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Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn Math

A parent’s involvement in a child’s education is the single most important factor in that child’s academic success. The single most important factor. Decades of educational research tells us that an involved parent contributes overwhelmingly to his/her child’s grades and test scores, school attendance and quality of homework, positive attitudes and behavior at school, likelihood of graduation, and desire to enroll in higher education. In many ways, as I’ll describe, you’re the essence of your child’s education; you’ve got the power!

Don’t Laugh – That’s Math
by Judith A. Zaino

Many times I’ve heard a parent say,
“I can help my child in any way,
But don’t laugh –
I can’t do math”.
I think for a minute before I say,
Let’s look at this another way.
Have you ever said, “Wait a minute:
Here’s a box with four things in it,
Let’s take turns; you first then me”,
Helped your child count branches on a tree?
Then you’re on the right path.
Don’t laugh – that’s math!
Have you taught your child left and right?
Counted her toes in bed at night?
Repeated his favorite nursery rhyme?
Said good night just one more time?
Have you ever split a cookie right in half?
Formed a pattern on a snowy path?
Well, don’t laugh – that’s math!
Have you ever played a game?
Measured for a picture frame?
Have you cut chains for your Christmas tree?
Noticed a butterfly’s wings have symmetry?
Did you ever check the miles into town?
Have you counted stairs both up and down?
Did you ever measure to see how tall?
Find the weight of her favorite doll?
Well, don’t laugh – that’s math!
Math can be seen in everything,
Even in the songs we sing.
Math isn’t just adding and subtracting,
multiplying, dividing, or even protracting.
Math exists all around us;
We didn’t find it – it found us!
Now remember, when this little poem is done,
If it has given you a small fraction of fun,
Don’t laugh – that’s math!

Family involvement is an essential element for a child’s success in mathematics and school. You are one of your child’s most valuable resources.

Math is all around us. The following math games and activities are just a few of the things you can do with your children which will nurture their mathematical development while being just plain fun!

• Count, count, and count! Young children love to count and will count everything and anything. Encourage your child to count out loud the number of steps climbed, spoons in the silverware drawer, french fries in her kids’ meal, buttons on all her shirts, etc.

• Practice classifying by separating toys into sets, such as things with wheels, things that have red on them, things that have numbers or words on them, things that roll, etc. Ask questions related to size or quantity: Which is larger? Which is largest? Which is smaller? Which is smallest? Do you have more dolls or more animals? Are their fewer dogs or fewer cats?

• Find two and three-dimensional geometric shapes, such as circles and spheres.

• Let your child help set the table. Fold napkins as rectangles one day, then as triangles the next. Find the number of legs on the chairs and table needed for everyone to eat.

• Let your child sort the laundry. Before washing, have your child sort the piles by colors or by family members. How many zippers? How many buttons? Are there more buttons or more zippers?

• Practice counting and making change. Ask your child to help you figure out how much money you have in your pocket or purse. Sort the coins. Let your child pick out the paper money and change needed when making a purchase, and have your child tell you how much change you should get back.

• Use sharing to reinforce division concepts and fraction skills. How many cookies will each child get if two children need to share 8 cookies? How many cookies will each child get if two children share 5 cookies? How can we cut the birthday cake so we can feed at least twenty people?

• Incorporate measuring during everyday activities, such as cooking, gardening, crafts, or home-improvement projects. Practice measuring things with a ruler, yardstick, tape measure, measuring cups, and scale.

• Use the kitchen to reinforce mathematics concepts and skills. Your child can practice sorting by helping put the groceries away and can practice measuring ingredients by helping cook meals, bake cookies, etc. Measuring cups are great for the sandbox or beach, too! Older children can determine how to adjust the ingredients to halve or double the recipe. After meals, your child can practice spatial reasoning skills by determining the appropriate size of containers to use for leftovers.

• Numbers are all around us! Look for numbers in the environment (e.g., addresses, sports statistics, weather forecasts, license plates, prices), and talk about what they mean and how they are used.

