## Helping Your Child with (Mental) Math

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 are some important things you should know and do:

1. Problems can be solved in different ways. While some problems in math may have only one solution, there may be many ways to get the right answer. And remember, the way you solve a problem may not be the way your child solves the very same problem. Learning math is not only finding the correct answer, it’s also a process of solving problems and applying what you have learned to new problems. If their way of solving the problem gets the job done, let them give it a try.

3. Doing math in your head is important. Have you ever noticed that today very few people take their pencil and paper out to solve problems in the grocery store, restaurant, department store, or in the office? Instead, most people estimate in their heads, or use calculators or computers. Using calculators and computers demands that people put in the correct information and that they know if the answers are reasonable. Usually people look at the answer to determine if it makes sense, applying the math in their head (mental math) to the problem. This, then, is the reason mental math is so important to our children as they enter the 21st century. Using mental math can make children become stronger in everyday math skills.

In terms of mental math, here are some questions you might ask your 3rd through 6th graders (no pencils and paper allowed):

Start off easy with –

98 + 47

51 + 99

146 – 101

5 x 99

150 + 199

137 – 99

99 + 49

4 x 24

58 + 16

65 – 19

Then increase the level of difficulty with –

You buy an \$80. dress which has been reduced 20%. How much did it cost?

What is 3/8’s of 40?

6 ½ – 2 ¼ =

What is 75% of 32?

What is 10 squared divided by 5?

You get the idea. Now think of real-life questions that you face every day.

## 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 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)

## Teaching Math at an Earlier Age

Saying students would have more success in the future, a new report (PDF) from the Aspire Institute at Wheelock College is urging schools to start teaching math and science skills as early as pre-kindergarten.

Why is it that some children seem so curious and eager to learn? How do you raise capable, confident children who seek intellectual challenges? How do you support your children’s learning so that they grow to be imaginative, creative, intuitive, capable, competent, self-motivated, persistent, and know that effort is necessary for achievement? As a parent, I’ve asked myself this question numerous times. As an elementary teacher of many years, I continue to hear parents ask those very same questions. Good! They have begun their journey!

As an educator, I also know that the role of the family in early childhood education (birth to 8 years old) is enormously significant. Research has shown decisively that children’s experiences during early childhood not only influence their later functioning in school but also can have significant lifelong implications. Experiences during the earliest years of formal schooling are also formative. Studies demonstrate that children’s success or failure during the first years of school often predicts the course of later schooling.

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 math 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?

Math games are a great place for preschoolers to begin. There are many games in the Kindergarten math games manual that are appropriate for 3 to 5 year olds.

## 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.

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.

## 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.

_________ ________

__________, _________
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!

## Making Estimates (Smart Guesses) with Children

Much of the math we do as adults involves making estimates. We are not born with the ability to make fairly accurate and reasonable estimates. Children need to have lots of experiences with making estimates.

Find a small box with a lid. Ask your child to guess how many pennies, cheerios, paperclips, etc. the box will hold. Whatever the guess, be it reasonable or not, have the child write the estimate down. Never comment negatively or positively on the estimate. I usually respond, “Okay”. A negative response to their estimate will lead to an unwillingness on the part of the child to make any more estimates.

Then fill the box and count to find out how many it did hold. Next time keep the same box but fill it with something different. Will this change the estimate? For instance, if you used Cheerios the first time you filled the box, and this time you are using marbles, will the estimate and count change? Can you get as many marbles in the box as you did Cheerios? Why or why not?

Do this many times and record your estimates and actual counts. The more your child does it, the better their estimates will become. He/she will probably also begin to notice that the smaller the objects, the more will fit in; the bigger the objects, the fewer that will fit in. Use all shapes and sizes of boxes and continue to make estimates and count.

When the french fries arrive from McDonald’s, have your child make an estimate and then count and eat to find out. Estimate coins in Dad’s pockets (number and value), houses on the block, days till the next birthday, meals you eat in a month, etc.

Here’s one of my favorite estimating activities:

How Many Shoes?

Make an estimate (smart guess) of how many shoes you think you will find in your home. ________________
Count the shoes in your home.

Other shoes _________________

Total number of shoes _______________

How many pairs of shoes are in your home? ____________________

Are there more shoes or more pairs of shoes? ___________________

How many shoes do not have a matching one? _________________

How many shoes are in your closet? ___________________

Arrange your shoes in pairs. How many pairs? __________________

Are there more shoes or more feet in your home? ___________________

## Yes, It’s Possible to Have Fun Doing Math!

Parents are always looking for activities and games to challenge their child’s mind while having fun together. My goal is to help parents and their children enjoy mathematics. When children play with mathematics in their everyday lives, they can grow up loving it.

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 just one of many activities that can help you make math a natural part of your family’s everyday work and play.

Alike and Different (Comparisons)

Pick two objects.

For example: apple and orange

Possible responses:

They are alike because they both are food, fruit, have seeds, make juice, come from trees.

They are different because one is orange and the other is red; one has wrinkles and the other is smooth; one has black seeds and the other white; we eat apple peels but not orange peels.

Make a list of what you compared and how they were alike and different.

Play the game over and over, using a different set of objects each time.

Now give one of my math games a try and continue the learning and the fun!

## A Parent’s Involvement

A parent’s involvement in a child’s education is the single most important factor in that child’s academic success.

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 we’ll describe, you’re the essence of your child’s education; you’ve got the power!

It’s true that many other important factors, including school funding, teacher qualification, student resources, child nutrition, and a host of others can swamp our considerations of what affects academic success. These factors do matter. A lot. But research about the family’s role, a parent’s influence, and the relationship between school and home has produced clear-as-a-bell results: nothing affects the academic outcome for a child as much as the involvement of a parent or other adult caregiver in that child’s education. This is true no matter what personal factors are at work: the number of parents raising a child; the family’s economic situation; the parent’s familiarity with English; the size of the family; the parent’s education; or a child’s own interests, talents, and abilities. The bottom line is that whatever your academic or cultural background, your family situation, or the many pulls on your time, you are in the most influential position to shape your child’s future.

## 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.

## Experts Recommend Math Games

As a veteran teacher of grades K-3, I have been using math games to motivate and energize my mathematics curriculum for many years. I am not alone in this endeavor. The following newspaper article gives credence to this fact:

Experts are recommending that parents can really help their children in math by playing games with them.

The research concludes that playing a board game with numbers helped children improve on four kinds of numerical tasks. Those gains were still evident nine weeks later.

So, get out those cards and dice or buy a board game that involves numbers, and be ready to watch your child learn and have fun!