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Kids Who Love Math Homework!

This school year Faleycia Moore is spending more time on her math homework than her teacher demands. Sound unbelievable? Does this ever happen at your house? What’s going on?
Her assignment is: Spend at least half-hour playing math games on an iPod Touch.

Searching for a way to help students who scored below grade level on the math portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test last year, Faleycia’s school in Clearwater decided to experiment with the iPod Touch.

Is it working? There has been a noticeable improvement in such things as students’ comprehension of multiplication tables. Kids are willingly spending two hours a night on math homework.

Is it the use of technology or the use of math games that is making the difference? Undoubtedly it is some of both.

There is no doubt in my mind that, as the Internet continues to play a larger role in education, a growing number of online sites will host free math games, most of which are challenging, exciting, fun, and age-appropriate. That’s all well and good.

But above all else, children crave time spent with their parents. Because learning is a social process, children learn best through fun games and activities that involve interaction with other people.

Stanley Greenspan, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at George Washington University School of Medicine and author of many influential parenting books, says playing games with parents helps children develop the social skills necessary for getting along with others and is core to their healthy development.

“When you play games with your children”, Greenspan says, “you’re not only connecting and engaging, you’re exchanging back- and-forth emotional signals, which are helping the child regulate mood and behavior, learning to read social signals and learning to communicate. Each of these abilities contributes to a child’s sense of security.”

Seize this opportunity to teach them your values, and indulge them with your own undivided attention. Try a math game with your kids. A price cannot be put on the quality of the time you will have spent with your children. They will have fun while learning, and they will remember those times with greater fondness than the times they spent playing the educational computer game.

And lastly but of great importance, among the obvious benefits of sitting down and playing a good game with your children is the opportunity that games provide to apply and solidify the mathematical reasoning and calculating skills your children are learning in school. When children play on-line or video games, parents may know how the child scores, but do they know where they made mistakes and why? Playing games with your child offers you, as a parent, a greater opportunity to know what your child’s strengths and weaknesses in mathematics are.

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.

Playing Math Games with Children

Question most adults about what it would take to get kids hooked on math, and many would ask, “Is that possible?”

As a veteran elementary teacher, I know that kids can get hooked on math at an early age, and if you miss that window, it’s harder to get them into it later.

What can parents and teachers of young children do to get their children excited about math? Well, you could buy a $200. program. Or you could buy a deck of cards, a couple of dice, and/or some board games and begin to play math games. I can guarantee that the latter will be a lot less expensive and a great deal more engaging.

I tried to teach my child with books.
He only gave me puzzled looks.
I tried to teach my child with words.
They passed him by, unheard.
In despair I turned aside.
“How will I teach my child?” I cried.
Into my hand he put the key…
“Come” he said, “and play with me”.

The Importance of Play
There are many math games and activities that have a great deal to do with having fun as you learn. One of the things we positively know about children (and adults) is that if pleasure is not a part of what you are doing, you will not be willing to do it very much or for very long.

Many parents regard play as rather trivial in the lives of their young children and would much rather see their kids get involved in “educational” activities. To parents, it often seems that all children do is play! They play until they are five or six, then they go off to school and start to learn. They play until they are big enough to really begin to do things.

The act of playing is an important tool that influences a child’s life. The primary goals of childhood are to grow, learn, and play. It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them. It is a child’s “job” to play to develop physical coordination, emotional maturity, social skills to interact with others, and self-confidence to try new experiences and explore new environments.

Play to a child IS learning! They learn to play and play to learn. Play is terribly important to a child. It is not a distraction. It’s not something they do to take up time. It’s a child’s life.

So, begin to “play” with your child. Playing math games is a wonderful way to learn as you play.

A Math Activity for Anytime and Anywhere

The following is a math activity that can be done anytime – I call it a “waiting” activity. It can be done while waiting for dinner to arrive at your favorite restaurant, waiting to get someplace in the car, waiting for the car to be serviced, waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting for the rain to stop, etc. Basically, you can do it anytime and anywhere.

It is called Guess If You Can and is appropriate for children of all ages, depending on the numbers you use. The following is a sample conversation.