• Keep charts or graphs to help your child organize information and keep track of data. A child who is saving his/her allowance to buy an item might create a chart or graph to show how much he/she can save.

• Open a savings account. Work with your child to keep track of deposits, withdrawals, and interest and to compare this record with the monthly bank statement.

• Encourage a child who is a sports enthusiast to keep track of scores and statistics.

The following are two great games for young children:


What you need:
Each player requires their own full deck of cards.

Each player holds their deck of cards until the parent says “Go”. Each player then proceeds to sort the complete deck into piles according to the same numbers as quickly as possible.

Piles MUST be put into consecutive order from smallest to greatest value. The first player to sort all their cards accordingly wins.
Play this one over and over again!

Blast Off!
What you need:
2 players
2 dice
1 set of cards 1-10 for each player

Each player arranges their cards in front of themselves in order:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Each player must get rid of their cards in sequence starting with the 10 and going down. Players must first roll a 10, then 9, etc.

Player #1 rolls the dice. Players have two rolls per turn. If player #1 does not roll a 10 in his/her 2 rolls, he/she loses the turn.

Player #2 does the same.

The first player to eliminate their cards in sequence, and is left with only the 1 is the winner.

Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood

You’re never too young to start learning, and now one school program teaches the basics of math to toddlers.

And just what, exactly, is at the heart of this effort at a Corpus Christi school? Math games!

Do young children naturally engage in mathematical thinking and learning before they begin mathematics instruction in Kindergarten? From a developmental point of view, is there really any point in trying to foster mathematical thinking and learning in the preschool years?

Research over the last twenty-five years suggests that preschoolers engage in all sorts of everyday activities that involve mathematics, and as a result, develop a considerable body of informal knowledge.

Young children have an inherent need to make sense of the world and master it. They have an intrinsic desire to search for patterns, explanations, and solutions.

Use math games to prompt interest and development. Play is one of the most important ways children learn about their world and master skills for coping with it. Games are a particularly useful form of play that help children develop mathematical concepts and reasoning and practice basic mathematical skills. In addition to being challenging, interesting, and enjoyable for children, games provide a means for structuring experiences to meet children’s development needs.

Games can also serve as an invaluable diagnostic tool. By observing a child playing a particular game, parents and early childhood educators can detect specific strengths and weaknesses in mathematical concepts, reasoning, and skills.

The Kindergarten games manual has many games appropriate for preschoolers.

Teaching Young Children About Money

There are many math games and activities that help children learn about money.

Helping your child learn the value of coins is a real-life skill that can be taught and learned easily if you use the following activities which are educational and fun:

Free Exploration

Give your child a small tub of real coins and allow him/her time to explore. This might be a good time for you to watch your child and note what is happening. Does he/she already know the names of each coin? Does he/she know the values? Do they notice likenesses and differences? Do they sort the coins? Make patterns (i.e. penny, nickel, penny, nickel, or dime, dime, quarter, dime, dime, quarter)?

Alike and Different with a Magnifying Lens

Children need to be able to identify coins before they can learn their values. This activity gives children the opportunity to examine pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters closely and think about what things are the same and different among them. Noticing likenesses and differences is important in math and reading for young learners.

You will need a magnifying lens and 1 penny, 1 nickel, 1 dime, and 1 quarter.

Allow your child to experiment with the magnifying lens first.

Begin with the penny. Have your child look at it closely and tell you what he/she notices. I usually start with the heads side. Identify the year and place the coin was minted, the other words on the coin, and so on. Then look at the tails side. Don’t forget to examine the edges. You might want to have them cut out a large circle and draw pictures of both sides of the penny.

Look closely at each coin in turn, noting how they are alike and different. You might take a blank piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center, dividing the paper into two columns. List Alike at the top of the first column and Different at the top of the second column. Begin to write about what you discover. Some things appear on every coin; some do not.

Talk about size and value. This can be confusing for young children because the nickel is larger than the dime but worth less.

What Are the Coins?

You’ll need some coins for your child to use to solve the problems.

