Math Strategies for Home

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” 

-Albert Einstein

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I’ll admit it, I have some fears.

Rodents. Illness. Unleashed dogs. Natural disasters. Lakes I can’t see the bottom of.  Helping my children with their math homework.

Math homework?

Strange, right? After all, I am a teacher, with a Master’s degree, and a very solid grasp of my times tables. Yet, panic inevitably ensues when asked, “Hey, Mom. Can you help me with my math?”

It’s not that I can’t help, entirely. It’s that I don’t want to mess up how they’re learning it in school. I’m also the person who needs to spend time “relearning” concepts I haven’t done in awhile, which doesn’t always bode well at 8 p.m. the night before an assignment is due. So, when parents tell me they don’t know how to help their children with math, I totally get it. Because I, too, am that parent.

Therefore, in following up with my previous posts, At Home Writing Activities and Unplugged Literacy Activities here are some practical ways you can help your children improve their math skills without losing your sanity.

Memorize those Math Facts 

The number one math struggle I see as an elementary teacher is when students do not have their math facts memorized. As in math facts, I’m talking basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication and division of numbers 1-12. These facts should be recalled in less than three seconds. Students who do not have their facts memorized, have to work harder to solve any problem placed in front of them. Think about it, when asked to find the product of 965 x 13, students who cannot recall 5 x 3 are going to get lost in the first step of the algorithm. It is so much more challenging to learn higher-level concepts when you’re still focused on the basics.

My advice. Learn your facts, y’all.

Practical ways to do this are creating flashcards, skip counting (7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49…), and quizzing one another on facts. There are also excellent websites out there that generate flashcards for students to improve their facts: Reflex MathXtra Math,  Cool Science Lab.

Practice Measurement and Shape Attributes

The ability to measure objects with a ruler is often not as simple as it seems. A really practical way to build this skill is to give children a ruler and a piece of paper and have them mark off inches, 1/2 inches, 1/4 inches. Then turn the ruler around and measure in centimeters. So many art projects can be done by measuring lines and angles. In doing this, talk about intersecting lines, triangles, circles, angles.

position of figures
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Start by putting a dot in the center of your paper. Using a ruler, draw lines outward toward the edge of the paper. Then using the ruler, measure out inches, placing a dot on each one, for each line. Connect the dots and color your design. 






Once students feel comfortable measuring with a ruler, move onto the yardstick or tape measure and begin to…Measure. All. The. Things. Seriously, measure the doors in your house, the rooms, your yard, your refrigerator. Then chart everything in a notebook, adding what type of shape it is. Four sides makes it a quadrilateral, three sides means it’s a triangle, five sides is a pentagon. Being able to take measurements is a life skill so why not start now?

Telling Time

Okay, so we all have digital clocks and cell phones, but how many of us have an analog clock in our homes? Better yet, an analog clock with Roman Numerals? Work with your young mathematicians on how to tell time to the hour, the minute, the second. Practice elapsed time with them. For example: Soccer practice began at 5:45 p.m. and we ate lunch at 12:10 p.m. How many minutes passed between when we ate lunch and went to soccer? Just by having your students tell time and determine the number of hours, minutes and seconds before each activity, you’re providing valuable math practice.

Cooking with Fractions

Remember that fear of math I mentioned? Fractions happen to be near the top of the yikes category for elementary families. Why not teach your kids to cook with you? Practical and necessary. Recipes are simply fractions. Groovy, right?!?

1/4 c + 1/4 c = 2/4 cup or 1/2 cup

1 TB is equal to 3 tsp. Therefore, 1 tsp = 1/3 TB.

Encourage your child to use cooking to improve at fractions. I mean, the simplest way to say it is “I get you’re literally starving to death. Would you rather have 1/2 of a pizza or 1/8 of the pizza?”

Take it a step further. Have your child create a family recipe book. When creating, ask them how they would double a recipe, triple a recipe. Likewise, what would happen if you only needed to make 1/2 a serving of spaghetti sauce instead of a full serving? You originally needed 2/3 tsp of oregano, now you need 1/3 tsp.

