One of the great things about homeschooling is the ability to apply real-world applications to what your student is learning. I’ve discovered that if I would have known in school, what I know now, I would have paid more attention. The concepts I was learning in school were concepts that I really needed to know. The problem was I couldn’t see the purpose and therefore had a difficult time retaining the knowledge.
I never want my children to just go through the motions (procedural fluency) without understanding the why to the problem (conceptual understanding). Teaching math to my oldest son, Josiah, has never been about memorizing facts, but understanding the reason so he can always get the correct answer whether he has it memorized or not. I have found five fun ways to teach important math concepts to Josiah. Most of the time he doesn’t even realize he’s learning math; he thinks he’s having fun.
- Use UNO®to teach colors, number recognition, and matching.
I love to play games, and UNO® is honestly one of the first card games that children learn how to play that is also enjoyable for adults. As a preschooler and Kindergartener, Josiah practiced matching colors and numbers to win the game. At this stage, it wasn’t necessarily about understanding the quantity as much as it was about learning to recognize the number.
- Move on to Dominos to teach the meaning of numbers, basic counting, and matching.
Playing with Dominos is a great way to teach children that a number represents a specific quantity of something. The number one is more than just a line, it represents a single object; in Dominos, that object is a dot. After counting out how many Dominos each person gets, Josiah and I would take turns observing what Dominos we had that could be played, and then we counted the dots on the Dominos to show why they went together.
- Yahtzee®makes adding, skip counting, and multiplication fun.
My son has been playing Yahtzee® since he was around five years old. My family plays, and it was natural to include Josiah. Yahtzee® has helped me measure Josiah’s math abilities without giving him a test. He used to complain about me telling him to do school work, but when I’d say, “Hey, let’s play Yahtzee®,” he’d jump on board. To fill the bottom part of the Yahtzee® score card, children have to add up three or more dice.
For young children, the dots are there to help count, but for older children they can start practicing mental math. To complete the top part of the score card, children get to practice skip counting. Josiah practiced counting by twos every time he rolled a two, four, or six. Then we started working on counting by threes and fives. Once he really understood skip counting, I transitioned into saying, “You have three dice that say two. What is three times two?”
- Make cookies using fractions.
As an adult, I was reading recipes before I understood how to add and subtract fractions. I could barely add and subtract fractions as a child, and now I can divide, double, and triple recipes in my head. I knew when it came time to teach fractions that cooking was the way to go. Josiah is only in third grade so he’s still in the early stages of learning fractions, but the visual aid of the measuring cups has made fractions more understandable. He can see that 1/3 of a cup is bigger than a 1/4 of a cup. We practice pouring the liquids and solids out of the different cups when making cookies. When I bake bread or make pizza crust we sometimes practice doubling the recipe or halving the recipe to show the relationship between whole, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8.
- Teach money, counting change, and profit, using an old-fashioned lemonade stand.
One of the biggest complaints I hear about is teenagers and young adults working a cash register without having a clue about counting back change. I decided that a fun way to teach about money was to let Josiah do a water and lemonade stand during my yard sale. We bought the supplies and wrote down how much money everything cost. Then he decided how much he needed to sell the product for in order to make a profit without overpricing. He learned a little about marketing by creating a poster saying he was earning the money for soccer. At the yard sale, under my supervision, he practiced counting back change while earning money for soccer.
There are many different ways to make math fun, and I encourage you to work some fun into your school routine. Good math skills are essential to doing well in school and in life so you might as well make things interesting.
Copyright 2017, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.