How much Math can kids learn without a textbook?
Here is a list of no prep and no props* ways to make Math more relevant, interesting, and transparent in your daily life.
(*No props that require preparation – everything mentioned here is based on things you would find naturally in the environment around you – plus a few recommendations for online extension activities.)
Do your kids love math?
… Or dread it? Are you looking for effective ways to teach (or simply talk about) Math with your kids — naturally and in real-life scenarios?
Try using these as conversation starters throughout the day or tie them into any topic of Math that your children are currently covering. Enjoy making exciting mathematical discoveries alongside them! 🙂
(This is not intended to be used as a comprehensive or grade-oriented list of topics, but rather as inspiration to include Math naturally in your daily conversations with your kids.)
- Count things! (toys, food, books, leaves …) Focus on helping young kids with one-to-one correspondence between objects and numbers.
- Practice counting to 100 while you’re driving in the car, or try singing the numbers to a tune of your choice. Help older kids practice counting backward from 100.
- Skip count to 100 by 10’s and 5’s — then do it while skipping!
- Gather items and group them by 2’s, then count them by 2’s. Then try groups of 3. How high can you count this way?
- Addition: Add together groups of items as you eat or play. (snacks, pinecones, etc.)
- Subtraction: Ask spontaneous questions like, “how many pretzels will you have left if your brother takes 3 off your plate?”
- Multiplication: “If each of us gets 2 cookies, how many will we eat all together?”
- Division: “There are 12 muffins and 4 of us. How many do we each get?”
- Basic 2-dimensional shapes: Identify and search for triangles, circles, squares, diamonds, parallelograms (etc.) in the house, park, or store. Trace shapes in the sand or in trays filled with rice or shaving cream.
- 3-d shapes: Identify and search for cylinders, cubes, pyramids (etc.) in the kitchen, building architecture, or works of art. Talk about the number and shapes of each face and how volumes of different shaped containers compare.
- Fractals: Point out how a fern or an evergreen tree grows in a fractal pattern. Look up more naturally-occurring fractal patterns online. Try drawing a Sierpinski triangle or a Koch snowflake. See if your kids can explain fractals to someone else.
- Symmetry: Look for symmetrical designs in buildings and artwork. Create a mandala on paper or outside using sticks, stones, leaves, and sand.
- Play with real money – talk about names and values of different coins, combine coins to make exact change, and practice giving change back from a $10 bill.
- Talk about money as it comes up in your life – cost of bills, groceries, house payments, taxes, salary vs. hourly wage, etc. Show kids what paper money, credit cards, receipts, bills, bank statements, tax forms, and loans look like.
- Refer to a calendar often. Help kids develop a sense of days of the week, months, and seasons and understand repeating patterns of events in time (both scheduled things and natural phenomena — 365 days for the earth to travel around the sun, etc.).
- Refer to times (scheduled events and lengths of times) throughout the day using an analog clock. Explain the minute and hour hand. The continual referencing, the authentic need for understanding time, and the clear visual representation will help them learn this skill in a solid way. Supplement with practice problems as needed.
Proportional Reasoning (Ratios and scale)
- Ratios: Talk through scenarios such as … “You can earn 2 gummy bears for every 8 books you clean up.” or “If it takes 5 minutes to shovel one foot of snow, how long will it take to shovel the whole sidewalk?”
- Scale: Play with a map on G.P.S. Find your address and zoom in and out, talking about how distance between things is relevant to the scale of the map. On a plane ride, talk about how things appear to get smaller as you get further away from them.
- Distance: (inches/feet/miles or the metric system) Point out distance measurement on things like mile markers or box dimensions; consider which units of measurement would be most relevant for measuring the height of a child, length of a road trip, distance to the backyard, etc. (Physics extension – talk about how a distance of 1,000 miles might take weeks to walk, hours to drive, or minutes to fly; kids can develop an intuitive understanding of the formula “Distance = Rate x Time.”)
- Volume of liquids: Find drinks (or cleaning supplies, paint, etc.) in containers labeled with quarts/liters/gallons. (Science extension: Talk about how you can find volume through water displacement.)
- Weight: Measure different objects (using a kitchen scale for small things or a bathroom scale for larger things). Try guessing how much something weighs and what units of measurement you could use for each item. (Science extension: Things weigh less on the moon due to the effects of gravity. Do some research to find out how much you would weigh on the moon or different planets.)
- Graphs and charts: Find graphical representations of data online, in newspapers, books, magazines, etc. Look for bar graphs, line charts, and pie graphs. Talk about the differences between percentages and real values. How can data be “skewed” to prove a point?
- Probability: Based on sports stats, how likely is it that a player will hit the ball / make a shot, etc.? In a gumball machine, how likely is it that you’ll get a certain color?
Math is all around us and occurs quite naturally in our daily lives. As Galileo said, the universe is written in the language of Math. I hope these ideas help you cultivate a positive learning environment where Math ceases to be a source of anxiety and becomes a useful, beautiful, and familiar language.
Based on my experience as a Math teacher (M.A.), I created this collection of guided lessons, activities, journal pages, and practice problems based on ten frames to help children (from Kindergarten through middle school) develop solid number sense and mathematical fluency. (You can read a full description of the book here.)
If you are looking for hands-on activities to help your children or students learn Math in authentic, engaging ways, you may be interested in this free offer. This free offer has ended.
Download your own copy of the activity-based ebook on learning Math using ten frames here.
Sandra, formerly a high-school math teacher (M.A.), now homeschools her two boys and shares her interactive, authentic learning activities, homeschooling stories, and passion for learning and teaching at R.E.A.L.-World Learners. You can view her products (including several freebies!) in her Teachers Pay Teachers store and follow her eclectic, sometimes hectic (but usually happy!) learning adventures on Instagram.
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