Math, in any of its forms, has never been my favorite subject. Once I had mastered rote memorization, I quickly lost interest, and quite frankly, easily became confused. For this reason I was somewhat surprised when one of the motivating factors in beginning our homeschool journey was teaching math to my own children. Now I want to pause and insert a disclaimer here. In no way do I have a bad taste in my mouth regarding public education, or the new methods of teaching mathematics. However, what do you moms really think of front end estimation or the lattice method for multiplication? It is very likely that since mathematics has first been taught, parents have complained , “Well, that is not how we did it back in the day.” I remember my father and uncle patiently attempting to teach me algebra while I cried out of frustration. They attempted while I lamented, “That is not how Mrs. L—— showed us.” Once my children reach pre-calculus, we may learn the “newfangled” methods. In the meantime, I will show them the tried and true ways which have got me thus far.
Anyway. While allowing my kiddos to get those mathematical bits of rote information down pat, we could make it a bit fun every once in awhile. This is easily achieved with my three-year old. Math is everywhere around us. Once the older boys are on to me that we are actually reviewing lessons learned, and not just playing, it had better be fun.
My nine-year old, S, is learning division this year, but still struggles to have his multiplication facts as firmly in his head as I would like them. He also has that nine-year-old boy energy that would just prefer to jump up and down repeatedly like a pogo stick than, say, write out his multiplication table over and over. The world is his trampoline. So, the kind-hearted and understanding mother that I am, I came up with what he calls, “run-around-the-house math.”
Run-around-the-house math – This is a fun activity we use at the beginning or end of a week after the hard work (I didn’t say boring) has already been done. We use it as a refresher. I collect about ten 3×5 index cards. On one side I write a math sentence. For example, 9 x 7 = 63 or 63 / 9= 7. If I want him to have a greater challenge, I write it down without the product or quotient. On the flip side I write the location of where he will find his next note card. I place them all around the house, upstairs and down, some even in the backyard, then instruct him to place his spiral notebook and pencil in one particular location. It is usually on his desk in his bedroom. His job is to read the first card, e.g. 24 / 6 = 4. Then, he reads the opposite side, which may read, “under the kitchen table.” He places the card back down, races upstairs to his room, records it in his notebook, runs to the kitchen table and gets the next card. This is repeated until all ten cards are completed. By this time, he has tripped once or twice, and is out of breath, and laughing. My hope is that the slight delay in having to remember a couple of things simultaneously, going through the motion of writing it down, combined with a little bit of moving around will all work together to help something stick in his head. In any case, it is his favorite day of math.
Odd One Out– This is another activity we do with index cards, but is stationary. After cutting several cards in half to save paper, I group them in fours. Three numbers will belong together to form a true math sentence. The fourth will be the “odd one out.” His job is to recognize as quickly as possible which one that is. The first group of number cards might reveal 6, 42, 8, 7. Obviously, the 8 is the odd one out, because 7 x 6 = 42. This is a fun exercise to strengthen his knowledge of patterns and relationships in math, or what today’s elementary children call “fact families.”
With G, my three-year-old, math practice is easier and naturally more fun. There is not much to plan ahead, because at this age counting with numbers just happens organically through play and conversation. I do, however, have a couple of activities for G that we like to get out when he wants to join his brothers and “do math.”
Sensory math – With toddlers and preschoolers the more senses they are able to use, the better. This is even true for certain learning styles as we get older. Last year I made G a simple (I am not at all a craftsy person) flannel board with a tree, apples, basic geometric shapes and numbers. We like to play with these in different ways.
Threading Beads – I have been proud of how G has grown in his hand-eye coordination. Scissors are still a challenge for him. I frequently need to remind him that his thumb goes on top while he is cutting. He has, however, truly mastered threading his wooden beads through the laces even with the tiny holes. He also uses index cards or colored card stock with a number. He, then, counts his beads as he strings them on the laces.
This seems to be meaningful for him as he often initiates counting throughout his day. “Let me see how many apple slices I have on my plate.” Or, “One, two, three, four, five, six ducks in that pond.”
It’s not pre-caluculus yet, but we are getting there.