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Making Sense of Math: Applying, Playing, Exploring

By: Kim McConnell
young student using an abacus

Does your child …

  • Feel competent and comfortable working with numbers?
  • Know how to check an exact calculation by estimating the answer?
  • Know and choose between several methods of solving a math problem?
  • Understand the relationship between the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division)?
  • Use mental math efficiently?

If you answered yes to all of the above, then congratulations, your child is numerate! That is, he or she has numbers sense, the ability to use numbers flexibly and understand basic math concepts.

As the foundation for all later math study, numeracy ensures that students will be ready to approach progressively more difficult problems and subjects like algebra confidently and logically—without being overwhelmed. Like literacy, it’s an essential skill set for navigating through life.

But what if your child isn’t numerate? What if your he or she …

  • “Hates” math?
  • Doesn’t know how to estimate an answer to check its reasonableness?
  • Needs pencil and paper to perform simple calculations?
  • Isn’t sure how numbers and operations are related?

Well, just because a student isn’t numerate today doesn’t mean that he or she can’t become numerate tomorrow. Here are a few suggestions and resources you can use to help.

Developing Numeracy Skills

To help develop your child’s numeracy skills, it’s important to first understand how students make sense of math. Basically, it comes down to APE: applying, playing, and exploring.

Using Math in Nature: Activities for Kids

By: Michelle Pratt
Math in nature activities for kids

Summer offers endless opportunities for your child to build nature smarts. There’s gardening, swimming, biking, and other outdoor activities to enjoy.

While it’s good for kids to spend time outdoors, it’s also important for them to keep their academic skills sharp over the summer. It’s even better when you can combine summer fun and learning!

It’s time for you and your child to explore math in nature.

Finding Math in Nature

At first glance, math class and the backyard seem like two different worlds. But the two are actually very connected and math is all around us. In fact, math was developed to describe patterns in nature!

Here are some familiar math concepts with real examples in nature. There are also simple math-in-nature activities for you and your child to try.

Symmetry

Definition: When one half of an object is the mirror image of the other half.

Examples: Butterfly wings, flowers.

Activities: Make a list of 25 things in nature that have symmetry. Go outside to search for examples, if needed! You can also do this Leaf Symmetry Craft to get you started.

Spheres

Definition: A perfectly round, three-dimensional object.

Examples: Earth, sun, an orange.

Activity: Find an example of a sphere in nature and one that’s manmade. What’s different about them?

Fibonacci Spirals

Definition: A series of squares with lengths that match the numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. It forms a spiral when you draw a line through the diagonals of each square.

Example: The inside ...

Logic Smarts: Develop Your Child’s Math Skills with this Pi Day Activity

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Logic Smart: Activity for Logic-Smart Learners

Happy Pi Day! March 14th (3/14) is the day we celebrate the pi symbol, which represents a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter. For every circle, this ratio is 3.14159. It’s an irrational number that continues forever without any pattern. Math enthusiasts like pi so much that they try to memorize its digits, while computer scientists have calculated at least one million digits of pi.

If your middle school or high school student is interested in math concepts such as pi, he or she may have a natural degree of logical-mathematical intelligence, or logic smarts. Kids who have logic smarts calculate complex problems in their heads, like numbers and games, recognize patterns easily, and rely on systems and strategies to get things done. Because they have these tendencies, logic-smart kids may be interested in how pi occurs in nature or how its digits never end.

Pi Trivia

Pi is so fascinating that it turns up in unexpected places. In the original Star Trek series, episode #36 (“Wolf in the Field”), the main computer of the Starship Enterprise is possessed by an evil alien entity. Kirk, Spock, and the gang have a plan to send the entity into deep space, but they must first find a way to keep the computer “busy” so it doesn’t detect their plan. They assign the evil computer intruder to calculate pi, and of course it can never finish.

Psychologist Howard Gardner proposed logical-mathematical intelligence in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which also ...

Light up the Night with Tangram-O’-Lanterns

By: Dan Reiner
Printable Tangram Template [PDF]

How many different pumpkin-carving methods have you tried? There’s the traditional toothy grin with shining triangle eyes, while more advanced carvers can use paper patterns or pencils. You can even paint your pumpkin instead of carving it.

