If you expected "Season End" to refer to Winter you'd be mistaken. Highs in the 30's and chill-me-to-the-bone rain still feels like winter to me, even if the calendar says tomorrow is April. It's been a long, annoying winter..........anyway on to the fun stuff!

You may have noticed I mention swim practice here and there. Our swim season ended last week. No more practices…sniff sniff… NOT. The kids are thrilled, because let’s face it winter swim is a long grueling season and they are just plain burned out! Swim team has been a big part of our life for the past 7 months, for better or worse, so I thought it fitting to sit back and reflect on the kids’ accomplishments.
We summarized our swim season at the dinner table using the “back of the envelope” method, literally. I don’t expect you to be able to read that though.

Swim practices started back on September 14, 2010, so the kids were at it for 27 weeks. For most of the season we attended 3 practices per week. There were a few weeks we only made 1 or 2 practices due to sickness, holidays, swimmers ear, bad weather, etc. We also attended two meets (yes, only 2 all season, so what!?) in addition to the practices.

We decided to estimate the total number of practices (we’re getting good at estimation now!). Let’s see if I can decipher the envelope… out of 27 weeks we said there were 4 weeks when we only attended 2 practices, so 27 – 4 = 23 (thanks Wanda).

23 weeks times 3 practices per week = 69 practices (good job Bart). Add those (estimated) 4 weeks when we only went 2 times to make 8 more practices:

69 + 8 = 77 practices (impressive!)

Then we subtracted 2 more practices because honestly there were probably a couple other times we skipped. So, 75 practices.

Next we tried to figure out how many laps were swum (swam?) during each practice. Bart and Wanda had no idea but fortunately I had observed at Monday’s session that the kids did about 10 laps every 15 minutes, so we used that number.   Each practice is at least 45 minutes long (sometimes longer). Bart helped us calculate that 10 laps every 15 minutes for 45 minutes is 30 laps per practice. I think it’s a conservative estimate, but 30 is a nice number to work with.

OK stay with me, just a couple more calculations:

30 laps per practice X 75 practices = 2250 laps.

Each lap is 25 meters, amounting to 2250 X 25 = 56,250 meters (had to use a calculator there). Phew!

If there are 1609 meters in a mile, how many miles did these kids each swim since September?!

“I don’t really care” was one reply. He just wanted me to stop talking and get some dessert I’m sure.

Anyway, these guys swam about 35 miles since September, which is about the distance from here to Philadelphia! That little fact got their attention. So, how many miles did you swim when you were 7 years old?  How about when you were 5?!  

They weren’t overly excited about the results of our calculations, but in my eyes this is a considerable accomplishment and I’m proud that they stuck it out all fall and winter. I think it’s important to recognize the hard work they put in all season, and even though they are sick of swimming for now, I commend them for making it through with minimal complaints. 

Sports provides parents so many excuses to talk about math with our kids. Regardless of your child's sport, I'm sure you can think of some way to quantify their achievements and recognize their hard work (and if you can't think of an example send me an email with your kid's sport and I'll come up with something for you!). Get your child involved in making the calculations with you, and they will feel an even greater sense of pride.   

The next morning Bart asked over breakfast, “How many miles did I swim again?”  So, for sure he’s going to boast about this to someone at school. That’s OK with me, in this case I think he earned some bragging rights. π

Ramona loves to do worksheets like the big kids. I asked her to complete the following page while I helped Bart with another project.  I showed her real quick what to do, then she worked independently for several minutes and didn’t ask any questions.  Here’s what she came up with:
Hopefully the picture is clear enough that you can see the “Bug Match”. All you have to do is draw a line to match each number to the group of ladybugs containing the same number. The first one was done for her, nice job tracing the line. Then comes number 5 – can you see how she connected 5 of the 6 ladybugs in the top group together? Next was number 2, and it looks like that was easy. Then she got to the end and is looking for a group of 6 ladybugs and only 5 are left but oh! oh! Look there’s another ladybug over on the next page … for a total of 6!  Perfect!

I just love how she worked this out.  The thought process of a 3 year old is so wonderful to observe. Not only did she count accurately but she was able to solve the “problem” that arose.  A+ Mona!  π
If you read my last post about FreeRice, you’ll notice today’s activity is a natural extension of that experience. As soon as our 1350 grains of rice were earned we took a break from the “weirdo computer guy” with the too hard math questions and headed to the kitchen for a snack. Once there, a clever child asked an innocent question:

 “How much rice does it take to make dinner?”