Ask your child the following questions:

I have three coins in my pocket. They are worth 7 cents. What do I have? (a nickel and 2 pennies)

I have three coins in my pocket. They are worth 16 cents. What do I have? (a dime, a nickel, a penny)

I have three coins in my pocket. They are worth 11 cents. What do I have? (2 nickels and 1 penny)

I have three coins in my pockets. They are worth 30 cents. What do I have? (3 dimes)

I have six coins in my pocket. They are worth 30 cents. What could I have? (1 quarter and 5 pennies or 6 nickels). This problem has more than one answer. It is challenging for children to experience problems like this.

I have coins in my pocket, which have a value of 11 cents. How many coins could I have?

Teachers – these activities can be used successfully in the classroom, and I think the secret to their success is using real coins.

Getting Ready for Kindergarten Math

People have this conception of kindergarten as children playing, getting cookies and milk, and taking a nap. As any kindergarten teacher will tell you, that isn’t the reality anymore. The focus on academics has been pushed downward.

In my many years teaching kindergarten through third grade, I watched unstructured playtime shrink, replaced by worksheets and nightly homework. The shift started in the 1990s, when studies ranked students in the United States well below those in other developed nations like Japan in math and reading. There was a push to close that gap, and one solution was to start emphasizing academic subjects at a younger age.

When kindergarten was less academic, it was an easier transition from home to school for most children. Now seat work starts in kindergarten, which means the transition is difficult for many children. Many kids aren’t so eager to make the jump into the world of worksheets and seat work.

It’s normal for students to be all over the map developmentally at this age. Each child’s brain develops differently, and their level of exposure to different experiences as they enter kindergarten varies widely. That’s why students attend preschool and kindergarten programs instead of just jumping straight into primary school – to get everyone on the same page before barreling full tilt into the world of letter grades and federal testing.

There are many things parents of young children can do to help their children be ready for kindergarten. See “Success in School Begins with Involved Parents”.

Playing math games is one of the most effective things parents can do to help their child make an easier transition into kindergarten math.

The following game is one of my favorites for young children:

Counters in a Cup

What you need:
2 players
5-10 counters (buttons, pennies, paper clips, etc.)
paper cup
paper and pencils

The object of this game is to figure out how many counters are hidden.

Decide how many counters you will use. Write this total number on the paper. With very young children, begin with a small number, such as 4.

Player #1 closes his/her eyes. Player #2 hides some of the counters under the cup and leaves the rest out for all to see.

Player #1 opens his/her eyes and figures out how many counters are hidden under the cup. Lift the cup to check. On the paper, write the hidden number in the cup and the number left out. For example, 3 left out, 1 under the cup = 4.

Player #2 hides his/her eyes and Player #1 hides some of the counters under the cup.

Players continue to alternate turns.

Your paper will reflect different ways to break the total number into two parts: 4=3+1, 4=2+2, 4=4+0
Can you find a way that is not shown?

Now pick a different amount of counters and continue to play.

Number of the Day

One of my favorite math activities for any age child is Number of the Day.

This is a great activity for anyplace you happen to be! It will give your child lots of computation practice, be a good deal of fun, and everyone (even you) will be forced to “prove” that they are correct!

Let’s say that our “number of the day” is 6. Everyone has to think up one way to make 6. Young children will probably begin with simple addition.

Example: 4 + 2 = 6

Ask your child to “convince you” (prove) that 4 + 2 = 6.

Everyone has to come up with an equation that equals 6, and each one has to be different.

After gaining in confidence, encourage your child to think of 2 different things that equal 6.
Example: 3 + 3 and 5 + 1

Then ask them to find 3 things that equal 6
Example: 1 + 2 + 3 = 6

See how many different ways everyone can find to make the number of the day. Write it all down if pencil and paper are handy.

