Why should any child want to learn math? Math is a lot of work, and children are practical. They aren’t interested in going to the trouble to learn something hard unless they think it’s something they need.
Adults are no different. I balked at learning to use a computer until my husband persuaded me that the word processing system would help me write a book I was working on. Later I became willing to learn even more about word processing systems because I needed to use my local newspaper’s computer to write a regular column.
Then I found that I needed to know how to set up spreadsheets to keep track of projects and finances. My growing need to do things that computers do well pushed me into learning more and more.
When children feel they need to know something, they are interested in learning it. For example, when parents read to their children often, and when children see their parents reading often, children begin to realize they need to learn to read themselves.
When children grow up, they will need to use math daily. We adults don’t stop to think that we are using math when we follow recipes, mark calendars, tell time or check the speedometer.
If we draw children into our own use of math, they’ll begin to see reasons for arithmetic. Furthermore, thinking about real life math problems supply children with practice they in manipulative and mental-image modes of thinking. This lays a solid foundation for good abstract thinking as teens and adults. With a little thought, we can form the habit of noticing and encouraging children to use arithmetic in all kinds of places:
Encourage children to help you follow recipes. Preschoolers can help count and measure. Older children can learn to follow directions themselves. Begin with recipes for simple snacks like fruit drinks and sandwich fillings. Then move on to more complicated recipes. Bake cookies often!
Young children can pick up a lot of practical math by setting the table regularly. Ask kindergartners to count how many people will be eating a particular meal, and then count out and set the correct number of plates, napkins, and forks. Give elementary age children simple story problems to solve as they work, like “How many places would we need if Grandma and Grandpa were coming for supper, too?”
Let kindergartners count produce. (“Put 8 apples in the plastic bag.”) Elementary age children can weigh produce and bulk items, read the numbers on the scale, and compare which is more or less. If you teach children how to count money at home, they can count out the total for small purchases at the store.
Encourage older children to compare prices between name brands or figure out whether or not the cents-off coupon really saves money. Let them add up purchases on a calculator. Or have them estimate the total grocery bill by rounding off numbers and adding them up mentally. Whose estimate comes closest to the actual total?
Read mileage and speed limit signs. Compare the speed limit with your speedometer. Note mileage before and after a trip on the odometer. Count blocks for short distances: “How many blocks from here to the library?”
Around the house
Count, count, count. Simply counting to 45 is meaningless for children unless they have something to count. So count crayons, buttons, pennies, toys. Teach more advance number recognition by asking children to look up a certain page in a cookbook, hymnal, or telephone book.
Teach children how to dial phone numbers—emergency, local, long distance, toll-free. Get a clock with a face, and teach children to tell time. Refer children to the calendar. Let them weigh each other. Read thermometers. Measure children’s height and keep an on-going growth chart. Let kids learn to measure while helping Dad fix things around the house.
Use a TV guide to find the time for favorite family programs. How many hours a day or week are children allowed to watch TV? Figure out which programs to watch within the total family time limit.
Play all kinds of games. Dominos teaches matching and recognizing groups. Bingo teaches children to recognize and read numbers. When children play board games, they learn to count moves, read numbers, and follow rules. Monopoly teaches a lot of addition and subtraction. Other games teach scoring, logic and strategy. So have fun with your children counting moves, keeping score, discussing strategy, and teaching them to think.
“It is a rather recent phenomenon for us to think that the magic of learning is contained in workbooks,” educational author Ruth Beechick said. “But, of course, learning happens in the head. And with young children, real life and real objects can cause more arithmetic to happen in the head than books can.”
Further suggestions and instructions for helpful math, reading, and writing aids are found in The Three Rs, by Ruth Beechick.
© Becky Cerling Powers 1995 Reprint with attribution only.