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Exploring Math with Your Child

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:

• You have a great deal of important mathematical knowledge to share.

• Children learn best from the people who most accept and respect them.

• Learning is more lasting when it takes place in the context of familiar home experiences.

• 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.

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.

The following is one of my favorite get-the-family-involved math activities. It is an engaging learning experience and a lot of fun!!!

The Washcloth Toss

Have each member of your family estimate (make a smart guess) how far they can throw a dry washcloth. Record your estimates. Now throw the washcloth. Measure and record how far the dry washcloth really went. The person closest to their estimate wins.

Now do it again, making an estimate first. Then throw the dry washcloth again, and measure and record how far it went. Were you any closer to your estimate this time? Who won?

Wet your washcloth this time. Estimate how far you think you can throw the wet dishcloth and record your estimates. Now throw the wet washcloth. Measure and record how far the wet washcloth really went. The person who is closest to their estimate is the winner.

Now do the wet washcloth experiment again, making an estimate first. Throw the wet washcloth again, and measure and record how far it went. Were you any closer to your estimate this time?

Which washcloth went farther – the dry one or the wet one?

Why do you think that happened?

Who is the dry washcloth winner? (closest to estimate)
Wet winner? (closest to estimate)

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