I consider myself somewhat of a math ninja. With extreme (ok, moderate) stealth and an all-black outfit (to hide child related stains), I’m able to fill my kids’ heads with important math concepts without them even realizing that they’re learning. This is important, because my kids don’t enjoy lectures. So I am left with no choice but to be tricky about it.
Here are my top ten favorite ways to incorporate math into my children’s day:
1. Wake up and count (household objects)!
I count everyday objects whenever I get the chance. It’s easy and I’m usually tired, so it allows me to feel like I’m teaching with minimal effort. This morning that included counting each step (10) as we went down the stairs and the number of cups of coffee (2) I needed before I could handle yet another round of seemingly endless Frozen pretend play.
We also counted the bottles of wine (1) I finished last night after finally getting the kids to bed. But since that didn’t take very long, we had time to tackle some bigger numbers. I find Legos and pom poms are very handy for counting by tens.
2. Shape hunt
My kids are suckers for any sort of search and find or “hunting” game. In order to help with memorizing shapes, I’ll declare a particular shape the “Shape of the Day!” and my kids know that it is their job to search for that shape all day long, both in and out of the house. Points are deducted for calling the bags under my eyes semi circles.
3. Lunch fractions
When I want to teach halves or quarters, I find it easiest to use food. Cutting a pizza or sandwich is the perfect way to show fractions. But my favorite way to impart this knowledge is when brownies are around – “half a brownie for you, half for me!”
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4. Shopping for greater than and less than
When I take the kids grocery shopping and they start begging for chocolate covered gummy superheroes (or whatever nonsense they want at the moment), I take the opportunity to discuss the value of money and more than/less than.
For instance, “Oh these gummy candies are $5.00 and you only brought 5 cents covered in an unidentified sticky substance. This costs MORE than you have in your pocket. Sorry, kiddo, not today.”
5. The concept of zero
There are a lot of ways to go about teaching the concept of zero. I could go about taking away all of their toys. “BOOM, zero!” Or stealing all of their candy. But that seems a bit harsh.
I find it equally effective and less work for me to simply ask them how many trips to the bathroom I’ve been able to take ALONE today. Yup – “boom. ZERO!”
6. Measure while you bake
Baking or cooking with the kids is a great way to incorporate measurements into the day. My kids love scooping out or pouring the ingredients into measuring cups. And I love cleaning all of the spilled muffin batter off the floor!
Okay, maybe that last part wasn’t true. But it is fun and easy to talk about what the different cups and spoons mean while we’re baking. And if most of it didn’t wind up on the floor, then there’s usually something good to eat too.
7. Patterns in art
I find that making “art” with the kids is a great way to talk about patterns AND kill half an hour bond with them. I like to grab a piece of paper and make simple patterns for my youngest with dot markers. She enjoys telling me which color should go next.
My oldest likes to make his own patterns (with stickers or by gluing random bits of paper) and then quiz me on what should come next. And if I’m reading something good, I’ll often need some more examples. “Hmmm, I’m stumped buddy. Add like 10-15 more things and then I’ll guess again.”
8. Evening addition
Food is also useful for adding, and dinner in our house always provides ample opportunity for more math lessons. “I’ve given you two meatballs, and now here are two more. How many meatballs do you have all together now?”
And then if you’re lucky like me you find that this often segues nicely into subtraction. “I gave you four meatballs, but I see you’ve decided to feed one to the dog. How many meatballs do you have left now?”
9. Size comparisons
Speaking of food, if you offer dessert and have more than one child, you’ll likely find that the question of “who got the biggest bowl of ice cream” is a popular topic. I like to use this as an opportunity to eat enough from each bowl such that they are exactly even. This sometimes takes several tries to get it right.
Another simple way to talk about size is to make different size balls with play-dough and discuss which blob is bigger or smaller than the others.
10. Time for bed
When I’m in the homestretch, and it’s almost time for the little ones to drift off to dreamland, I like to point out the time on the clock for one final lesson.
“It’s 7 o’clock. That means that you have 15 minutes to get ready for bed. If you are not ready for bed by 7:15 then that means that we will have less time for stories.”
Just kidding, I don’t care about math at this point. My children are master stallers and I need to make sure we stay on schedule. I have things to do and my ninja uniform isn’t going to clean itself.