I was not planning to go there, but I swear they asked! Thus began our half-hour of rice counting, in an attempt to determine how many grains it takes to feed our family dinner. 

I scooped up a jar of dry rice to show the kids about how much I would cook to feed the 5 of us (no leftovers). I don’t measure rice, but this is somewhere between 1 and 1 1/2 cups:
Counting individual grains of rice is no easy feat. They are so tiny you get dizzy staring at the grains (speaking for my eyes only), they stick to your fingers, they roll around, and there are just so darn many of them! There was no way we could count each piece so we had to come up with an estimation scheme.

We had a few different ideas. We tried different spoons, little plates, and bowls in an attempt to keep track of the grains.

I don’t recall how Mr. Potato Head’s ear was involved, but there it is.

We eventually determined that 100 grains of rice is roughly equivalent to a ½ teaspoon.  We took a few ½-teaspoon scoops and counted them to make sure our assumption was OK. It was, depending on who did the scooping! With that information, we decided a teaspoon of rice would equal (approximately) 200 grains.

From there, we measured 2000 grains into the small blue bowl, one teaspoon at a time. It didn’t look like much:
Based on the final measurements we estimate it takes about 8000 grains of rice to feed our family for dinner. Suddenly we didn’t feel so excited about those 1350 grains we earned answering math problems on FreeRice. It’s barely enough to feed one meal to a toddler.  Ah well, there’s the motivation we needed to go back and play some more. π
Long ago, in a land far away, when I owned far less wool, fleece, and socks than I do today, someone introduced me to the website FreeRice.com. In those days FreeRice was a vocabulary game where you had to correctly identify synonyms for increasingly obscure words. You play for free, and for each question answered correctly FreeRice donates a small amount of rice to help end world hunger. I played a lot when I was writing papers, during “work breaks,” and just to waste time (I had a lot of free time back then!).  At some point I got bored, found some other cool websites to distract me from my work, and abandoned FreeRice for many years.

You know what’s coming next. I recently re-visited FreeRice and was pleasantly surprised that it’s still up and running, and my how it has grown! The best news is that questions are not limited to vocabulary any more. Now there are a multitude of subjects to choose from including, of course, math!! Woo hoo!

I subjected my five-year-old to FreeRice math first.  I believe the first problem was “1 + 1 = ?” She loves that question. The second was something like “2 + 2 = ?” and she was happy. The thing about Freerice is as you get more and more right answers the questions become progressively more difficult. You have to work for that rice. After about 10 questions things got slightly more complicated and she got slightly more frustrated. She stuck with it though and reached her goal of earning 200 grains of rice.

Next up was 7-year-old Bart.  He took over where his sister left off, so the problems were a reasonable level for his age. He whizzed through several questions and then the difficulty level ramped up. Fortunately, he had a great attitude on this particular day. He has been learning multiplication tables so was happy to show off his prowess in that area. Next were some fractions, which required careful thought but he worked it out (with a little help here and there). Then freerice threw in some problems with percents and decimals…hmmmm…. this was definitely getting trickier.

“Dot 7 plus dot 11 equals what? Is it supposed to be dot 18?!” he exclaimed. He hasn’t seen this type of problem before and I find it amusing he says “dot” instead of “point” or even “period”. Oh how the “dot” has infiltrated our lives!
In between cries of “What the…?!” and “I can’t do this!” Bart remained a good sport, and it was fun to observe his attempts to make sense of each question. (“Is 30% the same as 3/10ths?” Yes!) Then this problem appeared on the screen:

A + 5B – 4B = ?

To which he replied:

“Hey weirdo computer guy I’m just a kid, how am I supposed to know that?!”

Finally he told me, “OK I got 500. I’m going to stop now because this is TOO HARD!” In the end, between three of us taking turns to play, we earned 1350 grains of rice.

Remember, for each correct answer, FreeRice donates 10 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Program to help end hunger. This is not a joke or hoax, and to date over 88 billion grains of rice have been donated. It costs nothing to play, you don’t have to give up any of your personal information, it’s fun, and you might actually learn something. Don’t just take my word for it though, check out FreeRice right now (with or without the kids) and chances are you’ll be hooked before long. π

I’m not the only one obsessed with daily lessons, particularly when it comes to math. Chao is in on this game too. He makes lots of worksheets for the kids. His are usually more difficult than mine so we endure our share of whining, but the kids (almost) always pull through and do the work. Here’s an example he made for Bart. This was special because he got to use a calculator!
All those big numbers can be overwhelming but it’s good to practice writing large numbers to solidify an understanding of place value. Also this provides him a way to relate to these big numbers since he is already comfortable with seconds, minutes, days, and years.

