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Did you notice that adorable kitty in my last post? That sweet little girl is Popcorn, and we have so much fun with her! Popcorn joined our family about a month ago. She was supposed to be a “friend” to our older cat, Marge, but so far Margie hasn’t bought into our plan. That translates to lots of scuffles at the feeding station and regular 4 a.m. cat fights, but we are confident (ahem) that the cats will get used to each other before long.

Here’s a quick and easy problem for the math cats out there. The kids were wondering how much Popcorn weighs. She looks so tiny next to Large Marge. So I had them get on the scale holding her, then weigh themselves without her.  Considering the kitten only weighs 2 pounds, this was an easy enough subtraction problem. Next they wanted to know how much the big cat weighs. Margie is big enough that the kids are not comfortable holding her, so I had to weigh myself with and without the cat (sorry I’m not posting the actual numbers here – he he). Margie is an even 10 pounds which made for another pretty easy subtraction problem.

Popcorn is growing fast so we can repeat this exercise in a month or 2 and compare the results. We could make a graph! We can calculate how much food they eat. We can try to count their whiskers. What else?? So many cat-related math possibilities abound! π

 
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 


 
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:
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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:
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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
 
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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

 
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:
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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:
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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:
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Not too difficult... So we repeated the exercise with different patterns:
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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:
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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
 
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:
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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:
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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:
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A few days later I was making lunch and she ran to the kitchen shouting “I made threes!” Here’s what I saw:
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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:
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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:
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Yep I think she got it! Next up, number 4...  π
 
Hi my friends. So sorry to leave you alone for so long. The preschool newsletter is done. I can move on with my life! Here's a little post that has to do with big numbers:

Seven Billion
I found this poster inside a National Geographic magazine on our coffee table:
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We don’t subscribe to National Geographic so I don’t even know where it came from, but anyway this fascinating picture is called “The Face Of Seven Billion”. It is actually a sort of chart. The face you see is made up of tiny human figures, 7000 of them to be exact. Can you see it better here?:
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How about now?:
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Each human figure represents 1 million people. 7,000 of them together represent the 7 billion people in the world. Yikes! So many people! Let me tell you, the kids actually “got” this. Well, I take that back. I don't believe they grasp the magnitude of 7 billion, but they "got" how the chart works and they know that there are A LOT of people in the world. I explained the poster to my 7-year-old one time and he understood it well enough to repeat the meaning behind the chart to his little sister who also “got” it for the most part. The 3-year-old, not so much….

I commend National Geographic for creating this interesting, informative, and artistic presentation of our world population, in a way that is impactful even to a child. I must tell you that the back of this poster contained so many more intriguing facts and charts. You really should check out the interactive version on the National Geographic website.

By the way, the arrangement of these 7,000 tiny people creates an image of the most “typical” person on the planet who happens to be a 28-year-old Chinese male. When my kids stepped back and saw this face for the first time they exclaimed “It’s Daddy!” OK, it kind of looks like him, but in fact he’s much older than this “typical” guy. And for those who know “Daddy” I think you’ll agree with me he’s anything but typical! π