I’m telling you, math is everywhere. I was sorting through a big stack of mail, 95% of which was headed straight for the recycle bin, but before I threw it away I uncovered a few marketing gems that were just screaming “use me for math practice!”. First was a set of postcards, each printed with a different number on the front. Instant flash cards for a 5-year-olds’ quiz on Place Value:

I held up each card and had her read the number aloud. That last one was tricky, but by the 3rd time through our “flash cards” she had it down. Then, into the recycling they went.

You see stuff like this all the time:

We never had Sirius radio so I’m not sure what they want us to “come back to” but regardless of that detail, this useful little card was a nice conversation starter for a quick math problem. If you can get 5 months of Sirius for $25, how much do you pay per month? How much would it cost for 1 year? This is good practice skip-counting for a kindergartener.

Before you throw away your next pile of junk mail (er, I mean, *direct mailings*), take a quick look at what’s there and see if you can come up with a mini-math lesson. Among all the grocery flyers, sale announcements, credit card solicitations, special offers, coupon books, and donation requests, I’m positive you’ll find some numbers to talk about with your children regardless of age. And maybe now you can feel a tiny bit better about all those *direct marketing pieces* the postal service works hard to deliver six days a week before you toss them in the trash! π

Here’s yet another idea to keep the math juices flowing while riding in the car. I almost didn’t write about it because the ending is so humiliating, but I’ll get to that later. We were on our way to a new destination, so in addition to programming the directions in my GPS I also printed out a map and directions from Google. Our target was about 40 minutes away according to the internet, so I told the kids we would leave an hour early to “give myself time to get lost” which they thought was so comical. Of course, I wasn’t joking.

We had to be there by 5pm so got caught in some rush hour traffic. We sat through three cycles of the same red light, and during that downtime I looked over the directions to make sure I knew where to go. From our current location, we had to turn left and travel 3.2 miles. Current trip mileage reading was 56.1 miles.

So… I asked the kids (the older ones really) if they could figure out at what mileage reading I should turn. This problem is probably best for students third grade or higher. It took a minute or two but we determined that the right turn should occur at: 56.1miles + 3.2miles = **59.3 miles. **

We were still stuck in traffic so I had to continue. After turning right at 59.3 miles, we were supposed to travel 2.4 miles to reach our destination. So what should the miles read upon arrival? 59.3 miles + 2.4 miles = **61.7 miles**. I am happy to report that the kids stayed with me (OK only the older ones) up to this point.

I am less happy to report that as we sat in that ridiculous traffic jam one child cried hysterically, wet their pants, then fell asleep. Another child made excruciatingly loud noises and was yelled at by their mother (who later apologized). When we reached the 61.7 mile mark we were already 5 minutes late and our destination was nowhere to be seen. We drove around searching for the place we needed to be, and about 20 minutes later decided to head home and forget about the whole thing. I told you it was humiliating. But that’s beside the point. Even under these most aggravating circumstances we were able to work in a couple math problems, and for that I can say the trip was worth it. π

I think you already know what this post is about. I mean, there are so many ways to talk about math in the grocery store it just seems too obvious. But in case you need to be reminded, I’ll give you a few ideas today.

The produce aisle is my favorite place to get the kids involved with shopping. Counting and weighing are fun. Our regular grocery store has the traditional scales which the kids love, and someday I’ll take them to the fancy store that has digital scales – you know the kind that prints out a price sticker for you? Those are awesome. Buying produce is also a great opportunity to introduce estimation and talk about money. And how about the added benefit of seeing what all those fruits and veggies look like and learning their names! Here are some produce aisle activities for kids of all ages:

** · Eat an apple a day? Let your child count out the apples (pears, plums, etc.) and put them in the basket/bag themselves. If you buy an apple a day for more than one person in the house, let your child figure out how many apples that amounts to.**

· Examine all the different types of apples (or other fruit) and their prices. Have your child tell you which variety of apple is the most expensive and which is the cheapest. How much is your family’s favorite apple?

· When bagging fruits and veggies, try to guess how much your bag weighs then put it on the scale and see who came closest.

· We have a couple of watermelon freaks in our family, so this time of year we get one (and often 2) every week. Have a contest to guess which watermelon is the heaviest. You might not be able to weigh it exactly, but it’s fun trying to find the biggest one. If your kids can’t handle a watermelon, try it with cantaloupe or honeydew.

· Once you know how much your selection weighs, try to guess how much it will cost. You don’t have to be exact, because this is a good chance to talk about estimation. If grapes are $2.49 per pound and you have a little over 2 pounds, explain how you can guess the price (“about five dollars”). After you check out, look at the receipt to see exactly how much those grapes cost.

