By Guest Author Vicki Bentley
Mathematics is simply the study of the patterns and order in the world that God has made. It ranges from elementary arithmetic — the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division — to more advanced math, the language of the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, music, and more.
While most of us will use a textbook or organized teaching approach of some sort to teach math, the most effective learning — or at least reinforcement of concepts — often takes place in the context of everyday living or family activities, and many are free or very inexpensive. Remember, since math is simply the study of patterns and order, you can start by pointing out the patterns in the world around your child.
Examples of Math in the Everyday World:
Count everyday objects — you probably started when your child was very young by pointing out two eyes, five fingers, ten toes — now teach him to count to twenty, then more. Then try skip counting — 2, 4, 6 … 5, 10, 15 … Ask, “how many houses do we pass to get home?” “How many legs are on the dining room chair?” “If we have five chairs, how many legs are there altogether?”
At the grocery store, let your child pick out three apples, or three apples plus two more. Or the bunch with the most bananas, or the second box of crackers on the shelf. Let your child compare quantities and quantity pricing, weigh the vegetables, find a quart, a pint, a gallon, etc.
Introduce or reinforce math concepts with manipulatives such as beans, homemade flash cards, colored pieces for counting or pattern recognition, popsicle sticks (rubber-banded by tens for place value, with ten-stacks tied with ribbons to denote hundreds).
Encourage preschoolers to set the table — this teaches one-to-one correspondence, an early math skill. A very young child may count orally from one to ten but will count the same finger two or three (or five) times, or put all the plates at one place, all the forks at another, and so on. A child who has learned that each person gets one fork, one spoon, one plate, and one cup has learned the basic concept of one-to-one correspondence.
Use math games, such as Monopoly, Set, and Number Scrambler. Games don’t have to be specifically “math” games to be educational; we allowed pretty much anything with points or money — and we required them to rotate the banker duties.
Brain teasers and puzzles help build logic and thinking skills as well as spatial reasoning.
Find math in the Bible. From the seven days of Creation, to the animals entering the ark two by two, to all the references in the book of Numbers, to a timeline of Adam’s descendants, or even a scale model of Noah’s ark — the Bible is full of mathematical applications.
Kids love measuring cups, scales, and tape measures. A plastic bin of feed corn with old Tupperware cups, bowls, and measuring implements can occupy children for hours. Or, give a child two rulers and see how long it takes him to figure out he can put them end over end over end to measure a 10-foot space.
Teach basic operations and fractions using food or cooking. Cut the pizza in half, then into fourths, then eighths. Give a child 10 cookies and tell him to divide them fairly with his siblings — not only will he figure out how to divide, he’ll probably figure out the remainder! Have your children double or triple a recipe.
Children can learn to budget their own allowance or earnings, or maybe you could let them help plan the budget for a family trip or the homeschool savings for next year’s curriculum. Teach them early that b-u-d-g-e-t is not an ugly word, but is simply a spending plan (and it must balance!). It’s not practical for a young person to graduate with an A in calculus, yet not know how to reconcile their spending with their income.
Teach your kids to read the car gauges (like the speedometer).
Teach them to tell time using an analog clock (with traditional round clock face and numbers). Studies indicate the possibility that some children struggle with learning to tell time and then later with time management because they’ve seen only digital clocks. A digital clock shows only that the time (the actual number) changes, but doesn’t illustrate the passage of time as an analog clock does. Along with an analog clock, any sort of timer which visually indicates the fraction of the hour passing by, is also a great tool to use.
Do you feel guilty building an occasional household catch-up day into your lesson plans? Putting the Legos away, sorting the Matchbox cars, tidying the colored pencils vs. the markers, reorganizing the linen closet or sorting the pantry, and other such tasks are classification and organization — valuable language arts, science, and math skills!
And a math activity for mom or dad? Count your blessings!
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand. (Psalm 139:17-18 NKJV)