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This one snuck up on me, but it’s been a great way to pass time in the car and sneak in some math skills. Like most moms, much of my day is devoted to drop-offs, pick-ups, practices, lessons, etc., so we are in the car more than I care to admit. A few weeks ago on the way to gymnastics we decided to keep track of traffic lights. This wasn’t a planned activity. It was actually Ramona who pointed out we hit 2 green lights in a row, and from that point on we tracked traffic light colors all the way to the gym.

Would you believe there are 17 traffic lights between our house and gymnastics class?! Sheesh! On that first trip we counted 9 reds, 8 greens, and 0 yellows. On a subsequent trip we counted 7 reds, 9 greens and 1 yellow. We now know there are 11 lights between Preschool and Target, and 10 lights between home and Kindergarten. Boringly, there’s only one light between our home and the local elementary school (and it’s always red when we get there!).

There’s so much to love about this light-counting game… where to start ?!

1.      Counting light gets everyone engaged in the same activity. This just feels way more positive than the bickering that tends to erupt in the back seats when we aren’t working together.

2.      Light counting gets your kids actively involved in data collection. It’s not trivial to remember the number of greens, reds, and yellows while you’re on the road (try it!). It may be easier to assign a color to each passenger. For a longer trip you might need to keep a tally with pen and paper (preferably not the driver). You could even keep a log in the car to compare results after making the same trip several times.

3.      Within a few trips your kids will have memorized the total number of lights between your home and all your common destinations. Not that this is important to know these things, but I find many kids enjoy this sort of trivial information.

4.      Counting lights provides a nice segue into the world of data analysis and statistics. Once you have counted reds, greens, and yellows for the same trip several times, your kids will develop expectations about how many reds, greens, and yellows are typical. Help them determine the average number of red (or green) lights you encounter for each trip to soccer practice. Then ask questions like “What do you think are the chances we’ll get all greens today?” Or all reds, or only 1 green, or 3 yellows, etc.? Watch your children transform into budding statisticians!  

Now that we’ve become a traffic-light-counting crew, the kids actually get upset when we forget to count. They get excited when we go to a new place and can track lights on a different route. They cheer for the color they’re in charge of counting. Have you ever felt relieved to get a red light? This game can make you feel that way! And of course, the thrill of hitting the rare yellow light can be so exhilarating.

Best of all, traffic light counting is for all ages. Even if you don’t have kids, or your kids are in high school, just try it on your next few trips. You may be surprised how easy it is to get caught up in this simple diversion. π