Parent: I am thinking of a number between 1 and 100.
Child: Is it more than 50?
Parent: No.
Child: Is it an even number?
Parent: No.
Child: Is it more than 20 but less than 40?
Parent: Yes.
Child: Can you reach it by starting at zero and counting by 3’s?
Parent: Yes.
(At this stage, the parent could be thinking of 21, 27, 33, or 39.)

After your child has guessed your number, let your child think up a number for you to guess by asking similar questions.

Parent Pointer
It is important to help children develop an understanding of the characteristics and meanings of numbers. Doing this kind of math activity over and over helps your child develop number sense – hugely important for future success in mathematics.

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.

Mathematics and Young Children

As an elementary mathematics specialist, I have always listened carefully to what the NAEYC has to say. They are an authority that I greatly respect.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is dedicated to improving the well-being of all young children, with particular focus on the quality of educational services for all children from birth through age 8.

I regularly refer to their Mathematics in the Early Years. In it, early childhood specialists, mathematics professors, educational researchers, classroom teachers, nursery school directors, sociologists, and psychologists combine their individual perspectives to explain what mathematics in the early years should look like. This book is a gold mine for parents and teachers!

The following are their guidelines for parents who are eager to get their children started on a sound mathematical footing:

1. Use everyday situations to create purposeful, in-context learning.
Everyday family activities such as storytelling, playing games, shopping, distributing items (e.g., candles, playing cards, silverware), preparing for a birthday party, noting the number of days until a special event, or cooking present numerous opportunities to learn, apply, and practice mathematics.

2. Encourage children’s exploration of mathematics in the world around them.
Welcome their questions. Be willing to discuss mathematical ideas they encounter in their activities, and help them find answers to problems.

3. Use 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 developmental needs. Games can also serve as an invaluable diagnostic tool. By observing a child playing a particular game, parents and teachers can detect specific strengths and weaknesses in mathematical concepts, reasoning, and skills.

4. Serve as a “guide on the side versus sage on the stage”. Because meaningful knowledge and a number sense must be actively constructed by children, imposing knowledge on them is far less effective than creating opportunities for them to discover patterns and relationships and to invent their own strategies and solutions. Moreover, drilling young children on mathematical facts will not promote mathematical understanding or thinking and may create a negative disposition toward mathematics. To foster autonomy and confidence, generally allow children to try out and self-correct their own strategies and solutions instead of simply telling them answers or correcting them.

5. Use children’s natural interest about counting, numbers, and arithmetic in deciding what materials and experiences to provide for them.
Children’s questions are a strong indication of what is appropriate and when guidance is needed. Note, however, that their individual interests may vary greatly.

6. Promote social interaction.
Children learn from other children. The mathematical knowledge that young children have varies. Play with other children can provide a natural opportunity for correction and guidance. Encourage small-group play and discussion.

7. Encourage children’s use of verbal, object, and finger counting to represent numbers.
Give them opportunitities to use finger or object counting to solve simple problems, such as, “How much is three candies and one more?” When possible, make counting fun for children by playing mathematics games.

8. Foster the development of children’s number sense.
Give children lots of opportunities to estimate the size of collections and then let them count. The more estimating and counting they do, the better they will become.

Parents Help Their Children with Math!

We live in a world of numbers. In fact, we use numbers constantly as a way of describing our lives. And yet, some will say that learning mathematics is difficult, and some will even say that they are not interested in learning it. However, mathematics is more than just learning about numbers. It is also about learning to think strategically and solve problems.

We want students to view mathematics as an enjoyable experience and to value mathematics. To do so, they must find it in places that they least expect it, such as in real-life situations that are non-threatening and fun. Games provide endless opportunities to experience mathematics, and when children are doing something they enjoy, they tend to spend more time doing it and pay better attention to what they are doing. As a result, they will get more practice with a skill by playing a game than by simply completing a traditional worksheet or using flashcards.

This is where parents can become involved. The parent’s job is to find a game that emphasizes a skill their child needs to master and begin to play. The role of the parent is to be supportive, play along with their child, make sure that the rules are clearly understood, ask questions (not give answers), and share their thinking either while they play or after the game.

