A few weeks ago I wanted to purchase a new shelf for our living room to house our daughter’s growing collection of toys. The only space left in the room was pretty small, shoehorned between an old chest and a chair. To convince my husband that it was feasible, I measured the length, height, and width of the space and found a shelf online that fit perfectly.
This is a great example of a learning opportunity for kids of all ages. My child is three years old, but she was able to carry the measuring tape, hold the paper and pencil, and was totally engaged in helping me solve the problem. Older children would be able to measure the space, record the measurements, and help parents search online for a shelf that has the right dimensions. You could take this one step further by giving your child a budget for the shelf.
Math is all around us, yet many kids cringe when told they’re “doing math.” We can integrate math concepts into our daily lives — in our tasks around the house, out in our neighborhoods, and when planning for the future. Besides integrating math into plans for new furniture purchases, here are three easy ways to use real-world learning to prepare your child for math success in the upcoming school year:
1. Cook a Meal Together
It’s important for kids to know that dinner doesn’t appear magically on the table. Cooking a meal involves a lot of mathematical thinking, from figuring out the costs, doubling the recipe to feed hungry mouths, and measuring ingredients accurately. Some ideas to capitalize on this real-world learning opportunity include:
- Preparation: Involve your child in the planning of a meal. Estimate how much the meal will cost by looking up the ingredients online prior to going grocery shopping. If your child is in early elementary school, help them write down the amounts and add them up to find a total. This is also a great way to help your child get comfortable using a calculator. Older children can practice estimating the cost by rounding the ingredient prices up to the nearest dollar. Head to the grocery store and have your child help navigate the aisles to find the ingredients. Challenge older children to compare the amount you thought the meal would cost with the actual cost. Discuss taxes and how they affect purchasing items from the store.
- Cooking: Print out the recipe or display it on an iPad or computer so it’s easy to read. Gather the ingredients, measuring cups, bowls, pans, and other cooking materials you need on the counter. If your child can read, encourage them to read the directions step-by-step. Assist your child as they help you safely cut up the food (for little hands, consider a wavy chopper), place the food in bowls and pans, stir as needed, and check the recipe for accuracy. You can also discuss the temperature needed to cook certain foods, while reinforcing safety procedures (adults should always control the oven and stove).
- Dishing It Out: Figuring out portion sizes is an awesome way to connect to parts of a whole and fractions. If there are four members in the family, how many pieces of the homemade veggie pizza will each person get? How can you figure it out? What about the salad? How can we make sure that each person has the same amount? Encourage your child to explain their thinking to make the learning stick.
2. Shop Around the House
Create story problems using everyday grocery items you already have. This activity doesn’t involve getting in the car, and you can modify the activity to help your child learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
Before you begin, you’ll need the following: 10-20 grocery items, blank piece of paper to solve the problems, sticky notes, notecards, markers, and pencils.
Here’s how to get started:
- Create labels using the sticky notes. Write any amount from $1-$10 on each sticky note. For example, label macaroni and cheese, milk, and a granola bar as $2.
- Create story problems for your child to solve using the items and record them on notecards. For example: Dad went to the store and bought pasta sauce, pasta, and broccoli. How much did he spend altogether?
- Be mindful of the difficulty level of the story problems depending on your child’s needs. Lower elementary students may only add 2 items, whereas upper elementary students may add 5 or more!
What To Do:
- Instruct your child to choose a story problem. Next, have them gather the items and figure out the correct mathematical operation to use. Encourage children in upper elementary to use multiplication to solve problems when applicable. For example, if your child solves the problem by adding $3 + $3 + $3, prompt them to think of a different way to find the answer by saying, “I noticed you added the same number a few times to solve the problem. Is there another operation (e.g., multiplication) we could use to solve this problem?”
- To challenge your child, have them create story problems for you to solve, or create story problems that involve multiple steps and operations.
- To support early learners and visual and tactile learners, use real money or play money to support learning.
3. Collect Data
Adults collect data all the time, even if we’re not aware that we’re doing it. Whether it’s comparing prices of bananas at two different grocery stores or finding trends in our month-to-month spending habits, data helps us in so many ways. We can help our children understand the importance of data collection by encouraging them to take in data throughout the summer. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
- I Spy In My Yard: Create a simple bar graph on a large piece of brown packing paper or a large poster board. Ask your child to choose five animals they see in their yard during the summer (if you don’t have access to a yard, have your child think about the animals they see at a narby park or outdoor space). If your child is really into birds or bugs, you can choose different types (e.g., robins, blue jays, etc.) Create a title and label your graph (X-axis: Animal Types, Y-axis: Number Of Animals Seen). Keep track of the animals you see for a few weeks. Ask your child to think about the animal they saw the most and the least. Encourage your child to reflect on why they may have seen certain animals more than others (e.g., nocturnal vs. diurnal).
- Weather Over Time: Ask your child to help you make a bar graph on a large piece of paper. Next, have your child reflect on typical weather patterns in your community. Have your child choose 3-5 types of weather and label them on the X-axis. Then have your child label the number of days on the Y-axis. Record the weather in the morning or at the end of each day. Reflect on which type of weather you saw most over the span of a month, and ask your child to think about if the weather stayed the same throughout the day or if it changed (e.g., from rainy to sunny to cloudy). Encourage your child to think about how keeping track of weather patterns helps people plan their day. Challenge older children to watch a weather report on TV each night and make a prediction if the meteorologist is going to be right or wrong.
For more tips on how to prepare your child for the new school year, check out Education.com’s Parent’s Guide for your child’s grade level.
Real-World Math Resources:
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.