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Bright ideas from our readers: Real-life math activities

Our readers share tips on how to teach their children real-life math skills.

By GreatSchools Staff

Thanks to the many readers who shared their ideas for real-life math activites.

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?"

Comments from readers

"My mother does time sheets so she has to do percentage and she has to add and multiply."
"My Son (Just turned four) loves to drive the cart when he is in the malls, I used this opurtunity to teach my son 'left', 'right', 'straight', 'stop'. He drives the cart and ask him to move left, right moving in between the stuff kept "
"I just wanted to say thanks to the mom whose child has trouble in math. She or he submitted a math website to give unique ideas and help for those who need it and even for additional ideas for anyone. Most all of your readers submitted their ideas, which was great. But, of course, all mentioned that their kids were bright, smart, good students, etc. That's very nice, but sometimes it sounds like these suggestions aren't suitable for children who struggle in school and the parents who struggle along with them. Being good parents, of course, they are always looking for some help, advice, and maybe even a little support from a site such as yours. It might be nice to include more websites in the area of your topic for children who need extra help - or maybe even, children who could use special help. "
"Thanks so much for all this info. I am starting to homeschool this year and was kind of nervous. But reading all these mom's and their ideas really helped ease the fear.Very helpful."