We use fractions every day. We often don’t even think about it. Why not encourage our children to do the same?

pizza on brown wooden board
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Area, Perimeter, and Volume, oh my…

When teaching area and perimeter, I ask students to consider a swimming pool. The area is the pool itself, whereas the perimeter is the fence that goes around the pool.

For example, if the length of the pool is 8 ft. and the width of the pool is 4 ft., the area of the pool is 32 square feet. (length x width = area; 8 ft x 4 ft = 32 square feet)

The perimeter, on the other hand, is 24 feet. (length + width + length + width = perimeter; 8 ft. + 4 ft. + 8 ft. + 4 ft= 24 ft.)

Volume, then, is the amount of water it would take to fill the pool. So if the height (or depth) of the pool is 4 ft, the volume of the pool is 128 cubed feet. (length x width x height = volume; 8 ft x 4 ft x 4 ft = 128 cubed feet.)

Once student are aware of the formulas for area, perimeter (and sometimes, volume) they can draw blueprints and measure the amount of space they would need. For example, have students plan a vegetable garden, a grocery store, a restaurant, a theme park, or their dream house. By drawing rectangles on paper to plan, they can determine the area they need for each table, or vegetable, or freezer. By adding each up, they can then determine the total area needed for their designs. Students can then take it a step further to determine the perimeter needed to enclose their plan.

area and perimeter

Practice Decimals with Money

Who doesn’t like counting money? If you’re able to count change, you’re able to understand decimals.

1 penny = 1/100 of a dollar or .01

50 pennies = 50/100 of a dollar or .50

$1.25 = 125/100 or 100/100 + 25/100 = 1.00 + .25

Encourage students to use money to practice using decimals. When they understand that 3 quarters = $.75 = 75/100, they can practice comparing decimals.

What would you rather have…

75/100 or 33/100

.75 or .33

.75 > .33, so I would rather have $.75 than $.33

Finally, expand on this by having students add and subtract monetary amounts to practice place value by lining up the decimals.

10.32 + 1.25 = 11.57

1.25 + .25 + 1.50

Whereas, $1.25 + $20 = $1.25 + $20.00 = $21.25   (NOT $1.25 + $.20 = $1.45)

Line Plots

Being able to analyze and use line plots is an essential skill for upper elementary students. On one of your nature walks, have your child count the number of flowers they see and put it into a line plot. Then ask which flower did you see the most of? Which flower did you see the least of? How many more roses did you see than tulips?

line plot


Puzzles, Games and Legos

Math, at its core, is the ability to problem solve. Family puzzles and games not only provide life skills and fun, they also allow children to deal with complex tasks, to count money, to add up the numbers on a pair of die, to recognize colors, patterns and relationships. Legos also allow children to read diagrams and solve complex tasks. My son used to like to create his own Lego designs and then write step by step instructions for solving them. It was a great way to use his creativity while also practicing his ability to challenge others with his designs.


So, take a deep breath and enjoy having fun with math because a lot of it’s really not as frightening as we think.

Until next time…

Be kind, stay awesome, and ask yourself, What have I done for others today? 







At Home Writing Activities

“The day is full of possibilities. It’s all in the way you look at things.”

-Mary Poppins

I love to write. Ask any of my current and former students and they’ll likely tell you that I also love to teach writing. Hand me a prompt and a rubric and it’s go time. Many of my students are right there with me, while others…

…not so much.

I get it. Writing is hard and staring at a blank page can be terrifying. In following up with my last post Unplugged Literacy Activities, here are some of my favorite ways to encourage young writers from home.

close up of human hand
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Daily Journal

Encourage children to journal each day. If they struggle to come up with ideas of what to write about, offer them a daily prompt.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

What superpower would you most like to possess?

What are your goals for today, what will you do to accomplish them? What did you achieve yesterday?

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing is one of the three tenets of writing taught to elementary students. Simply put, this is the ability to write a story. These stories can be fiction or nonfiction, can take place in present time or the past, and need to have characters and dialogue. If students are struggling to come up with narrative prompts, here are a few ideas.

Free Write Based on a Photo

I love to show students a picture with no backstory or details and tell them to write about it. It’s amazing what they come up with as far as characters and plot. Many even write a poem based on the photo. I’m always impressed by their creativity. This photo in particular is one I took inside of the Lewis and Clark Caverns. Without telling my students that, I would show them the picture and say…Go!


