Math with Young Children

The question came up again:

“What is the best curriculum for my children? They are four and six years old, and I’m afraid of letting them fall behind.”

I remember being a young parent, eager to start homeschooling. I used to get mad (without letting it show, like a true introvert) when people told me, “They are young. Just let them play.”

Now I see the wisdom in it.

The most important thing for your children right now, by far, is for them to enjoy learning. The joy of learning is a child’s natural state. As a parent, your primary job is to keep yourself from stomping it out.

But our parental fears can push us into joy-trampling before we realize it.

And our own experience of school makes it hard for us to see how much of our children’s play really is learning. We expect education to look like schoolwork, but natural learning looks nothing like that.

Natural Learning Looks like Conversation

“The lesson here is that children are brilliant. They build math out of their everyday experiences, and when you offer them opportunities they apply the math they know to make further sense of their worlds.”

—Christopher Danielson
Counting in downtown Saint Paul

Natural Learning Looks Listening to Your Children

It Looks Like Free Play

“The children who receive the least instruction from parents, volunteers, or me are the most likely to persist. These are the children who will spend 20 minutes or more exploring the possibilities. But when we tell kids to ‘make a pattern’, we are asking the children to fill that carton with our ideas, rather than allowing them to explore their own.”

—Christopher Danielson
Let the children play

Let children play with blocks or other math toys, or with anything they find around the house or outdoors.

Free play, without any direction or instruction from you.

And Playing Games Together

“If you play these games and your child learns only that hard mental effort can be fun, you will have taught something invaluable.”

Peggy Kaye
Games for Math

CREDITS: “Two children” photo (top) by Kevin Gent on Unsplash.

Play Math with Your Kids for Free

One of the most common questions I get from parents who want to help their children enjoy math is, “Where do we start?”

My favorite answer: “Play games!”

And in this time of pandemic crisis, it’s even more important for families to play together. So my publisher agreed to make my ebook Let’s Play Math Sampler: 10 Family-Favorite Games for Learning Math Through Play free for the duration.

When you’re stuck at home and getting bored, it’s a great time to play math with your kids.

Math games meet children each at their own level. The child who sits at the head of the class can solidify skills. The child who lags behind grade level can build fluency and gain confidence.

And both will learn something even more important: that hard mental effort can be fun.

The Let’s Play Math Sampler contains short excerpts from my most popular books, including a preview of two games from my work-in-progress Prealgebra & Geometry Games.

Don’t miss it: Download your copy today.

Free Online Preview

Ebook available FREE at most bookstores:
Amazon-logo google-play-badge Barnes-Noble-logo kobo-logo apple-books-badge Scribd_logo and other online retailers.

NOTE: Has your favorite store refused to adjust its price? (I’m looking at you, Amazon!) Try this link, and the good folks at BookFunnel will help you load the ebook file to your reading device (phone, Kindle, etc.): https://bookhip.com/SAATAW.

Or you can order the paperback by special request at your favorite local bookshop.

“Denise Gaskins is that sound voice of reason that comes into my head when I get agitated teaching. This isn’t performance — this is play. My kids aren’t on trial, they are learning to learn.”

—Sonya Post

“By exploring math in a playful way, your kids will be happy to learn and will discover an enjoyment of math in the process. You might even have fun, too! ”

—Olisia Yeend

NOTE: In many locations, you can get the rest of my playful math books free if you request them on your library app or through your local librarian.

2020 Mathematics Game — Join the Fun!

New Year’s Day

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time.

However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.

— Mark Twain
Letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Jan. 1863
quoted in Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 1: 1851-1864 (affiliate link)

If you’d like to enjoy a mathematical New Year’s Resolution, may I recommend Evelyn Lamb’s Math Reading Challenge? I haven’t decided if I’m going to follow along, but it does look like fun.

Meanwhile, I do resolve to challenge myself with more math puzzles this year. Would you like to join me?

Here’s a great way to start: with the 2020 Mathematics Game!

Click here to continue reading.

Top Playful Math Posts of 2019

Here are my most-visited posts and pages in 2019. So many ways to play with math!

#12

I love books, don’t you?

Math with Living Books

Do you want to enrich your mind with the great ideas of mathematics? Are you looking for a good book to whet your child’s appetite? Then the following pages of “living” math books are for you…

#11

A logic challenge that doubles as addition practice. Or is it the other way around?

Math Game: Thirty-One

Thirty-One comes from British mathematician Henry Dudeney’s classic book, The Canterbury Puzzles

#10

Turn a regular deck of cards into math flashcards. Adaptable to any operation.

