what our children need to know to be successful in life. Unfortunately, it can also be intimidating, frustrating, and tedious. By doing our best to expose our kids to math in fun and interesting ways, we can help them become life-long learners who look at things through curious eyes and with an enthusiastic spirit.
The mom of three rambunctious redheads, Meg Nester is a Chicago area native and wannabe crafter extraordinaire. When she’s not tending to her boys (and baby girl) or training for triathlons, you can find her in the garage wielding her beloved power tools or firing up a kiln full of enamel jewelry.