Today’s example is almost too easy.  I nearly forgot to write about it because the ‘math lesson’ literally took 5 minutes.  Here it is:  There is a wooden column in our house that separates the eating area in the kitchen from the family room. Over breakfast I asked the kids “How tall do you think that column is?” 

Instant math lesson, how easy was that?!

They immediately got up from their seats to get a closer look (any excuse to leave the table while we’re eating). They stretched their hands high, they tried to climb the column, they held their hands a certain distance apart and tried to “measure” this way:
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Then one of them thought to fetch a ruler. Brilliant! They took turns to figure out how many rulers high the column is.
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Even standing on the back of the couch they’re too short to reach the top so some final estimation had to be done. Their final guess for column height was 6 rulers.  Next we talked about how many centimeters are in each ruler, and how many inches. 

6cm X 30cm per ruler = ? 

This is a little tough for a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old who just rolled out of bed, so to break down the problem I asked how much is 6X3? Easy (sort of). How about 6 X 30? 180, they got it! Next, 6 X 12 inches? That was a little more difficult but with help they calculated 72 inches.

I measured the column myself and got 198cm, or 6’ 6”.  Pretty close! I think the kids did a good job with this. 

A key point here is to notice how much you can really accomplish with this type of activity.  One simple exercise, a single question, exposed the kids to at least 5 mathematical concepts: measurement, estimation, addition, multiplication, and conversion between metric/English units. They hadn’t even finished breakfast yet! And like I said, this literally took 5 minutes so it was quick, easy, and yes, a little bit fun too. π 
 
Preschool “math” activities are super easy to integrate into everyday life. My 3-year old daughter is always eager to point out numbers (and letters) on signs, boxes, school buses, buildings, t-shirts, you name it. She is also game to identify and create shapes, which is what prompted our recent lunchtime activity which allowed us to simultaneously practice a little geometry and play with our food.

I set out a bowl of dry cereal next to our lunch plates. In case you are curious it was Cracklin’ Oat Bran, a tasty choice if you can get past its strong resemblance to cat food. The C.O.B. became our tool for making shapes (and more, as you’ll see) as the two of us enjoyed a leisurely lunch while the ‘big kids’ were at school. 

I first wanted to see if she could complete a shape that I started. For example, I started the first two lines of this shape for her:
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And voilà! Here’s how she finished it:
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We tried again with this one:
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So far so good, so I continued along this theme of basic shapes. Here we go, complete this shape:
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At this point I walked away for a few minutes to do something (probably checking my email, I admit) and came back to find this masterpiece:
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I totally wasn’t expecting that!  Isn’t he cute? I absolutely loved the little alien and she was so proud of herself. The funny thing is, I have no idea if she didn’t know it was supposed to be a circle or if she just thought the circle was too boring and decided to get creative. What do you think?

By the way, my little girl loved this! We went on to create different shapes then letters, we spelled her name, and we counted pieces of cereal. She didn’t even realize I was shoveling mouthfuls of food into her mouth as we “played” so she really ate a good hearty lunch and nibbled a bit of dry cereal in the process (she would have eaten much more cereal if it had been sticky and brightly colored, believe me).

She even ate the rest of the C.O.B. for snack later that day. I personally am not keen on food that’s been handled that much, but as you know a 3-year-old couldn’t care less and honestly I think she enjoyed the cereal even more, knowing those were the same pieces we played with for an hour before she put it in her mouth. A little gross maybe, but the girl knows her shapes pretty well so I can’t complain. π

 
I started the Math Me Up blog to keep track of the math "lessons" I practice with my kids. I use the term "lessons" loosely because lots of times the learning in our house is spontaneous and completely unplanned. I love finding ways to integrate math into every day activities, and I really want kids to see first-hand that "math is everywhere". I've been doing this in earnest for about a year now and I think it's starting to sink in. For example, yesterday in the car my 5-year old held up a stub of her pretzel rod and said to no one in particular, "This is 2 centimeters." And she was right!  

My motivation for writing MathMeUp boils down to this: I want to impart my own enthusiasm for math upon my kids, and in writing about my experience teaching them math skills I hope to provide others with some ideas and tools to help integrate mathmatical learing into their lives as well.  
 
Welcome to the Math Me Up Blog! More coming soon I promise :)