Write an Alternate Ending

Read children a story, or have them read a book, and then write a different ending. You can also take a story they enjoy and ask them to write what happens next (think: modern fan-fiction)

Write from a Different Character’s Point of View

If Harry Potter was told from Hermione Granger’s perspective , what would happen? Similar to an alternate ending, how would the narrative change if it was told from another person’s perspective?

Write a Fractured Fairy Tale

I love reading fractured fairy tales, which are basically fairy tales told from the point of view of the antagonist. My favorite is a picture book  The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. I’m also currently reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin to my fifth graders. Students love reading the perspective of the antagonist. Why not have them write a story of their own based off of the “bad guy?” Personally, I’d love to read a story about Syd from Toy Story. That kid is a chasm of twisted creativity.

Write a Script

My son loved writing scripts when he was younger, which he turned into homemade movies. He had backstory, tragedy, and a lot of cousins to act out his movies. In fact, these days he’s still writing scripts as one of the Assemblies Coordinators at his high school. One way to increase creativity is to have students write a movie script that they can perform and film at home. Kids are super adept at technology so why not embrace it?

Informational Writing

The second type of writing students are expected to know in elementary school is informational, or informative, writing. This writing is meant to inform a reader about a topic. Informational writing in nonfiction and must have a main idea and evidence to support the main idea. Here are some ways to improve informational writing.

Research a Topic

Choose a topic that the writer can teach others about. Remember, all evidence must be fact based as the main priority is to educate the reader. For example, if the topic is The Black Hole, have your child research about the black hole and write a paper or create a slide presentation to teach you about it.

Create an Informational Pamphlet

Again, research a topic and create a pamphlet with information and nonfiction text features- pictures, graphs, diagrams, charts, etc.- to engage the reader. As I tell my students, the best way to engage a reader is to make them interested from the get go. The best way to keep a reader is to hook them from the start.

Start a Family Newspaper

There are a lot of current events and news that can be added to a family newspaper, not to mention editorials, book and movie blurbs, and advice columns. Make it fun and collaborative! Also, share it with me because I love reading about current events!

Create an Encyclopedia

Do current students even know what an encyclopedia is? Have your child choose a letter and write informational pieces about various topics that start with that letter. It’s also a great way to work on alphabetizing words and information.

Opinion Writing

My children, and some of my students, love to argue. That is fact. So why not encourage it through their writing? Opinion writing is the ability to convince others of your belief in a topic and/or to persuade them into feeling the same way. It is also the third major type of writing students need to understand before leaving elementary school. Opinion writing should include a paragraph stating your opinion, a few paragraphs including reasons and evidence to support your opinion, and a final paragraph restating your opinion. For older students, you should also include a paragraph that presents the counter-argument as a way to acknowledge the other stance while also reinforcing why your opinion is correct. Below are some ideas of how to not only build on children’s opinion writing skills, but to also encourage the argument in an academic way.

You Don’t Agree with My Rules? Prove It.

Encourage children to argue with you through writing. I need you to state your opinion and give me plausible reasons and evidence for why it is correct. If you are anything like me, you will acknowledge the argument and give reason for your counter-argument, before coming to an agreement.

Choose a Topic and Encourage Children to Take a Stance

Is a dog or a cat a better pet?

Should animals be kept in a zoo?

Which is better? Chocolate or vanilla?

What time should elementary students go to bed at night?

Remember that students should be able to state their opinion and that their opinion should stay consistent throughout their writing. For example, if they state chocolate is better than vanilla (obviously), they need to back that up with solid reasons and examples without singing vanilla’s praises in the second paragraph.

Write Book Reviews

A great way to reinforce persuasive writing is to write book and/or movie reviews. State why you liked or didn’t care for the book and give reasons why. Convince me this is a book I should read! 

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Stay tuned for my next post on unplugged math ideas!

Until then, as I would say to my students…be kind, stay awesome, and ask yourself, What have I done for others today? 