Review Game: Once Through the Deck

The best way to practice the math facts is through the give-and-take of conversation, orally quizzing each other and talking about how you might figure the answers out. But occasionally your child may want a simple, solitaire method for review…

#9

Seasonally popular enough to make the list every year. You’ll find even more mathy fun in my updated Holiday Math Carnival.

Christmas Math Puzzles and Activities

We interrupt our regularly scheduled math program to bring you the following Christmas links…

#8

A counting game for all ages.

Math Game: Fan Tan (Sevens)

Fan Tan may also be called Crazy Sevens. Like any folk game, it is played by a variety of rules around the world…

#7

The updated post (which ranked at #18 for the year) is better: My Favorite Math Games. Eventually I hope it will surpass this old one.

20 Best Math Games and Puzzles

Over the years, Let’s Play Math blog has grown into a sprawling mess, which can make it very hard to find the specific math tip you’re looking for…

#6

What a wonderful, inspiring movie! You may also enjoy the related Women of Mathematics Carnival.

Hidden Figures Teaching Resources

Before computers were machines, computers were people who computed things. This complicated task often fell to women because it was considered basically clerical. That’s right: computing triple integrals all day long qualified as clerical…

#5

One of my all-time favorites, still helpful after all these years.

Number Bonds = Better Understanding

Number bonds let children see the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction. Subtraction is not a totally different thing from addition; they are mirror images…

#4

I intended to write a follow-up series based on this post. Maybe in 2020?

How to Read a Fraction

Fraction notation and operations may be the most abstract math monsters our students meet until they get to algebra. Before we can explain those frustrating fractions, we teachers need to go back to the basics for ourselves…

#3

A dark horse in third place! I never expected this post to draw much interest.

Puzzle: Factoring Trinomials

My high school class ended the year with a review of multiplying and factoring simple polynomials. We played a matching game, and then I gave them this puzzle worksheet…

#2

A perennial favorite: widely adaptable, easy to learn, and kids enjoy it.

The Game That Is Worth 1,000 Worksheets

Have you and your children been struggling to learn the math facts? The game of Math Card War is worth more than a thousand math drill worksheets, letting you build your children’s calculating speed in a no-stress, no-test way…

#1

A well-deserving winner, with activities for preschool through middle school.

30+ Things to Do with a Hundred Chart

Are you looking for creative ways to help your children study math? Even without a workbook or teacher’s manual, your kids can learn a lot about numbers. Just spend an afternoon playing around with a hundred chart…

CREDITS: “Sparkling 2019” photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash.

Playing with a Hundred Chart #35: The Number Grid Game

This is a pretty simple game, but it makes a nice variation on the Race-to-100 game for young children who need to work on counting by tens from any number.

See the Number Grid Game (PDF)

How to Play

You’ll need a 6-sided die, a hundred chart (printables here), and a small token to mark each player’s square. A crumpled bit of colored construction paper works well as a token.

Take turns rolling the die. If you roll:

  • 1: Move either 1 or 10 squares, your choice.
  • 2: Move either 2 or 20 squares.
  • 3–6: Move that number of squares.

The first player to reach the final square by exact count wins the game.

Variation #1: For a shorter game, the first player to move off the board wins. You don’t have to hit the final square by exact count.

Variation #2: For a longer game, if you cannot move your full roll forward, you must move backward. Rolling 6 is a “wild card” — you can move any number from one to ten.

Variation #3: Count down. Start at the highest number on your chart and subtract each roll, moving toward zero. If you have a chart like the original shown above, a player whose move goes past zero into negatives will add the number on their next roll.

More Ways to Play on a Hundred Chart

A hundred chart can provide mathematical play from preschool to high school. The list on my blog began many years ago with seven activities, games, and logic puzzles.

Wow, has it grown!

Discover 30+ Things To Do with a Hundred Chart

A Puzzle for Palindromes

If you haven’t seen the meme going around, this is a palindrome week because the dates (written American style and with the year shortened to ’19) are the same when reversed.

Here’s a math puzzle for palindrome week — or any time you want to play with math:

  • Print a 100 chart.
  • Choose a color code.
  • Play!

What do you think: Will all numbers eventually turn into palindromes?

Links

You can find all sorts of hundred charts on my Free Math Printable Files page.

Read about the history of palindromes on Nrich Math’s Palindromes page.

Find out more about the Palindromic Number Conjecture in Mark Chubb’s article An Unsolved Problem your Students Should Attempt.

Or play with Manan Shah’s advanced palindromic number questions.