But there’s one method we guarantee you and your child haven’t tried, and that’s the tangram-o’-lantern.

What is a Tangram?

If you’re not familiar with the tangrams, it’s a type of puzzle that originated in China. It includes seven different pieces, also called “tans,” that compose the shape of a square. There are five triangles, one square, and one parallelogram.

In order to solve a tangram, you have to look at the silhouette of a shape made with the seven pieces and use your own pieces to recreate the image. It’s a great exercise for students because it covers geometry, fractions, and ratios.

If you’re wondering what tangrams have to do with pumpkin carving, find out in our Tangram-O’-Lantern activity. It allows your student to work with tangrams and use their shapes to create distinct pumpkins. You can also take a look at our tangram resources and other activities, but first click on the graphic below to start your Tangram-O’-Lantern.

Tangram Resources

Supplement your virtual school lessons with print and online tangram resources for students.

Playing Smart: The Benefits of Chess for Kids

By: Dan Reiner
Chess for Kids Benefits

With National Chess Day being celebrated this Saturday, October 12, it’s a great time to dust off the board or log on for an online chess game. Need some encouragement? Here are five reasons your student should be playing this 1,500-year-old game of strategy and logic.

Playing chess . . .

  1. Improves concentration and memory. According to studies done at the University of Memphis, playing chess significantly improves children’s visual memory, attention span, and spatial-reasoning ability. Perhaps that’s because, in chess as in school, concentration and memory go hand in hand.

    In order to play well, you have to focus completely on your objective—capturing the opponent’s king. As you constantly visualize the board, its pieces, your moves, and your opponent’s every possible countermove, your power of concentration grows. As your concentration grows, it becomes easier to memorize past games and classic strategies. In the process, both concentration and memory grow stronger in a kind of mutually reinforcing “dance.”

  2. Enhances reading and math skills. With its focus on problem solving and move variables, it’s not surprising that chess can improve a student’s math skills. But numerous studies show that chess improves reading skills as well!

    In separate multi-year studies of elementary-school-age children in Texas, Los Angeles, New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada, researchers found that students who played chess showed more improvement in reading and/or math assessment scores than their non-chess-playing peers. A Venezuelan study even found that playing chess increased students’ IQs!

    Why does chess improve reading skills? One researcher, ...

5 Things Kids Can Learn from Starting a Summer Business

By: Tisha Rinker
Female student learning summer business lessons baking and selling cakes.

How did you earn money as a kid? Did you do extra chores? Help out neighbors? Or did you turn to the classic go-to business for kids, the lemonade stand?

Today, if your children are looking for some extra spending money, you could encourage them to make the most of their creativity, talents, and work ethic by becoming young entrepreneurs. Learning firsthand how a business works will introduce children to new challenges and help prepare them for the future. Summer is exactly the right time to get started because students have more free time and can take advantage of a variety of seasonal work opportunities, such as landscaping or providing pet care service for vacation-goers.

Below are summer business tips for kids to try as well as some lessons they can learn along the way.

1. Hone a skill or talent.

Think about your child’s interests and goals. What are his or her favorite subjects? What activities does he or she enjoy? Which skills need development or improvement? Ask your child what he or she wants to try or to learn from the experience. Below are some ideas:

  • Start a tutoring service
  • Coach or offer sports lessons for beginners
  • Teach music lessons
  • Design and sell crafts, T-shirts, or artwork
  • Run a small bakery from home
  • Hold an acting workshop
2. Work on goal setting.

Encourage kids to attach a goal to their business. For younger kids, the goal might be as simple as having fun and trying something ...

Creating Coin Creatures to Practice Counting Money

By: Dan Reiner

creating coin animalsUsing coins to solve real-world math problems is a lifelong skill that students learn early on in school. With a little creativity, you can make coin counting more entertaining and imaginative when you practice with your child. Try creating coin creatures with your student in this fun money activity.

Creating Coin Creatures

Print out the templates provided and challenge your student to build one or more of the “coin creatures” using pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.

Once your child is finished with an animal, ask him or her to count the total amount of money it took to fill it in. If your child is just beginning to work with coins, simplify the activity by helping him or her complete these steps:

  • Count the total number of coins used
  • Make a list of how many coins of each type were used
  • Use pencil and paper to reduce this part into a series of math problems

Children who have had more coin counting practice can try adding the total of the coins in their head. If your student has filled in more than one animal, ask him or her to determine which animal is worth the most money and which is worth the least.

