Thanks to the many readers who shared their ideas for real-life math activities.
Here are some of their suggestions:
Use the sales rack as an incentive. A Texas mother of three writes, “My daughter, Anna (age 12), loves to shop and, like her mother, loves to hit the sales racks. We did an activity where we would browse the percentage off racks and try to mentally figure up how much a garment would cost given whatever percentage off the price it would be. She had initially asked me how much something would cost and I almost told her before it hit me that this would be a great exercise in figuring percentages and showing how it is really useful in the real world. She balked at first, but was finally enjoying it after she got the hang of it.”
Math at the movies for a profit. A Texas mother writes, “We went to the movies the other day. The tickets were $6.50 for adults and $5.00 for kids. I asked my 5-year-old twins (going into first-grade this fall) how much money we needed for my aunt, myself and them to get in. They collaborated and came up with the answer, $23. Then they gave the cashier $25. I told them they could keep the change if they could tell me how much it would be. They each put $1 in their bank when we got home!
The profit motive. An Illinois mother writes, “My son is 7-years-old and he needs to buy all his toys and fun stuff with money he earns from an allowance. I give him $5 a week for doing things like taking the garbage down to the chute, making his bed, putting dirty dishes in the sink and putting dirty clothes in the hamper. Then he needs to manage the money and save for things that cost more than $5. He counts his money and change and we see how much an item costs and discuss how much more he will need, etc. Then he must give the cashier the money and we talk about how much change he will get. So because of this, I am teaching him adding and subtracting and we talk about tax added to purchases. He also understands many other things as well, that I am not the source of his income, that he is the earner and spends his own money on toys. Of course he still asks me to buy him things — he’s smart.”
Cooking, building and book recommendations. A mother of two in Rhode Island writes, “I think math and science skills are so incredibly necessary in today’s world. I try to encourage my 3- and 6-year-olds in activities which promote love of both of these areas. Some of the ways we accomplish this are:
- Cooking! Helps with so many areas. Reading the recipe. Measuring ingredients. With cutting you can teach about fractions. Weighing ingredients. Baking is a science! You can talk about the chemical reactions that occur and what the effect of certain ingredients is on a recipe.
- Building with blocks or legos. Doing puzzles, including the kinds that have no particular design, rather you make up the design yourself! We love the MightyMind games, too.
- Reading the fabulous books by Greg Tang (like Math for All Seasons) where the pictures are engaging and math becomes more like a game. [Editor: See the GreatSchools review of Gregory Tang’s book The Best of Times: Math Strategies that Multiply.]
- Science can be everyday also. Nature walks, learning about different animals and plants. We are growing carrots, peas and tomatoes in our children’s garden.
We are also raising tadpoles – they make a lovely centerpiece on our dining table!”
Cooking, lemonade stands and earning spending money. The mother of a 5-year-old girl writes, “We use math around the house all the time. When making banana bread I’ll ask, “I need five tablespoons of sour cream and I’ve put in two already. How many more do I need to put it?”
“When we had a lemonade stand, we used quarters and one dollar bills and needed to remember four quarters equals one dollar and two quarters makes half a dollar and so on.
“My daughter would like to earn some money. She’s required to do chores but we pay for extras such as weeding or cleaning or helping ‘babysit’ her little sister when mom and dad are trying to get a home project done. She’s paid in dollars or quarters (depending on the work) which gives us the double opportunity of better understanding money and fractions as well as teaching her that money doesn’t grow on trees.”
A good math site. One mom writes, “I am a mom of a child who has trouble in math. I found a great web site that helps with basic math facts. It is Aplusmath.com. It is fun too!”
Count loose change and use old grocery receipts. The mother of an 8-year-old writes, “Our real-world math was a mixture of a couple of things. We had a jar of collected, loose change. I had her count out the amounts that we needed to be able to roll the coins and turn them in. She then counted the rolls to get the total amount to be deposited to our vacation fund.
“Prior to rolling all the change, we took some of the old receipts from the grocery and I would give her amounts to figure. For example: If I said I was buying a box of Pop-Tarts for $2.82 and I gave her $3, she would figure out how much change that would be and count that amount of change out.”
One dad makes it fun. A Texas father writes, “We count cars of a certain color, and subtract one if we see two of the same color. Whoever gets one hundred first wins.”
On-the-go-math at the grocery store. A mom from Georgia writes, “When I take my 7-year-old daughter to the grocery store, that’s when we use a lot of real-world math. For example, last week, I asked her to figure out how much would I need to pay for four cans of tuna (they’re two for $1.00). I also asked her to pick out yogurts for herself and her two sisters. They were on sale for three for $1.00. I told her that I would only spend $5.00 on yogurt. We spent about five minutes in the yogurt aisle while she’s trying to stack and sort out her problem. It was such a joy to watch her stack three cups in a row and talk herself through the process. When she figured out that $5.00 can get 15 cups and each can get five cups, we both were so proud. There’re a lot of other things children can do in the grocery store as well as at home, especially around the kitchen.”
It doesn’t get any more real than this. A mother of two in North Carolina writes, “Our children, 11 and 13, attend middle school in Indian Trail NC. Since they were old enough to understand math concepts, we have worked to incorporate learning math skills with real life and school importance. We stress the importance of doing well in school now so that they can get a better education and live a more comfortable life. We use the cost of living in a real life setting to teach our children what the ramifications are if they don’t apply themselves.
For example: Not applying themselves in school now and not going to college to get a degree could ultimately land them in a minimum wage position. We break it down for them. Minimum wage is $6.15 per hour. If they work 40 hours per week, their gross pay will be ______ ($246.00)? Now, you need to pay tax on that money so you can assume you’ll take home or “net” approximately 75% of $246.00 which = ______ ($184.50). Your net pay times four weeks in a month will give you what monthly income ______ ($738.00)? Then, there are expenses. Bills you will need to pay if you decide you are going to live on your own. If they are still living at home, the bulk of their expense will be auto related. So we break that down. Monthly car payment: $300.00 Monthly car Insurance: $200.00 Monthly gas expense @ an average of $40. Per week $200.00 Total car expense: $700.00″
“We have them subtract that from their net payment and they give us what’s left ______ ($38.00).
“We have done this with several examples and also living at home vs. living away. It’s important for them to understand that the prices of things are not going down. They will need to earn top dollar when they get out of school in order to enjoy simple things like driving a car. Both of our children are good students. Now that our son, almost 14 is getting closer to driving age in North Carolina, he is realizing that he should buckle down and make something of himself. So for us, our technique of incorporating math into how it will impact them in the real world has seemed to work for us.”