By the way, do you call it a grocery store or a supermarket? I find “grocery store” comes more easily to me these days, but I think I used to say “market” or “supermarket” and I don’t remember when or how that changed. Maybe it depends on where you live, and since I consider myself “bi-coastal” I am comfortable with both terms. Anyway, I know the grocery store (or supermarket, depending on your region) is not always the best place to bring kids, but if you must have them tagging along remember to make the most of your shopping trip and take a minute or two to practice some math! π

School’s out so I have to come up with some ideas to keep the math momentum going over the summer. I tried a little experiment a few days ago that I’d like to share, mainly because (to my surprise) it was fairly successful and (I think) worth repeating.

Our school-day mornings are not as hectic as they used to be, but nevertheless I typically don’t have time to sit down with the kids. Honestly, all the lunch-making and dishwasher-unloading and cat-feeding, note-writing, hair-braiding, backpack-wrangling, shoe-searching, and clock-watching inevitably get in the way of my ability to linger over a cup of coffee. Notice I didn’t even mention anything about preparing breakfast, because fortunately Chao takes care of that most of the time. Anyway, amidst all the morning chaos we do find time to *talk*. So the other day when I set the breakfast table I included a piece of paper and a pencil at each kids’ seat. When they sat down the obvious question was “What’s this for?” to which I replied “I’m giving you a quiz today.” I waited a moment for the first reaction which was (and I swear I’m not lying): “Cool!”

Phew! OK now that I had announced the morning quiz, each child was staring as a blank piece of paper waiting for the instructions (and their food). I hadn’t planned the quiz exactly, but I knew I wanted to work on place value. So, first things first, I had them write their names and number the paper from 1 to 5. Bart asked if there would be a bonus question so I said sure, leave space for the bonus.

Next I went around the table and recited a number to each child. Their instruction was to write the number I told them. I did this 5 times, plus the bonus question of course. Each kid got a different set of numbers since they’re at varying levels of understanding place value. In Ramona’s case, she’s still learning to print numbers. Let’s see how they did:

Not too shabby in my opinion! The big kids got everything correct (they need harder problems next time) and we all had a good chuckle over Ramona’s doodling.

This whole exercise took about 10 minutes start to finish, so you see it really is feasible to incorporate a little math into even the busiest of mornings. This is not something I’d recommend doing every day, but you can be sure my kids will be pretty familiar with the “morning quiz” by the end of this summer! π

Pattern recognition and the ability to complete patterns is a key math skill for preschool and elementary students. Come to think of it, it’s a key skill for adults too. Much of the problem-solving we do at work and home requires us to identify patterns in the data we observe so we understand how something works, or the source of a problem, and how to predict outcomes. Back when I was paid for my services, I used pattern recognition all the time. I used it to debug programs, or to figure out why a product failed. Oh and don’t forget about spreadsheets. I always have to look for patterns to determine why Excel doesn’t seem to do what I want it to.

There are lots of every-day examples too. How about this: you hear a funny noise while driving. It seems random at first, but as you pay close attention you realize it only happens when you are going over 24 miles per hour and you turn left and the temperature is below 30 degrees. You identify the pattern, so you can then try to solve the problem. Another example: video games. I find it amazing how kids learn to master video games that make almost no sense to me! Much of the technique for winning the game comes down to recognizing patterns.

Pattern recognition is not only a valuable and practical skill, it’s also fun to practice especially at the preschool/elementary level. All you need is paper and some markers or crayons:

In this example each row of shapes will be a different pattern. I started the first one then handed the green and orange markers to my 3-year-old and asked her to finish coloring in the circles:

Not too difficult... So we repeated the exercise with different patterns:

She could manage a 3-color pattern pretty well, but beyond that it got tricky. Not that she minded, she just colored in the shapes with pretty colors of her choosing when she didn’t know the pattern. It’s nice to let kids make up their own designs too. Sometimes they’ll make a repeating pattern, and sometimes they’ll make random designs. It’s important to allow for creativity in all these activities!

This specific example is mainly preschool level, but you could easily adapt it for older kids by making more complex patterns. Mix up the shapes along with the colors. Make a really long pattern that appears random at first, and see if your (older) child can crack the code. You can really have fun with this, and I guarantee your kids won’t even realize they are practicing math! π

Ahhh summer is here! Well not officially for a couple weeks, but the strawberries are ripe and fresh corn has been spotted in the stores. We saw this sign at a local farm stand:

I decided I’m going to wait for corn prices to come down a little before we buy some, and moved on to the next produce display. Wanda stayed back to study the sign for several minutes and finally asked “What does that mean?” What is obvious to an adult can be such a puzzle to a 5-year-old. Upon closer inspection it hit me that this sign is a multi-faceted math learning tool for kids! Here was an opportunity to talk about money, fractions, adding, multiplication, rounding, and decimals, not to mention the concept of a “dozen”. Wow!