Try More Coin Creature Activities!

Add the animals. Prompt your student with some simple addition problems. How much money would the lion and the giraffe add up to? How much would the fish ...

Using Scrap Paper to Solve Math Problems

By: Kim McConnell
Using Scratch Paper for Math

Happy Pi Day! For those who are rusty on geometry, pi (the Greek letter π) is the symbol for a number that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference (distance around) to its diameter (distance from edge to edge, through the center). The cool thing about pi is that it’s a constant; for all circles of any size, pi will be the same. And while pi has been calculated to over a trillion digits beyond the decimal point, most non-mathematicians round pi to 3.14—which is why March 14 is known as Pi Day and celebrated by math teachers and students worldwide!

Why not celebrate Pi Day to spark your children’s interest in and use of math in everyday life? Make a Pi Day pie, reinforcing terms like radius, diameter, and circumference while you roll out the crust! Or plan a Pi Day math scavenger hunt, in which kids follow clues to locations where they find math problems to solve. Be sure to give prizes! Whatever you do, make it fun—and celebrate with Pi Day pie—even if it’s store-bought.

In honor of Pi Day, I’d like to share a tip for helping students solve math problems: using scrap paper. Picture this: it’s a hot summer day, and you want to fill the small pool in the backyard—but there’s no garden hose. You grab a bucket and fill it right to the brim, but by the time you walk to the pool, half the water has splashed out. ...

Fitness and Learning: A Great Combo

By: Dan Reiner

young boy holding a soccer ball and a book

Did you know that children who exercise before learning outperform their couch potato counterparts? It’s true! Scientists theorize that because it stimulates blood flow, physical activity sends more oxygen to the brain, making it a lean, mean thinking machine! So why not integrate some learning activities into your kids’ outdoor fun? Here are some ideas and resources for keeping both mind and body in tip-top shape.

  • Play multiplication catch. Have kids pair up to lob balls back and forth, along with math facts! If your children are too young for multiplication, practice addition or subtraction facts instead. For variety, switch partners, speed up the pace, or increase the distance between players.

  • Be a bird brain. Equip your students with small notebooks, pencils, sturdy shoes, thick socks, and water bottles—and set off on a bird-watching hike. Pack a field guide and binoculars to help you identify our feathered friends, and be sure to have kids record all the varieties you see. For more nature-inspired activities and ideas, visit Nature Rocks.

  • Leap for measurement. Stage a competition to discover who can jump the farthest in a standing broad jump. (Be sure to mark a clear starting point and review the rules first, for fairness!) Have your kids measure and record each contestant’s leap. After each jumper jumps three times, have each contestant add up his or her total distance jumped. For more advanced mathematicians, let them average the measurements. Don’t forget to award prizes!

  • Learn to hat dance. Teach ...

Fun and Games: Play Time Is Learning Time

By: Carrie Jean Ross

board game piecesAs kids start to focus more on sleeping in and swimming pools, many will flip an internal switch—LEARNING OFF, PLAY TIME ON! But the two don't have to be—shouldn't be—mutually exclusive.

There is a wealth of research that supports the idea that children greatly benefit from learning over the summer, and the importance of play in child development is a widely researched topic. During the summer, kids usually get more time to play and really let their curiosity lead them to explore and ask questions, which helps kids' brains stay sharp.

In celebration of National Summer Learning Day, enjoy these ideas for games that help give kids an educational boost while enjoying summer fun!

  1. Take a Chance!
    Monopoly and Monopoly Junior are classic board games that put math skills to the test. Counting money, buying and selling, and making change all reinforce math concepts that many students are learning as early as first grade and kindergarten. Be sure to stop the game as needed to explain and assist with math problems.

  2. Move Over Milton Bradley … Invent a Game
    Encourage children to get creative and develop their own board game. Use a piece of cardboard as the “board,” break out the crayons and markers, and let imaginations run wild. Refer to favorite games like Candy Land for ideas about structure and format. Kids will have a ball making their own playing pieces and even dice with modeling clay. This activity is an artistic way to boost logic skills. ...

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