Inside: If you want to make your kids think and stretch their minds, check out the following amazing math activities. They will make a great addition to any math curriculum.
A few years ago, I realized that there’s not enough of me to find time for fun games, puzzles, and math conversations that foster critical thinking, logic, and problem-solving AND at the same time, teach all my kids the foundations of mathematics. That’s when I decided to delegate the foundations to experts (read: Build a Better Math Foundation with CTC Math) and dedicate my time and energy where it will be more beneficial for my kids: math talks, math games, and lots of other things that are exciting for me and make my kids happy.
Below, I list our current favorite resources.
Please, don’t get the wrong idea that we do everything every day. Far from it!
However, we review a little something from the list below every day, and it adds up. I encourage you to embrace the power of daily habit. I also do all I can to encourage my kids to embrace the idea of slow but steady growth.
To this end, we did a bucket experiment. Every day after we finished our math exercises, each kid picked and put one stone in a pretty bucket in the kitchen. (The stones accumulated from years of beach trips). As you can imagine, it didn’t take long before the bucket became full. One stone doesn’t feel like much. It might seem like one stone isn’t worth our time and effort. But over a certain period, it makes a huge difference.
If you want to make your kids smile at the word “math,” explore how we make math fun in my house by using the following resources.
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Amazing Math Activities
What’s math talk? It’s a 15-minute conversation with your child that encourages exploration and investigation of numbers.
If you have no idea where to start (the same as I felt a few years ago), I highly recommend Number Talks. In this book, everything is laid out for you: why you should do math talks, how they work, what to say, and how to say it. If that isn’t enough, the book comes with a DVD to show you exactly how it’s done. There is simply no way to screw it up.
When I first got this book, I spent a few days (maybe it was more like a few weeks) getting acquainted with the material. We’ve been using this book regularly ever since. We don’t use it every day, but we do use it every week. I grab a dry erase board, a black marker, and this book. Then I sit down with a kid (I do it one-on-one with each child and usually on the floor), open the book at the right spot (I have a sticky note of different color for each kid), and work through the daily assignment.
The most important thing I have to remind myself is that the goal is not to get through the task so we can all get a fat little checkmark; the goal is to stimulate conversation. So, if we don’t get through the activity but end up talking about something juicy in the time we have, that’s fine with me. We always have another day to finish the task.
I use this book with three of my kids, and none of them have yet said they dislike it. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that sometimes they don’t feel like doing math in general, nothing against this book in particular. After all, they’re not robots. Some days, they have something other than math talks on their minds.
After reading Why “A” Students Work for “C” Students and Why “B” Students Work for the Government (read it!), we instituted a weekly game day. This book makes a great case for teaching kids to play money and math games and for having a regular family game time.
And it’s not just the social and communication skills that are getting sharpened during game night. The benefits are so much more diverse: focus and decision-making, logic and reasoning, critical thinking and spatial reasoning, mental agility and quick thinking, planning ahead, predicting an outcome, patience, determination, learning from experience. And, of course, don’t forget the good old spending-time-together-as-a-family benefit! That’s what you want your kids to remember when they grow up, right? The family night and all the fun you had together.
Our favorites for the whole family are Star Wars Monopoly (I linked the one we have, but there are lots of variations) and Jurassic Park Monopoly (it was a limited edition, but you can find similar interest-based monopoly games). You can also try Pay Day (the classic edition), The Game of Life, and, for kids 10+, The Stock Exchange Game. For younger kids, we love Blink and Spiderwick Chronicles Fantastical Field Guide Game.
Do you have a favorite board game? Share in the comments below to help me keep this list growing.
“ Insisting a child must be taught traditional, scope-and-sequence arithmetic to learn mathematics is like saying one must learn classical notes and scales before one can learn music. You might get there, but you miss out on the inspiration of beautiful music created by the masters along the way. We need not master all the “basics” before being able to experience the appreciation that carries us through the hard work of learning. Think of applying living math principles as developing a “mathematical ear” while working toward the mastery of basic theory.” ~ Julie Brennan
Math Lessons for a Living Education by Angela O’Dell and Krysten Carlson might be a great source of inspiration. We skip all the drills and worksheets in these books and only concentrate on the hands-on portion of the course.