Depending on your child’s age begin to encourage the use of other operations such as:
• subtraction 9 – 3 = 6
• addition & subtraction 8 – 4 + 2 = 6
• multiplication 3 x 2 = 6
• multiplication & addition 2×2+2 = 6
• division 24 ÷ 4 = 6
• all 4 operations in one equation
(50 ÷ 2) x 3 – 70 + 1 = 6
• coin values – 1 nickel and 1 penny =
6 cents
• fractions 4 ½ + 1 ½ + 6
• decimals 2.4 + 3.6 = 6 or 12 x .5 = 6
• integers – positive 10+negative 4 = 6

Family members can take turns choosing the number of the day. What about the day of the month, someone’s age or weight, number of windows in your home, the sum of your telephone number, etc. Try a variety of numbers, including large ones (such as 555 or 62,437) and small ones (they can be just as challenging as large ones).

Well, you get the idea! Dad might be coming up with 4 x 25 – 80 – 14 = 6!!
Does he have to prove it??!! Absolutely!

Helping Children Learn Mathematics – Count Collections!

As a veteran elementary teacher, I have found that most kindergarten children and many first graders come to school able to rote count to ten, or twenty, or higher. Even though the counting sequence seems to be in place, these children often have difficulty counting objects accurately past five or ten.

After more than 20 years of being an elementary math specialist, I have found that the most important thing parents can do to support their children’s mathematical growth at this age is to count things.

Experiences with counting provides a solid foundation for future experiences with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

The following counting and comparing activity is one that I always sent home as homework:

Counting and Comparing Collections

The concepts of more than, less than, and equal to are important in your child’s development as a mathematician.

We use the following symbols:
= to mean “is equal to”
< to mean “is less than” > to mean “is more than”

For example, 7<18, which means 7 is less than 18 (small, closed end points toward the smaller number) Count the following things around your house and record how many and then put in the appropriate symbol.

_________ ________
adults, children

__________, _________
ceiling lights, lamps

_______, _______
chairs, tables

______, ______
people, pets

_____, ______
girls, boys

_____, _____
doors, windows

________, _______
bedrooms , bathrooms

_______, ________
forks, knives

_______, _______
cups, glasses

_______, ______
books, TV’s

_______, ______
shoes, socks

________, _______
watches, clocks

What are some other things you could count and compare at your house? Do it!

Using Math Games at Home

Games offer a pleasant way for parents to get involved in their children’s education. Parents don’t have to be math geniuses to play a game. They don’t have to worry about pushing or pressuring their children. All that parents have to do is propose a game to their child and start to play.

Math games for kids and families are the perfect way to reinforce and extend the skills children learn at school. They are one of the most effective ways that parents can develop their child’s math skills without lecturing or applying pressure. When studying math, there’s an element of repetition that’s an important part of learning new concepts and developing automatic recall of math facts. Number facts can be boring and tedious to learn and practice. A game can generate an enormous amount of practice – practice that does not have kids complaining about how much work they are having to do. What better way can there be than an interesting game as a way of mastering them?

All right, you’ve chosen a math game to play with your child. Now what? How can parents effectively help their child while playing a game?

Parent Responsibilities

Too often the parent is willing to give the child the answer, thus making it possible for him/her to do no thinking whatsoever. Not good! Your primary responsibility is to ask your child questions – questions that will force him/her to think and verbalize what he/she is doing and why.

Sometimes children don’t know what to do. Here are a few good questions to help them begin to help themselves, not just rely on you, the parent, to give them the answer:

What can you do to help yourself?
• Use your fingers to count?
• Count the dots on the dice or cards?
• Use counters (such as beans, paper clips, pennies, etc.) to figure
it out?
• Draw a picture?
• Start with something you already know?
Example 1: If you know that 5+5 =10, how can that help
you know what 5+6 equals?

Example 2: If you know that 5×6 = 30, how can that help you
know what 6×6 equals?

The power of questioning is in the answering. As parents, we not only need to ask good questions to get good answers but need to ask good questions to promote the thinking required to give good answers.

Here are a few more great questions to ask your child when playing a game:
• What card do you need?
• Which cards would not be helpful?
• Prove to me that a ____ is what you need.
• Why do you think that?
• How did you know to try that strategy?
• How do you know you have the right answer?
• Will this work with every number? Every similar situation?
• When will this strategy not work? Can you give a counter-example?
• Convince me that you are right.