Step by step we read the prices and I explained what each line means. We talked about how a price that ends in “.99” should always be rounded up to the next dollar. She thought it was so weird that they don’t just sell it for 4 dollars or 7 dollars (I agree with Wanda). I asked her to figure out if you pay more or less per ear of corn if you buy a dozen or a half dozen. This was a tough problem, so we worked it out together. Again, she thought it’s so weird that the more you buy the less you pay per piece of corn. Now there’s a great lesson in marketing as well as math!

This brief but educational exchange at the farm stand is the perfect example to support my “math is everywhere” mantra. I encourage you to look around next time you go out with your kids – whether it’s the farm stand, grocery store, gas station, the mall, or even a walk in the park. Can you find signs like the one we saw for corn? Can you see geometric patterns in the things you see in nature? Does your child know what all the different numbers at the gas station pump mean? These everyday activities are all opportunities for mini math discussions. Once you start to incorporate these math conversations in your day, you may soon find your child will do the same. So go ahead and call me corny, but I really believe every 5 minutes you spend doing math with your child really counts! π

Kids are fascinated by big numbers. “What comes after a trillion?” “How much is a zillion million?” “What’s the biggest number in the world?” “Is there such a thing as a kajillion?” Even kindergarteners are often familiar with “infinity”. Did you know a one followed by 100 zeroes is called a googol?

Well, my daughter set out to write down one of the largest numbers in the world. She started right after breakfast:

As you can see it starts with a 1. She was so determined to keep writing this huge number that she nearly missed the bus. That was not pretty. She ended up taking the paper to school so she could finish it during free time. By the time the afternoon bus dropped her off I had forgotten about the Big Number but the first thing she did when we got home was announce “I finished my number.” Here’s the rest:

Now that’s a lot of zeroes! Looks like she was losing steam near the end, but no one can deny she achieved her goal of writing a

*really big number*. I can only imagine what her teachers thought of this little project. In any case, I found this amusing (minus the morning fight just before the bus came), and I certainly admire her stubbornness determination to complete the task.

So, what is your child's concept of a "really big number"? Here's a homework assignment: ask your child(ren) to write or draw a picture of a really big number and see what they come up with! If you get an answer you'd like to share, leave a comment (don't forget to include your child's name) or send me an email:

jennifer@mathmeup.com. Have fun! π

Ramona is learning how to write her numbers. After you get past zero and one though, they seem way more difficult than letters! As I mentioned in the previous post, her current focus is the number 3. I watched her get a lesson from Dad one day:

A few days later I was making lunch and she ran to the kitchen shouting “I made threes!” Here’s what I saw:

I thought this was an adorable effort, but couldn’t help but mention that, well, they’re all backwards. I thought she might argue with me (she’s 3 years old after all) but to my surprise she accepted that there’s room for improvement here. Ramona loves to trace things, so I made some “dotted” 3’s for her to practice writing them this way:

I don’t have all the pictures to prove it, but let’s just say we’ve been practicing 3’s diligently for awhile now. Most of this practice is self-motivated because Ramona actually enjoys writing (probably a result of constantly wanting to catch up with the bid kids). She often sits on her own to make letters and numbers, so don’t get the impression that I make her do this stuff! Anyway, I think she finally got it. To verify, I asked her to draw me some 3’s this morning:

Yep I think she got it! Next up, number 4... π

I bring you another car activity today. I think I need to start a new category for “Car Math” because lately this is the place we end up having some of our most productive math conversations (and plenty non-math conversations as well, we just drive around a lot…*sigh*). First, I bought these window crayons:

Then, I put them in the car and forgot about them for a couple weeks.

Then, one drizzly day we had a 15-minute window of wait-time in between school pick-ups and I remembered about the window crayons. Brilliant!

When I showed these crayons to the girls their faces lit up like the sunshine that was missing from our skies that day. When I said yes, they are allowed to draw on the car windows, you would have thought it was Christmas morning right there in our minivan. They were so ecstatic! Not wanting to break the celebratory mood, I hesitated before asking Wanda “Do you want me to write some math problems on the window for you to solve?” To my surprise she answered “Yeah!” and at that moment I too felt as if Christmas came early this year. So, here she is working out her problems:

Her sister joined in the fun too. We’ve been working on the number “3” so she practiced a few times:

When the math lesson was done, I let them go crazy and draw whatever they want. We only spent about 5 minutes doing math/number activities, but it was completely painless and the girls were happy to participate just because of the novelty of the window crayons. Since they were so enthusiastic about doing the math, I didn’t mind letting them ‘express themselves’ with the Window Crayons for the remainder of our wait. I should admit though, when it was finally pick-up time I could barely see out the window behind me!

Yeah, the windows were a mess, but a little Windex took care of the “art” later that day. It was a good excuse to wash the car windows anyway, no doubt they needed it! π