I took the kids out for lunch this week, just me and those three capricious characters. I never know what to expect as their behavior ranges from impeccable to completely chaotic. This time they were somewhere in the middle, and fortunately we got to sit outside because it was a bee-yoo-tiful day.

We got the obligatory kids’ menus printed on paper placements and served with crayons. Everyone was happy. Thankfully, no one ordered chicken fingers. I have a thing about chicken fingers and french fries on every kids menu ever created, and my thing is this: what a dumb meal for a kid.  Why are “chicken fingers” so ubiquitous?! I bet some kids order chicken fingers every time they go to a restaurant because they think they’re supposed to. They probably don’t even realize other choices exist back there in the kitchen (and by other choices I don’t mean a hot dog or pasta with butter – ugh!). How about a vegetable now & then? Every time I (politely) ask for a small plate of fresh veggies for the kids I get weird looks and replies like “oh, I’ll have to check on that.” A server once told me “we don’t have cucumbers” when I asked for some slices for the kids, only to later present my plate with an orange and a cucumber slice as a garnish. Maybe he just didn’t know what a cucumber is? Because all he ever ate as a kid was fried chicken fingers?? It’s not like I am against fried chicken as a rule, but if we really want chicken nuggets and fries we’ll go to Chick-Fil-A because theirs are the best! Well, pardonez-moi for getting off track, the rant is now over… back to the math:

Anyway, I’ll forgive this particular restaurant their chicken fingers offering because just LOOK at what was on the backside of the menu/placemat:
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Practice your multiplication?! At a restaurant?! In public?! For fun?! Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

This table can be read by kids who haven’t even learned multiplication yet. Just call out two numbers and have your young child find the right column and row, then read the answer to you. Or better yet, have the younger child quiz the older kids who really should practice their times tables (especially because it’s summer vacation…).
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If your child asks you what multiplication means, get out the sugar packets (crayons, forks, whatever is on the table) and start explaining some simple problems. I usually begin by telling the kids when you hear the word “times” replace that with the words “groups of”.  2 X 2 just means 2 “groups of” 2. They should start to get an understanding of it after you give some simple sugar packet examples.   

Before you know it, the kids’ will have worked up an appetite, the food will arrive, and people at adjacent tables will be in awe at just how smart and well-behaved your children are as they commend your parenting skills. La la la.. OK I have yet to encounter that experience, but maybe it will happen to you. In the meantime, whip out that multiplication table again when the chicken fingers are gone and make sure you get those kids to work for their dessert! π 


 
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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.
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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

 
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:
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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
 
Spring break was fabulous this year, but it's good to be home too! Since my brain is still on vacation, here's a little something I wrote a few months ago but neglected to post.

Disclaimer: I went to a talk last night where the speaker revealed information about the potential toxins in fruit snacks (not to mention they practically cement themselves to teeth) so I hesitate to advertise the fact that I feed them to my kids but I swear it's an occasional indulgence...he he...

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Yes, here comes another counting activity. Maybe you are bored with my silly counting games by now, but I swear to a preschooler this stuff can be really fun! I’m sure if you have a toddler you spend plenty of time counting objects, so my goal is purely to give you as many ideas as possible for integrating math into your everyday routine. If you reinforce these math (in this case, counting) concepts enough, it will become second nature to your children. In fact, at some point they will begin to automatically think about numbers without your prompt, as was this case in the following example.

My kids absolutely love fruit snacks, which makes them an excellent bargaining tool on many occasions. This particular day, I decided to let them have fruit snacks after school ‘just because’ (just because we ran out of every other kind of snack, just because I didn’t feel like cutting up apples, I don’t remember exactly why….). In any case, they each got a little packet of the beloved snacks, and upon opening her bag Ramona commenced with counting the pieces before eating any.

What happened next warmed my heart. She counted her snacks (remember we’ve been working hard on 1:1 correspondence) and came up with a total of 12 fruit snacks.
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Having never counted the number of snacks in a bag myself, I wasn’t sure if she got it right. Before I could butt in and check, Wanda took the initiative to check the answer herself. Twelve again:
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Not satisfied that his little sisters could accurately count snacks, Bart then triple-checked their answer and verified 12 fruit snacks in all:
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I realize you may be thinking so what, they can count to twelve, big whoop, but keep in mind I was only a casual observer throughout this process. I did not force them to count nor did I quadruple-check their answer. They just happen to be in the habit of doing this type of thing when the opportunity presents itself, and they like to make sure the answers are correct. It’s not such an impressive accomplishment at this point, but I like to think we are laying the groundwork for future independent and analytical thinkers. Only time will tell! 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:
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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:
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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
 
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