The cool thing about this exercise is that I caught Bart coming back to read the answers several times after he completed the work. It sat on our table for a few days and has since disappeared, but I’m pretty sure he memorized at least some of the answers. It’s such a simple thing, but will not be soon forgotten.π

Thanks to everyone who checked out this site! I got a lot of hits yesterday and love the comments too. I hope you'll come back frequently. I'm getting the hang of this now, so feel free to spread the word if you like it. Also I welcome any ideas -- I want to hear what others are doing to encourage math learning at home!  Now on to this activity from a few days ago...
On swim practice nights the dinner table dynamics are always unpredictable. The kids’ moods can range from quiet-easygoing-zen to utterly exhausted-maniacal-crying-breakdown mode.  I find the evening meal is more manageable if there’s some sort of distraction. For example, tonight there was a pile of chopsticks and rubber bands on the table, which piqued their curiosity enough to divert the typical whines of “What is this? I’m not going to eat it!” 

Before I go on, I must give credit where it is due. The following fun activity comes from Math Cats. They call it a ‘triangle stand’ and their pictures and description are way better than mine!  Anyway, here are the building blocks we used tonight:
“What are those for?” the kids immediately asked.

“We’re going to build something!” I answered. “Tetrahedra,” I added enthusiastically.

Let me tell you, they were all over it! They had no idea what tetrahedra are but they readily grabbed at the chopsticks and rubber bands.  The first step is to tie 3 chopsticks together in a triangle:
Then you take 3 more chopsticks, attach them at each vertex, and tie the 3 loose ends together at the top. Voilà, a tetrahedron! The kids each made one (I helped Mona with hers):
Then Wanda asked the obvious question, “Mommy, what IS a tetrahedron?” Good question!  A tetrahedron is a three-dimensional shape where each of its 4 faces is a triangle. The kind we made could also be called a triangular pyramid

“Oooh just like the pyramids in Egypt!”

Well, sort of… the Egyptian pyramids (the ones we always see pictures of at least) have a 4-sided base. So, we decided to make an Egyptian style pyramid for comparison. First the base:
See the difference?
By this time we were ready to move on to dessert. We made it through the meal with minimal conflict and managed to learn something in the process. If only it were that easy every night! Π
This week our cabin fever has finally been cured. We played outside the last two days without jackets! It’s not t-shirt weather, but it’s awesome nonetheless. I even left the door wide open most of the day today – fresh air in the house at last!

The kids found a huge tub of sidewalk chalk in the garage and are working hard to cover every paver we own with colorful chalk drawings. This is perfect for me because I can get my work done in the kitchen and keep them in my line of sight while they doodle away on the patio. Today was too nice to stay in the kitchen though, so Ramona skipped her nap (as usual) and we spent most of the afternoon in the backyard. In addition to endless trip down the slide and jumps off the patio ledge, stick-collecting, digging for worms, and getting stuck in the mud, I managed to sneak in a pre-school math activity. Here goes…

I found a section of the patio that hadn’t yet been beautified with children’s artwork, and created some art of my own. I drew a bunch of numbers and shapes on the bricks, randomly distributed and spread out as much as possible. I hope you can see it well enough here:
The game here is to yell out instructions for your child to follow. Get creative with the commands so it’s fun. For example:

·        Run to the number 4 and jump up and down 4 times on it
·        Put one foot on 5 and the other foot on 12
·        Step on the cube and spell your name out loud
·        Lie down on your age
·        Run to your brother’s age
·        Sit on your favorite shape
·        Spin around 6 times on the number 6
·        Find a shape that has 6 sides

If your child gets one wrong, keep playing and repeat any instructions they have trouble with until they can consistently get it right. When we started playing Ramona didn’t know what a pentagon or hexagon was, but by the end of our game she could recognize both (we’ll see if she remembers this tomorrow when I attempt to reinforce what she learned). When you run out of ideas, let your child make up commands for you to follow. The instructions they come up with are bound to make you LOL!

