“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
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.
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 Math, Xtra 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.
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?
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?
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.
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)
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?
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?