As an example, one of the biggest concepts third graders need to master is multiplication. The following is an effective game for helping your second, third, or fourth grader do just that:

Terrific Tens

What you need:
2 players
deck of cards (remove face cards)

Take out one “10” card and lay it face up between the two players. This “10” card becomes the multiplier in each face off. Shuffle the rest of the cards and deal them evenly between both players. Both players put their cards face down in a pile in front of themselves.

Both players turn over the top card of their pile. They say the number, then multiply it by the “10” card and say the product. It is very important that each player say the entire equation out loud. For example: “7 x 10 = 70”
The player with the greatest product wins both cards. If there is a tie (i.e., both players have the same product), players turn over one more card and multiply that card and add it to their previous product. The player with the largest sum, takes all four cards.

When all the cards have been used, players count their cards. The player with the most cards wins.

• Nifty Nines – the “9” card becomes the multiplier in each face off.
• Excellent Eights
• Super Sevens
• Sensational Sixes
• Fantastic Fives
• Fun Fours
• ? Threes
• Terrific Twos
• Wonderful Ones

Parents Ask About Playing Games in Math Class

Not too long ago a parent said to me, “My child tells me that he plays games during math class. How will games help my child become better at math?” It was a legitimate question and one that teachers need to be prepared to address.

I’ve been teaching math to children for many years, and I’ve found that math games are, from a teacher’s point of view, wonderfully useful and very effective. Games provide an enjoyable venue for the repeated practice necessary for mastering many basic skills. When carefully selected, games can highlight specific mathematics concepts, activate strategic thinking, and create an opportunity to develop logical reasoning skills. And games can help children learn almost everything they need to master in elementary math. Once I began to use games regularly during math time, I was amazed at the many benefits to be had while having fun!

The value of games should not be underestimated. Depending on the game, the type of learning can vary. Some games allow students to practice skills, such as performing arithmetic operations with efficiency and accuracy. Other games encourage the development of concepts and strategic thinking, requiring students to make predictions, deliberate about possible outcomes, solve problems, and experiment with new strategies. All of them offer the potential of connecting to what is being studied in elementary school mathematics.

The teacher needs to know what essential skills and knowledge are involved in any game. A discussion of the game will help students recognize the skills and knowledge needed, which is essential. In addition, the teacher can assess understanding of concepts and levels of skills by observing and listening to students as they play.

Games can engage and motivate students. The hands-on nature makes the game, and the learning associated with it, more concrete. Students who participate in games often perform more mathematics than when using traditional dittos or worksheets. Participation and practice build confidence.

In addition to improving mathematics abilities and increasing thinking and reasoning skills, games can also help develop social skills. Students must take turns, follow rules, play fairly, pay attention, listen to and learn from others, be persistent, and learn from their mistakes. Can that be said for a worksheet?

Give games a try. You might be surprised at what you discover!

Parents, Children, and Math Games

In this recent article from the New York Times, two New Jersey elementary schools use math games to connect parents, students, and their math curriculum.

Students and their families play math games using strategies that complement the district’s math curriculum.

Here’s what happened:
1. Math skills were strengthened.
2. Parents became involved in their school’s math program.
3. Parents and their kids had a lot of fun doing math together.
4. They realized that everyone can be good at math!

Math Games Can Motivate Students

“Games can motivate students, capture their interest, and are a great way to get that paper and pencil practice”, says Marilyn Burns, world-renowned mathematics expert.

Games offer teachers a way of practicing and reinforcing arithmetic and other math skills, as well as supplementing a sole diet of drills and practice-problems with workbook pages or dittos.

Not only do games engage students, they also present the opportunity to present “high level” math concepts in a colorful and simple way.

In my experience, students are more engaged when we connect the mathematics they are going to learn with something that excites them (e.g., games).

Despite those benefits, some teachers and parents are reluctant to use board games and similar activities. Those critics tend to regard them as activities that cut into time spent on practicing problems, when in fact games should be used as another form of math practice.

Research on the link between games and math learning has implications not just for educators, but also for parents.

Turning off the television and engaging children in a simple card or dice math game just a few times a week can greatly improve their comfort in math.

There’s a huge amount of math in card and dice games that is not on television and video games.

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