In this manner, we have made our own clocks and thermometers, created flashcards with silly pictures to demonstrate facts like 10-1=9, counted out 100 buttons to group them by 5s and by 10s, and have done a whole bunch of other hands-on math activities.
I like that this book gives me ideas on conversations I can have with my kids in the car. For example, the other day, we were driving to a swimming pool when I told my kids I’m an alien from a galaxy far away and they have to explain to me what is addition. Then, following this book’s suggestion, I asked additional questions like “I don’t understand how 2 + 3 and 3 + 2 both equal 5. It doesn’t make sense. Explain, please.”
There are different books for different grades. I don’t necessarily follow the order since we only concentrate on hands-on and thinking problems. I find it useful to keep a copy in the car so I can quickly find something engaging to say if my kids are getting bored (and ready to start picking on each other).
Math Toys and Hands-on Learning Materials
If you ask my husband, he will tell you we have too many math toys and hands-on learning materials, but I think there’s no such thing as too many math toys! As long as the resources you buy help your kids understand math better, enjoy it more, and make your life easier, you all benefit.
The following are all items we’ve been using for years. If you have any questions about them, ask away. I’m happy to share our photos and experiences in more detail.
- Kitchen scale
- Bathroom scale
- Mathlink cubes
- Wooden shape blocks
- Fraction Tiles Circles
- View-throu geometric solids
- Counting bears
- Magna Tiles
- Mat Floor Game: Make a Splash 120
- Tangram Set (we also have this large groups Hand to Mind set)
Do you have favorite math games and hands-on manipulatives? Share in the comments below!
Cooking with Kids
Cooking with kids is an amazing (and tasty) way to learn math. What math can kids learn with cooking?
- Addition and subtraction
- Measurement and conversion
- Sorting (dry ingredients vs. wet ingredients)
Once your kids master the art of measurement and following instructions, challenge them with “Let’s double the recipe to make extra cookies for grandma/our neighbor/the babysitter.” I dare you to tell me your kids turned you down on this offer 😉
We have a whole section with kid-friendly recipes. Some of our favorites are dragon crackers, apple soup, one-minute chocolate cake, and beet salad. You can also start with our Cooking Around the Wolrd: seven-day challenge.
Do you know that there are some YouTube videos about math that are so inspirational that your kids will go do some math the moment the video is over? Here are a few of our favorites:
- How you can be good at math, and other surprising facts about learning, Jo Boaler (read her books, too! She completely changed my whole view of math.)
- The map of mathematics
- What is mathematics? (Love math)
- The beauty and power of mathematics, William Tavernetti
- How does math guide our ships at sea, George Christoph
- Where do math symbols come from
- How high can you count on your fingers
- The unexpected math behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Natalya St. Clair
- Simple Math tricks you weren’t taught in school
- Why most people are bad at mathematics
Research shows that using picture books enhances math education in many ways. Books provide a context for mathematical concepts, inspire curiosity, and model interesting problems. If you want to help your children love math, definitely read some picture books that make math fun.
Some of our favorites list:
Math Books and How to Use Them (to introduce a topic, to pose a problem, to create a math center, and to use as writing models )
Math Geek Mama Math books lists
For older kids, I also recommend Mathematicians Are People, Too by Luetta Reimer. We are on volume 2 of the series. It takes us a long time to work our way through each one because after reading each story, we look for additional resources about that person (YouTube videos, documentaries, books). Some of the mathematicians in the series are Archimedes, Hypatia (first woman mathematician), John Napier (Scottish mathematician), Galileo, Pascal, Newton, etc.
I love a good challenge. My kids are growing up watching me do a 7-day detox challenge, 28-days no sugar challenge, read 100 books a year challenge (I’ve been keeping it up every year since I was 12), plank challenge, salad challenge, and more! If I list all the challenges, your head will be spinning.