Unplugged Literacy Activities

 “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

– Benjamin Franklin

I finished my second trimester report cards on Friday, less than twenty-four hours after our school closed for six weeks, due to the state-mandated COVID-19 closure. Although I know instruction will continue in some capacity, districts, including my own, are scrambling to adapt to this current reality. Our number one priority is making sure our students will still continue to have their basic needs met through food and nutrition services. Then, we can focus on the next task– facilitating learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

I’m not a fan of all-day screen time. Yes, a lot of distance learning takes place on computers and there are phenomenal learning websites to reinforce skills and aid in instruction, many of which I will be sharing in the coming days and weeks.  There are also many activities that can be done at home without a computer.

With that said, I am not opposed to technology or computer access in any way, at home or at school, however here are some literacy activities so students can learn from home during this time of imbalance.


Read. Read. Read.

The best way to improve fluency and comprehension is to read. Have your children read for at least thirty minutes daily. Ask them questions about what they read that day, give them a sticky notepad to write a quick sentence about each chapter and post the notes to create a storyboard. I’ve also found that if I’m reading, my kids are more likely to follow without complaint.

Build Fluency by Reading Aloud

Fluency is the rate and accuracy in which a student reads. The higher their fluency, the better their comprehension because they are working less on decoding words and are therefore able understand what they are reading. Read aloud to your child and have them read aloud to you. The more children read aloud, the more comfortable they become in doing so. Watch for unnatural pauses in sentences and encourage them to use expression in their voice.

Build on New Vocabulary

Write newly acquired vocabulary in a notebook. Have children try using context clues to identify what the words mean before going to Google or a dictionary. Encourage them to create a dictionary and quiz others on their new vocabulary terms.

Create Storyboards and/or Story Pamphlets

Fold paper into thirds to create a story pamphlet or board. After reading, students can create a cover, identify the plot, as well as the characters, setting and theme. My daughter created this one for Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse so I could show you an example.

story board


Start a Book Club

Read the same book within your family or create a book club between your child and a few of their friends. When they are not together and technology is allowed, they can create a common document to summarize and discuss the book.

Family/Friends Book Reviews

Find a place to post about books and make recommendations. Book reviews are a fantastic place to start opinion writing. Convince me to read that book you’re recommending!

Listening and Learning

Read something to your child and then ask them comprehension questions. The art of being an active listener when not being able to follow along with what is being read is very difficult. You have to tune out all side thoughts and distractions. Make the questions very specific to what was read.

Practice Identifying the Theme of a Story

In my experience, the ability to identify the theme, or message/moral, of a story is difficult for all elementary students. It is also an essential learning standard. Contrary to the main idea of a story, it is the overlying and often inferred messages that are woven throughout. The best place to find identifiable themes and morals are in fables and fairy tales.

For example:

The Three Little Pigs: don’t take short cuts to get a job done.

Tortoise and the Hare: slow and steady wins the race.

The Lorax: take care of the environment.

Harry Potter: loyalty, friendship, courage, good vs. evil.

The ability to identify themes in books is essential so make it fun and practice!

Practice Comparing and Contrasting

So many books have movie companions. To compare and contrast, draw a Venn Diagram and have students write what’s specific to the book, what’s specific to the movie, and what’s in both.


Create a Plot Diagram or Story Mountain

To learn more about what a Plot Diagram is, I suggest this fantastic Pixar Video that one of my teaching teammates shared with me. After reading a book or watching a show, ask your child to create a plot diagram of it on paper. I created one on our white board at home of the cartoon version of Mulan. I also like to add a favorite quote, as well as the themes, and genre of the book/movie.

plot diagram

A Little Bribery Never Hurt

Not only am I a teacher, but I’m a parent, which also makes me a realist. Despite forcing them, I have two children who, unlike myself, are not avid readers. Therefore, a few bribery tricks to encourage reluctant readers.

  • For each book read, they get a puzzle piece. When the puzzle is complete, they earn a prize.
  • Create a BINGO board. For each book read they get a square. Bingo is a prize and Blackout is a prize.
  • Sticker charts, completed Mr. Potato heads for prizes. Extra technology time, money and desserts…I’ve done it all.


Good luck and stay tuned for my next post on unplugged writing ideas!

Until then, as I would say to my students…be kind, stay awesome, and ask yourself, What have I done for others today?