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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
 
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
 
Is there some law of nature that states as soon as winter is safely behind us, our calendars must automatically be filled with countless activities, meetings, classes, conferences, sporting events, trips, and celebrations? Everyone has come out of hibernation to make up for all that winter downtime. Due to the sudden upswing in activity around here, I’m a bit backlogged on my writing – so much to blog about, so little time! As soon as I get the Kindergarten newsletter done, I’ll have more time to document the math we’ve been up to.

Despite our busy-ness, we still find time for numbers. Just for fun, here’s a glimpse into a typical morning around here – “arts & crafts” with Ramona:
Enjoy! π
 
I recently attended a presentation on Teaching Math To Preschoolers, organized by our school district’s Preschool Parents Club. The speakers provided lots of ideas for integrating math into the lives of 3 -5 year olds, and one of the main points was this: Count! Count! Count! Count everything, all the time, and those numbers will sink in before you know it. As you can imagine, I bought into the count-count-count philosophy years ago so our kids are pretty much mad-counters at this point.  Today I want to share a counting game we’ve played a lot lately.

We often hold up our fingers to show how many items we are talking about. How many different ways can you show a number using the fingers on one hand? That’s the challenge I presented Ramona while we waited in the car at the bus stop. We started with the number 2. Well, there’s the obvious:
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But how about this:
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Or this?:
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Moving on to number 3:
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I have a soft spot in my heart for chubby, clumsy fingers. Some of these are pretty tricky for little hands. What good practice for improving finger dexterity though, don’t you think? The bus came before we got to 1, 4 or 5, so we tried some of those combinations at dinner (sorry, no pictures!).

When working with a preschooler, one-hand combinations are enough. For older kids, how about using both hands? How many different ways can you form the number 3 using the fingers on both hands? How about all the other numbers? See if your (older) kids can figure this out. With so many possibilities, how can you keep track of the combinations?

I am excited to let you know that my friend Jill’s son already figured out this problem. He devised a method where he assigned each finger a number, then worked out each finger combination and removed any duplicates to come up with an answer. She took a picture of his work so I hope she doesn’t mind if I share it with you:
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And guess what, Jill told me they did this at the dinner table. I just love spontaneous math lessons. Thanks Jill for sharing! 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
 
Here’s another one of those activities perfect for a preschooler. I’m almost ashamed to admit the quantity of arts and craft supplies in this house. Our entire living room has been converted to the “kids’ office” where we have amassed more toys, books, games, and just stuff than we know what to do with! Despite the plethora of art supplies sometimes it’s hard to think of something fresh and new to do with them. Here’s a counting activity we did that makes use of the ink stamps sitting around. The setup:
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We used several ink pads and lots of different stamps – note the number stamps. On a large sheet of paper I drew a grid then inked a different number of stamp patterns in each square (kids can help with this too!). I drew a box in each corner where the answer will be stamped. The objective is to count how many stamps are in each square on the paper then use the number stamps to place the correct number in the smaller box. Maybe it’s easier to just show you another picture:
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Hmmm I didn’t realize that was so blurry, but I think you get the idea.

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You can try other variations, for example stamp (or write) a number in the small square then your child can make that many stamps in the larger square. Or give your child a blank grid and they can create their own worksheet. Don’t be afraid to try some “big” numbers too. Make it a little challenging!


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We’ve been working hard on accurate counting. Ramona can recite numbers beautifully but until recently hasn’t really grasped the concept of counting objects with a 1:1 correspondence. I’m not sure when a child is supposed to learn to count objects accurately. My unscientific Internet search yielded lots of different answers that essentially boil down to “every child is different” but it seems three years old is an appropriate age to at least introduce object-counting.

I could tell by observation that Ramona was ready to master this skill and she just needed more practice. We spend a lot of time counting crayons, fruit snacks, stuffed animals, you name it. Activities like this help reinforce the object-counting, and it’s a fun crafty sort of activity that passes the time and consumes the art supplies on a chilly spring day.    

So, this was all about counting accuracy and number recognition, but clearly there are lots of other variations you could try with stamps. A few more ideas:

Use stamps to create patterns. See if your child can see the pattern and repeat it, or fill in the missing stamps in a repeating pattern. Let your child create patterns of their own.

Using a small size stamp, draw different shapes for your child to identify.

Expand upon what we did above by stamping out simple addition or multiplication problems. If you have number stamps use those to write math sentences.

To really test the object-counting skill, make the same stamp in several different colors on one page and have your child count how many there are of each color.

So help me out here, what other ways can we use stamps to practice math skills? I’ve got a drawer full of stamps and ink, what else can I do with this stuff? π 

 
Word problems are popular in our house. We make them up all the time, it’s sort of a reflex at this point. Most of the math homework the kids bring home consists of only word problems. I guess that’s the trend these days rather than straight up addition and subtraction problems. That’s cool with me, I think word problems are fun! Even a 3 year old can see what’s going on. Consider these examples, straight from the mouth of my smallest sweetie in the past few days:

In the bathtub:
“If I have three pillow pets and you take away 3 of my pillow pets, I won’t have any pillow pets. I’ll have zero.”

Riding in the car:
Ramona: My friend Nina has 5 yellow dresses. I’m going to take one. How many dresses does she have now?
Me: 3.
Ramona: Not threeeee, four!!

She gets it! In case you’re wondering, Nina is her imaginary friend (along with Casey and Milly). Nina’s mom, Lilianna, buys her lots of dresses. Nina in this case is not to be confused with our real-life friend Nina. We have no shortage of imaginary friends these days, it gets confusing.

My point in writing about this is to demonstrate that even a toddler can catch on to this “math talk”. She has picked up the verbal cues to form a word problem.  She hears us speak the pattern frequently, and has figured out how to apply the words to her version of the world.  She’s showing us she can think through situations and come up with an answer (often correct, as in the case of Nina’s dress). She also thinks this is fun.

 Of course sometimes she just makes up crazy stuff that makes no sense, and I try to encourage that just as much as the well-reasoned word problems. I’m not saying this is particularly brilliant, but it shows how repetition helps the “math talk” sink in and helps mathematical thinking become part of our everyday lives. Making math an integral part of our daily lives… now where have I heard that before?  π