We played this for a mere 10 minutes, then Ramona’s attention turned to making a nest of leaves and grass for her new “pet” worm.  The numbers and shapes are still out there so maybe we can play another round tomorrow. If the chalk is washed away tonight and I don’t get any more mileage out of this game I am pretty sure she got something out of it today, and best of all we had fun playing together.
After the next rain, I plan to make up a new version of the game board geared toward the older kids. There are so many possibilities I can’t even list them all (and I don’t want to give away all my ideas in one post, I need something to write about next month!). All I know is now that sidewalk chalk season is upon us, lots more opportunities for quick and dirty math practice come with it.  I can hardly wait! π

I know this will come across as brag but I am compelled to share nonetheless. Remember the "extra homework" Bart created a couple weeks ago? Well just look what I found in Wanda’s backpack:
This is what she made during “free time” at school after her morning work was done. Most of the time she draws pictures or writes notes to the family, but occasionally she makes up math problems. This behavior has earned her the nickname “Math Girl” in her Kindergarten class. 

Anyway, thanks for indulging me…

On a separate topic, I want to thank my friend Jill for the reminder (via Facebook) to wish everyone a Happy Pi Day!  (And Jill if you didn’t see my response to your comment below I really think you need to provide some guest posts, wink wink…) π

Today’s activity is a home-made game I made last year and recently re-discovered while cleaning up the office. It’s a memory game with a math twist. I don’t know if you can buy a game like this (I’ve never seen it but also haven’t looked for it), but it’s easy enough to make from a couple sheets of paper. I used cardstock for increased durability.

You first cut a bunch of cards all the same shape, then proceed to make matched pairs. Instead of exact matches though, write equivalent mathematical statements on each pair.  For example, here are some matches in my version:
Get the idea?  When you have about 10 or more matched pairs, lay the cards our face down in a grid pattern and start playing Memory. If you’re not familiar, all you do is turn over 2 cards at a time and try to find the matched pairs. If you don’t get a match, turn the cards facedown and try again.  At first kids are confused because they’re not sure if they should calculate answers or look for exact matches, but after a few turns they get the idea.

I made 2 versions, an easy set and a more difficult one with more cards. My game was designed for first graders, but you could easily make cards appropriate for any grade level. Even if your kids don’t feel like playing when you first introduce this game, just leave the cards lying on the table and I bet they can’t resist turning a few over when you’re not looking!
The game only takes a few minutes but it makes the kids think on multiple levels, and who can resist a refresher for basic math facts disguised as a game?  For younger kids this is good for practice  reading numbers as well. Best of all it can be played alone or with several players.  Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this! π

I impulse bought a tub of paper hole punchers in seven different shapes. They looked like fun and were on sale, and I knew I’d figure out something to do with them, some day. That was about a month ago, and today I finally worked them into a preschool-level counting activity.

First take some paper or cardstock and cut it (or not) into pieces. I made some rectangular strips out of scraps of leftover cardstock. Write a number on each card with a marker. Don’t make the numbers too big, and don’t make the papers too small, because your child is going to punch that many holes in each card. Here was our set-up:
Next, ask your preschooler to pick up a card and a hole-punch, read the number out loud then make that same number of holes in the card.  Simple!

Ramona was so excited to do this. I showed her how the hole-punch works and she was eager to dive in. Hmmm, I had to squeeze that hold punch pretty darn hard to make it work, so I passed her a different one. Then about 30 seconds later she was nearly in tears trying to make a star with that dumb cheapo hole-punch that it turns out is terribly designed for adult use and virtually impossible for a 3-year-old! We tried all the shapes but they were equally challenging to use. No wonder they were on clearance! 

Luckily I work well under pressure so Plan B sprung to mind quickly. I ran to the office and located this lovely tool which really saved the day:
This is my $14.99 punch which makes that beautiful crown-like design on paper corners. I believe it is part of the Martha Stewart collection sold at Michaels. This tool cost 2X what I paid for the bin of crappy hole-punchers, and has been worth every penny! We’ve used it for lots of projects already. Anyway, this tool is not exactly easy to use, but it allows a little person to put some weight behind their punching and the pretty design is far more satisfying than a little star or diamond. With this tool in hand, Ramona went right to town:
She punched away, and counted away, and after about a half hour every card was punched (except for card 5 which had been destroyed by the faulty hole-puncher, and card 10 because she got tired and stopped at 8) and we admired the pretty designs:
Ramona really enjoyed this activity, and I’ll tell you how I know. Later in the evening, I found the stack of punched cards on top of the dresser in her bedroom, which is where she puts things that she wants to save and (especially) doesn’t want anyone else to touch. There’s not too much on top of her dresser, just some very important things like the lip gloss and mirror she got for her 3rd birthday, a pretty necklace, and now her special counting punch cards. π