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  • Math Games

    Educators have been telling us for years that children learn best by “doing”. It is much easier for them to understand a new concept when they can relate it to their world. The subject of math is one that is best learned through tangible activities. Measuring flour to bake a cake teaches fractions. Counting change for an ice cream cone teaches the value of money. The following simple math activities can help your children discover the applications of math in their every day lives.


    Ever hear this question?  “How many days until my birthday? Or Christmas?” I have found with small children, it is hard to teach them to mark the days off on the calendar. It is just too abstract for them, especially if they are not yet reading numbers. Whenever there is an important countdown event in our children’s future, like a family trip or the anticipated arrival of Grandma, we have them make a paper chain. We make a  paper circle for each day leading up to the occasion and tear one away  every day until there are none left and the special day has arrived. This idea works in reverse too. We made a chain once to reward good behavior. Starting  with one paper circle we added one circle for every time our children did a good deed, like cleaning up their room, brushing their teeth or resolving a conflict without hitting or fighting. It was fun for the children to see how long they could make the chain and it was a great decoration for their room.

    Set up Shop

    This is  instinctive for kids since they naturally mimic the adults in their lives. You can use play food (I’ve found lots of bargains at dollar stores) or any objects found in the house. Have your children assign values to the items and you will be amused at what they come up with. We have seen macaroni and cheese cost $100. Make price tags with plain stickers and give them some play money. Let their imaginations take over from there.

    Give ’em Cash

    Although I personally don’t believe in allowances, I do occasionally give my children small amounts of money to make their own purchases. Every Wednesday  is Popcorn Day at my daughter’s school. One bag of popcorn costs 50 cents. Some days I give her  $1.00 or $1.50 and tell her to treat her friends. She sees that 50 cents buys one bag,  $1.00 buys two and so forth. It teaches her the value of money and how to spend it.


    Most children have some kind of collection whether it is Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards or  Matchbox cars. Collections are an important math tool because they teach  children sorting and grouping. The next rainy day, have your kids pull out one of their collections and ask them to sort it into different groups using whatever criteria they choose: size, color, kind of animal etc. Point out  the similarities and differences. Take this activity one step further and help them to chart a graph.

    Weights and Measures

    As I mentioned in the introduction, cooking is a great way to teach kids measurements. In addition to encouraging your children to participate in food preparation, make sure they have a set of plastic measuring cups and spoons. They can play with them in the sand box or in the bath tub. A measuring tape is another “must have”. We bought both of our girls their own and they use them constantly. A common bathroom scale is another handy tool. My kids love to weigh themselves and their cats.  And don’t forget a size chart. If you don’t have one it is much more fun to measure your children and write their heights right on the wall.

    Play Cards and Other Family Favorites

    The simplest games teach the most basic and important skills. Card games like Crazy 8’s, War, Go Fish and Old Maid teach number recognition, pairing, the values greater and less than and shapes. Childhood classic games like Dominoes, Candyland and Monopoly teach matching, counting, and dollar values.

    Choose Positive Role Models

    If you are like me, you may have sat in your high school algebra class and wondered “What am I ever going to use this for?” I had no math career goals because I had no math role models. Be sure to expose your children to positive influences and praise their accomplishments.  One of my all-time favorite movies is Apollo 13, the story of the ill-fated moon landing expedition. In one of the scenes, the Commander Jim Lovell, played by Tom Hanks, needs to calculate the rocket’s trajectory. Groggy from lack of sleep, he asks the men at Mission Control to verify his figures. I cheered this scene because it showed how these men (with slide rules) were heroes because they could do math.

    Another great film, October Sky, chronicles the true story of a group of boys in a West Virginia  coal mining town who are inspired by Sputnik to build rockets. The central character, Homer Hickam, evolves from a mediocre math student to eventually win a national science fair, a full college scholarship and become a NASA engineer. The movie is based on his memoirs Rocket Boys! Encourage your kids to shoot for the stars. You never know when one of them may grow up to be a rocket scientist.

    For more ideas on how to incorporate math into your child’s daily life, look for the following titles: Math Play ! by Diane McGowan and Mark Schrooten, Anno’s Math Games by Mitsumasa Anno and How Math Works by Carol Vorderman

    Published on July 29, 2009 · Filed under: 5-9 year olds, Math, Pre-school; Tagged as:
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