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:
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…).
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 

We have short bits of down-time between weeknight activities. On Mondays everyone is home from school by 3:45pm and we have to leave for Karate at 4:10. On Wednesdays we’re all home by 4:15pm then we depart for gymnastics at 5. Normally this in-between time is spent doing homework, playing, snacking, making dinner, whining, fighting, etc… but sometimes all our “stuff” is done and we’re left sitting around waiting for departure time.

It’s times like these you have a choice that goes something like this: a) read a magazine while the kids play their DS, b) turn on the TV, c) force your son to practice piano 15 more minutes, or d) play a math game! I freely admit option a and b are good for me many an afternoon, and option c was really just for the tiger moms out there, which leaves option d as a fine choice for those afternoons when everyone is getting along and you find yourself with a few ounces of patience left and 20 minutes to kill.

We encountered this situation a few days ago, so I pulled out a game that’s been sitting on the shelf for months:
Math Bingo! Since we never played before I wasn’t sure how hard this particular version would be (keep in mind the players are 3, 5, and 7 years old), but I figured we could wing it. And so we did, and it worked! I made a rule that you can’t yell out the answer, you have to raise your hand and wait to be called on:
The other rule was that someone had to help Ramona:
Some of the problems were a little challenging for our age group, but we muddled through:
We completed 2 rounds and before we knew it, it was time to leave for karate class. Twenty minutes, 20 fairly challenging math problems under our belts.  And guess what, no lie, this was actually fun! Kids love it when you sit down and play a game with them (even a math game, I promise).

If you are interested in obtaining this game for yourself, I’m sorry to report it’s no longer available in the $1 bin at Target, which is where mine came from. I saw it for sale on e-bay for $6.95, but honestly I don’t think you want to pay that much. There are tons of math bingo games out there, just google “math bingo” and you’ll be all set.  π
I have to credit our babysitter Alison for this post, as she taught Bart (and me) something new this week. Bart started playing a computer game, Timez Attack, which helps kids learn their times tables (look for a review coming soon). He ran out of the office yelling “Mommy! What’s 9 times 8?!” Before I could answer, Alison calmly intervened to ask him “Bart, do you remember the 9’s trick?” Then he ran back to the office and resumed his game with no further questions.

Later, after Alison went home, I just had to ask “So what is ‘The 9’s Trick’?” He explained it to me in about 30 seconds. It’s very simple and easy to remember, but I had never seen it before so I assume it will be new to some of you reading this too. Here goes…

Use this trick to multiply 9 times any number from 1-9. Hold your 10 fingers out in front of you. Now, say you want to know 9 X 5. Starting from the left, count 5 fingers and put the 5th finger down. Now the number of fingers to the left of the lowered finger is the first digit of the answer, and the number of fingers to the right of the lowered finger is the second digit of the answer. Here’s a picture:
For another example, consider 9 X 8:
Another thing to notice about this “trick” is that the two digits that comprise the answers to “times 9” problems also sum to 9. For example:

 2 X 9 = 18 ... and... 8 + 1 = 9

3 X 9 = 27 ... and... 2 + 7 = 9

4 X 9 = 36 ... and... 3 + 6 = 9, and so on….

Of course kids eventually have to memorize the times tables, there’s no getting around it. However, isn’t this a nice method to have as back-up during the learning process, or if your child is not sure and needs a way to double-check their answer, or if you just suddenly blank on what is 9 X 6? (I know it’s happened to at least some of you, especially any readers who are, or have been, pregnant.) 

When I was a kid I didn’t learn a lot of math tricks, did you? This kind of thing wasn’t taught in school so number tricks weren’t even on my radar.  Now with the internet I can look up all sorts of cool stuff and shortcuts I would have never discovered on my own.  I even have an iPhone app called Math Tricks  that I *will* get around to using some day!

A lot of the tricks you find are not all that useful and are hard to remember if you don’t practice regularly, but they really are fascinating.  Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a “math person,” look up a few easy tricks online and I am confident you will gain at least an incremental appreciation for the beauty of numbers.

Now that you know “The 9’s Trick,” can you picture yourself sharing this at a cocktail party (not that I’ve been to one recently) or how about an elementary school social (which I have attended recently)? You can ask your co-workers if they’ve heard of “The 9’s Trick” and enlighten those who are still unaware.  Alternatively, if you’re not ready to publicly spread the word about The 9’s Trick, then how about sharing it tonight at the dinner table? Π
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:
Then one of them thought to fetch a ruler. Brilliant! They took turns to figure out how many rulers high the column is.
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