Parents who observe and interact with their child while they are playing math games can find out a great deal about what their child knows and can do in math. While playing a game, what do you notice – what are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?

Finally, games provide children with a powerful way of assessing their own mathematical abilities. The immediate feedback children receive from their parents while playing games can help them evaluate their mathematical concepts. Good games evaluate children’s progress. They provide feedback so that parents, and the child know what they have done well and what they need to practice.

Parent Response to Game

As you play a game with your child, ask yourself the following questions:

• What did I think of this game? Did I like it? Why or why not?

• Was this game too easy, too hard, or just right? How did I change it to meet the needs of my child?
• What do I think my child learned from playing this game?

• What did I learn about my child while playing this game? What are his/her strengths? What does he/she need to practice?

Keep in Mind While Playing Math Games…

Inventing, Creating, and Changing the Games

Give your child opportunities to invent and create. The rules and instructions for all games are meant to be flexible. Allow your child to think of ways to change the equipment or rules. Encourage them to make a game easier or harder or to invent new games.

You can easily vary the games within this CD to suit the needs of your child. Some variations have been described within many of the games:

• The operations used within the games can be changed. If it’s an addition game, it might also make a great subtraction or multiplication game.
• The types of numbers used with the games can be smaller or bigger. If it’s a two-digit addition game, can it be made into a three-digit game?
• The rules of the games can be altered.

Please be creative in transforming the games into new forms, and please allow your child to do likewise.

Play the games many times. Children begin to build and practice strategies (plan their moves in advance) only when the game is repeated often. Playing it just once or twice is not very helpful, unless the game is too easy for your child.

Provide repeated opportunities for your child to play the game, and let the mathematical ideas emerge as they notice new patterns, relationships, and strategies. Allow the mathematical ideas to develop over time. This empowers children to independently explore mathematical ideas and create conceptual understanding that they will not forget.

Don’t hesitate to go back to a skill and play a game if you know your child needs to practice it.

Have FUN together!!!!!

Counting with Young Children

As a teacher, I have found that the most important thing parents can do to support their young child’s mathematical growth is to count things.

Encourage your 3-to-6 year old to count all kinds of collections! This will provide your child with rich opportunities to practice oral counting, develop more efficient counting strategies, group objects in strategic ways, record numbers, and represent their thinking.

Research shows that counting is one of the best ways to help children build number sense. Children need lots of experiences with counting to learn which number comes next, how this number sequence is related to the objects they are counting, and how to keep track of which ones have been counted and which still need to be counted.

Experience with counting provides a solid foundation for future experiences with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Count everything in all places and situations. Count fingers of everyone in the car; count french fries in the McDonald’s bag (is every little white bag filled with exactly the same number of fries?); count silverware needed for the whole family for supper; count coins in Dad’s pockets; count lights in the house; count legs (people, animals, tables, chairs, etc.). You get the idea!

When they get good at counting things, ask them to write down (in crayon or ink) an estimate of how many things they think are in the collection they are about to count. Now count that collection and see how close their actual count was to their estimate. The more they make these estimates, the better they will get.

Number recognition is a second skill young children need to acquire. Cover Up! is a great game for helping children with number recognition. They will work on number recognition from 1-6 in this game. When they have mastered this, try the variation which involves number recognition to 12 and simple addition.

Cover Up!

What you need:
2 players
1 die
paper and pencils
number line for each player – write
(big) the numbers 1 through 6 in a
horizontal line (1 2 3 4 5 6)
6 counters (paper clips, beans,
pennies, etc. for each player

The winner of Cover Up! is the first person to put a marker on all six numbers.

Players take turns rolling the die and putting a marker on the corresponding number on his/her number line. If a number already has a marker on it, that player loses his/her turn.

Variation: Roll two dice and add them together. Each player will need
a 2-12 number line.

This game seems simple, but it really helps young children recognize the dots on the dice. When they begin, they may need to count the dots each time, but soon they ought to learn what number the dots represent without counting them.

