Mathematics is simply the study of the patterns and order in the world that God has made. It ranges from elementary arithmetic—the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—to more advanced math, the language of the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, music, and more.
As Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer pointed out in the June 2011 HSLDA high school newsletter:
“Dealing with numbers is part of everyone’s life from counting change, to telling time, to calculating square footage for a new carpet, to doubling the measurements of ingredients in a recipe, to figuring out a grade point average. Remind your [children] that people in all walks of life use math—real estate agents who calculate principal and interest, economists who deal with trends and projections, machinists who calibrate tools, or construction workers who read blueprints and make scale conversions. Even those aspiring to be moms will use math in budgeting, comparison shopping, and putting that meal on the table!”
While most of us will use a textbook or organized teaching approach of some sort to teach math, the most effective learning—or at least reinforcement of concepts—often takes place in the context of everyday living or family activities, and many are free or very inexpensive. Remember, since math is simply the study of patterns and order, you can start by pointing out the patterns in the world around your child.
Count everyday objects—you probably started when he was very young by pointing out two eyes, five fingers, 10 toes—now teach him to count to 20, then more. Then try skip counting—2, 4, 6 … 5,10,15 …. How many houses do we pass to get home? How many legs are on the dining room chair? If we have five chairs, how many legs are there all together?
At the grocery store, let him pick out three apples, or three apples plus two more. Or the bunch with the most bananas, or the second box of crackers on the shelf. Let your child compare quantities and quantity pricing, weigh the vegetables, find a quart, a pint, a gallon, etc. Need a starting point? Try Grocery Cart Math.
Introduce or reinforce math concepts with manipulatives such as beans, homemade flash cards, colored pieces for counting or pattern recognition, popsicle sticks (rubber-banded by tens for place value, with ten-stacks tied with ribbons to denote hundreds). Joyce Herzog’s Box of Ten is one example of a manipulative-based learning program for preschool through multiplication.
Encourage preschoolers to set the table or pass things out—this teaches one-to-one correspondence, an early math skill. A very young child may count orally from one to 10 but will count the same finger two or three (or five) times, or put all the plates at one place, all the forks at another, and so on. A child who has learned that each person gets one fork, one spoon, one plate, and one cup has learned the basic concept of one-to-one correspondence.
Use math games such as Monopoly, Set, 24, and the Discovery Toys Number Scrambler. Games don’t have to be specifically “math” games to be educational; we allowed pretty much anything with points or money—and we required them to rotate the banker duties. We actually assigned Friday as “math games day” in lieu of their regular math lesson, so the children could play math games if their other math studies were done, or they could use Friday as a math catch-up day if needed.
Brain teasers and puzzles help build logic and thinking skills as well as spatial reasoning.
Find math in the Bible. From the seven days of Creation, to the animals entering the ark two by two, to all the references in the book of Numbers, to a timeline of Adam’s descendants, or even a scale model of Noah’s ark, the Bible is full of mathematical application.
Kids love measuring cups, scales, and tape measures. A plastic bin of feed corn with old Tupperware cups, bowls, and measuring implements can occupy children for hours on a sheet on the lawn or floor. Give a child two rulers and see how long it takes him to figure out he can put them end over end over end to measure a 10-foot space. Jessica Hulcy of Konos calls this “discovery learning.”
Teach basic operations and fractions using food or cooking. Cut the pizza in half, then into fourths, then eighths. Give a child 10 cookies and tell him to divide them fairly with his siblings—not only will he figure out how to divide, he’ll probably figure out the remainder! Have your children double or triple a recipe. Need more ideas? Check out The Young Chef , Everyday Cooking, or do an online search for topics such as candy + math.
Calculator skills can be fun and games for elementary students.
Even if you don’t want to share your family budget with your children, they can learn to budget their own allowance or earnings, or maybe you are willing to let them plan the budget for a family trip or the homeschool savings for next year’s curriculum. Teach them early that b-u-d-g-e-t is not an ugly word, but is simply a spending plan (and it must balance!).
Teach your junior high student to balance a checkbook, even if it is with an imaginary account (see budget item, above). It’s not practical for a young person to graduate with an A in calculus and still not know how to reconcile a bank account.
Calendars help children learn the concept of time and seasons. Mark special dates and let the children cross them off as each day passes. Go over the days of the week and months of the year.
Teach your kids to read the car gauges (of course, you’ve probably noticed that they quickly learn to read the speedometer and keep you apprised of the needle’s position).
Teach them to tell time using an analog clock (with traditional round clock face and numbers). Studies indicate the possibility that some children struggle with learning to tell time and then later with time management because they’ve seen only digital clocks. A digital clock shows only that the time (the actual number) changes, but doesn’t illustrate the passage of time as an analog (“judy”) clock does. Another helpful tool is a Time Timer, which visually indicates the fraction of the hour passing by.
Do you feel guilty building an occasional household catch-up day into your lesson plans? Putting the Legos away, sorting the Matchbox cars, tidying the colored pencils vs. the markers, reorganizing the linen closet or sorting the pantry, and other such tasks are classification and organization—valuable language arts, science, and math skills!
And a math activity for mom or dad? Count your blessings!
For more on your young learner:
Adapted from a newsletter by this author, originally published at www.hslda.org at https://hslda.org/content/elert/archive/elertarchive.aspx?7232