That’s why the 7-day math challenge or art challenge or engineering challenge or any kind of challenge are very popular with my kids. I know they’re are not alone in loving a good challenge because my Star Wars Math: seven-day math challenge is one of our most popular posts, as well as the Seven-day Activity Challenge.
Here is how to have fun with a challenge. Decide how many days you want to try it for: 7-days, 10-days, 30-days. If you haven’t’ done it before, I highly recommend starting with 5 or 7 days to ensure successful completion of the challenge. There is nothing like a successful challenge to boost interest in more challenges. (That’s not to say that we didn’t have plenty of failed challenges). However, if you can, start with success to have that as a benchmark for all other challenges.
- Brain teaser a day challenge (I did one page a day from this book, The Ultimate Puzzle Book: visual exercises, math problems, brain teasers, logic puzzles, word games, and mazes)
- Logic challenge (there are plenty of logic puzzles for kids on Amazon. I don’t want to recommend what we didn’t try personally. Our favorite logic challenge is from a Russian math website called Logiclike. If you speak Russian, check it out. They allow kids to practice logical thinking and train their minds to approach problems creatively).
- Try our Star Wars: seven-day math challenge Our download has seven mystery quotes from Star Wars movies. Let your child do one each day this week. They will probably beg you to do them all at once. Resist! The idea is to make them excited about math. The anticipation of fun with math is a necessary step in the process!
- Smarty pants challenge—I’m doing this one with my 6-year-old right now. We are using Melissa & Doug cards. There are 120 brain-building cards in a set with questions, puzzles, and games. Keep the cards in the kitchen or on the dining room table and pull one out when you see them. You will be done with the whole set before you know it.
- The verbal math lesson a day challenge. We partially worked our way through book 1, 2, and 3. I made a mistake at the beginning of pushing too hard. “Let’s do ten problems a day!” That didn’t go well. I reduced the number to five problems a day, but it still didn’t work. We actually had to take a very long break from these books. When I reintroduced them, I only asked for only ONE problem a day, and it worked!m If you do one problem a day, you end up doing a few hundred problems by the end of the year! Smal effort daily.
- Online challenge with Corbett Maths. They have five problems for each day of the year! Pick “Five-a-day” on the homepage, then GCSE 1 (for example), and then choose among Numeracy, Foundation, or other options and you are taken to five problems for the day.
Rekenrek for K-1 Grades
Rekenrek is so amazing. I don’t understand why it’s not widely used in American schools.
Rekenrek looks like a small abacus. It only has two lines of beads and the color of the beads changes after five. It looks innocent but don’t underestimate the power of rekenrek. It’s been invented and used in the Netherlands to support the natural development of number sense in small children, and it really works. (According to the latest global ranking of average scores in reading, math, and science (2018), Netherland is WAY ahead of the United States).
I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to work with rekenrek without the wonderful book Working with Rekenrek. We worked through each lesson with my third kid, and it essentially became our main math curriculum for a long while. I’ll do the same with my toddler when she is older. I wish I had known about rekenrek years earlier so I could have used it with my older kids, too, instead of blindly bumping from one mediocre resource to an even worse one.
With rekenrek and this book, you get to practice counting, subitizing, place value, and operations in such a fun manner that your children will be begging you to be done with whatever you are doing and saying, please, start math already.
Working with Rekrnrek book is so amazing because it includes EVERYTHING. It has lessons, presentations (what to do and what to say), and games. In addition, the whole back of the book consists of material to pull out, cut up, and use with your kids (i.e., small and large number cards, rekenrek cards, picture cards, game boards, word problems cards, storytelling cards, and so much more.
We have many more math resources, but I selected the best of the best for you today. The right math tools are such a powerful vehicle in inspiring and cementing an interest in math in little children. They make math more fun to teach and more fun to learn. They also make math meaningful. Truthfully, I have no idea what I would have done without the above nine things. If you have questions about any of the above resources, I’m happy to elaborate.