An Essential Math Game for First Graders

Same Sums is a perfect math game for First Graders. It allows everyone to practice those addition facts to 10 that are so important. Children need to have them in long term memory as soon as possible. Research shows that young children who do not have all their addition facts to 10 in long-term memory are going to struggle with subtraction. It makes sense. If a child does not automatically know that 3+4=7, they are going to struggle to calculate 7-3=?.

Same Sums also helps children understand the meaning of the = (equal) sign. Many people think it just means “now find the answer”. Children need to understand that the equation must be equal (balanced) on both sides of the = sign.

Same Sums

What you need:
2 players
24 index cards

Write one fact on each card – see the facts below.
Turn all the cards face down in 6 rows of 4 cards each.

Player #1 turns over two cards. If the sums match, player #1 keeps both cards. If the sums do not match, he/she turns the two cards back over.

Player # 2 does the same.

Play continues until all the cards are matched. The person with the most cards wins the game.

Same Sums facts:

1 + 1
2 + 0
1 + 2
0 + 3
2 + 2
3 + 1
2 + 3
1 + 4
4 + 1
3 + 2
3 + 3
4 + 2
1 + 5
6 + 0
2 + 1
3 + 0
1 + 3
4 + 0
5 + 0
0 + 5
2 + 4
5 + 1
5 + 2
4 + 3

Teaching Math at Home

Many parents don’t feel comfortable with math, or they assume it takes special expertise to teach it. Remarks like “I never was any good at math” or “How can I help my child with math? I can’t even balance my checkbook!” are common. However, even parents who feel this way use mathematics all the time. They hand out lunch money, cut sandwiches into quarters, calculate how much paint or wall paper they need to buy, estimate how much a trip will cost, read and interpret graphs, talk about the probability of rain, and decide that it’s time to fill the gas tank. Some of them knit, piece quilts, measure wood for cutting, decide how many cups of spaghetti sauce they need to make for 6 people, and use metric tools to work on their cars. The list goes on and on.

Many adults also feel they aren’t doing things the right way, that they aren’t really using mathematics, because their approaches, even though they work, are not the methods they learned in school. There are, in fact, many ways to do mathematics, and more than one can be right. People who devise their own strategies for finding answers to mathematical questions, far from being mathematically incompetent, are often excellent independent problem solvers. They are using mathematics creatively.

You have what you need to help your child with math because:

1. You have a great deal of important mathematical knowledge to share.
2. Children learn best from the people who most accept and respect them.
3. Learning is more lasting when it takes place in the context of familiar home experiences.
4. Children must see that math is not just a subject studied in school but is used constantly in everyday family life.

The home is an ideal place in which to learn mathematics because the problems encountered there are real, not just paragraphs in textbooks.

Making Math Part of Your Family’s Life

It’s common knowledge that young children whose parents read to them have a tremendous advantage in school. But did you know that you can also help your child learn mathematics by doing and supporting math at home?

Today mathematics is more critical to school success than ever before. Modern occupations now require a firm foundation in mathematics – and that’s true for almost any type of job your child will consider in the future.

How you encourage and promote your child’s math learning, from preschool to high school, can be pivotal to their attitude toward math and their achievement in this subject area. Children are taught math in school, but research shows that families are an essential part of this learning process. In other words, by doing math with your child and supporting math learning at home, you can make a great difference.

There are many ways to make math part of your family’s life. Consider the following checklist of key ideas:

• Always talk about math in positive ways. Regardless of your own math background, let your child know that learning math is very important. Communicating a positive, can-do attitude about math is the single most important way for you to ensure that your child is successful in math. Never tell your child that math is too hard or that you hated it or weren’t good at it when you were in school.

• Make math an everyday part of your family. Find math at home. Spend time with your child on simple board games, puzzles, and activities that involve math. Involve your child in activities like shopping, cooking, and home fix-it projects to show them that math is practical and useful.

• Notice math in the world. You can help your child see the usefulness of math by pointing it out wherever you see it – not just in your home. What shape is that building? How many more miles before we get there? How many glasses of milk are in a carton? How much will you save if you buy a combo meal at McDonald’s?

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