How To Make Time for Exploration

Perhaps the most common objection I hear to using math games and enrichment activities is, “I don’t have the time. I can’t even get through our regular math book!”

Well, here’s one possible solution: Use a “Minimalist Math” outline to guide your instruction, turning your regular textbook into a backup resource, teaching only the topics your children don’t already know, leaving more time free for exploration and playful discovery.

Minimalist Math: Getting Down to Basics

Michelle at ResearchParent.com condensed the elementary math curriculum down to 360 problems per year, just 10 per week.

Take just a few puzzles each day, and talk math with your kids:

  • What do they notice in the problem?
  • Does it remind them of anything?
  • How might they try to figure it out?
  • Does it make them wonder about numbers, shapes, or patterns?

Use colorful markers on a whiteboard for low-stress exploration. If your children can solve a problem and explain their reasoning, you don’t need to study that topic. When they get stuck, ask leading questions to help them think it through.

If you’re both stymied, that’s when you pull out your regular textbook (or look the topic up online).

Practice with Games

Of course, children still need plenty of practice to master the math facts and solidify their knowledge.

Since you’re not spending as much time on lessons and homework, you can plan on playing lots of math games. Games are a fun, low-stress way to firm up math skills.

Check out My Best (Free) Math Games for All Ages, and follow the Math Game Monday posts on my blog.

Read Library Books

To enrich your child’s mind with the great ideas of mathematics and whet their appetite for learning, nothing beats a “living” math book.

A living book is one that brings our minds into direct contact with the great ideas of life.

Check out my Math with Living Books lists to get started, and ask your librarian for more suggestions.

For Older Students

Michelle’s Minimalist Math Curriculum goes through 5th grade (so far). But you could use the Corbettmaths 5-a-Day problems in the same way for older students.

And for enrichment activities to fill up your free math time, I can’t think of a better resource for all ages than the NrichMaths website.

“When I first started homeschooling, math became the most overwhelming, unpleasant part of our day. As someone who loves math, I didn’t want to continue on a path that was leading to such bad attitudes.

“My Minimalist Math Curriculum covers the same breadth of topics as a traditional curriculum without all the repetition. You are welcome to use what I created in whatever way serves your family.”

Michelle, Research Parent
Mathematics Activities for Kids

CREDITS: Photos by Aron Visuals, Andrew Ebrahim, and Melissa Askew via Unsplash.com.

How To Respond to Your Child’s Math Writing

In previous posts, I encouraged parents, homeschoolers, and teachers to explore the world of math and introduced one of my favorite learning tools, the math journal. Then I shared several of my favorite types of journaling prompts to get your kids started writing about math.

Math journal prompts offer a wide range of options for students to explore. Most of the prompts do not have a “right” or “wrong” answer. Our goal is to root around in some small corner of the world of math, to lift a stone and peek underneath it, just to see what we can find.

The idea that being good at math means finding the right answers is a huge myth. Of course, many problems in math do have a single right answer. But even for those problems, the answer is not the real math of the problem.

Math is all about thinking.

It’s like taking a road trip. You may have a destination, but there are many paths you could take to get there. Different students may take different paths — they may think about the problem in different ways.

It’s this reasoning that is the real math, and the right answer is just a side effect of reasoning well.

Continue reading How To Respond to Your Child’s Math Writing

5 Ways To Enrich Your Student’s Experience of Math

In previous posts, I encouraged parents, homeschoolers, and teachers to explore the world of math and introduced one of my favorite learning tools, the math journal.

But you may be wondering, what can my students do with their journal? How do I find good math prompts?

Here are five different ways your children can explore math through writing, classified by the type of reasoning involved.

#1: Game Prompts

Ask your children to play a number or strategy game and then write about it.

Game prompts break through the idea that math is dull and boring. They help students develop a positive attitude toward math while practicing their number skills or strategic thinking.

Continue reading 5 Ways To Enrich Your Student’s Experience of Math

What Is a Math Journal?

In my previous post, I encouraged parents, homeschoolers, and teachers to think of math as a nature walk through an infinite world of wonder.

A math journal is a record of your child’s journey through this world of mathematics.

In a math journal, children explore their own concepts about numbers, shapes, and patterns through drawing or writing in response to a question. Journaling teaches them to see with mathematical eyes — not just to remember what we adults tell them, but to create their own math.

Journaling brings math back into the liberal arts. It makes abstract ideas accessible and stretches children’s understanding, building math fluency and creating a solid foundation for future learning.

Continue reading What Is a Math Journal?

The Creative Way To Help Your Kids Learn Math

Are you a parent, homeschooler, or teacher? Do your children struggle to learn math? Are you worried about them falling behind?

So many parents (and teachers, too!) feel like they are “not a math person,” yet they know how important math is for their children to learn. How can we teach something we don’t really understand ourselves?

Others feel comfortable with math themselves — and may even love it — yet still struggle to pass on their knowledge to their kids. How can we share the joy we see in numbers, shapes, and patterns with youngsters who think they hate math?

Continue reading The Creative Way To Help Your Kids Learn Math

Parents: Math Is Figure-Out-Able

I love listening to podcasts during my morning walk with the dogs. One of my favorites over the past year has been Pam Harris and Kim Montague’s Math is Figure-Out-Able podcast.

Figure-out-able. What a great word!

Figure-out-able sums up what I mean when I tell parents that math is “applied common sense.” Kids can use the things they know to figure out things they don’t yet know.

And figuring things out like that is fun, like a mental game where we play with the ideas of numbers, shapes, and patterns.

Usually, the podcast targets teachers, and the hosts try to show how they can help students learn to mathematize — to think mathematically. Over the past few weeks, however, Pam and Kim have been talking directly to parents about how to help their children learn math.

Continue reading Parents: Math Is Figure-Out-Able

Math Journals and Creative Reasoning

Learning math requires more than mastering number facts and memorizing rules. At its heart, math is a way of thinking.

So more than anything else, we need to teach our kids to think mathematically. To make sense of math concepts and persevere in figuring things out. To notice the numbers, shapes, and patterns all around. To wonder about big ideas.

Journaling is a great way to help children learn to see with mathematical eyes. Not just to remember what we tell them, but to create their own math.

Get started with creative math journaling today. Visit the Make 100 Math Rebels Kickstarter page to download the free “How To Be a Math Rebel” sampler pictured above, which contains one of my all-time favorite math prompts.

Make 100 Math Rebels

It doesn’t matter whether your students are homeschooled or in a classroom, distance learning or in person. Everyone can enjoy the experience of playing around with math.

Puzzle from the free Math Rebel Sampler.

Continue reading Math Journals and Creative Reasoning

What Is Multiplication, Anyway?

At some point during the process of teaching multiplication to our children, we really need to come to terms with this question:

What IS multiplication?

Did your device hide the video? Find it on YouTube here.

“What’s my answer? It’s not one that society’s going to like. Because society expects — demands, even — that mathematics be concrete, real-world, absolute, having definitive answers.

    I can’t give a definitive answer.

      Multiplication manifests itself in different ways. So maybe the word ‘is’ there is just too absolute. And it’s actually at odds with what mathematicians do.

        Mathematicians do attend to real-world, practical scenarios — by stepping away from them, looking at a bigger picture.”

        —James Tanton, What is Multiplication?

        For Further Study

        You may also enjoy these posts from my blog archive:

        Memorizing the Times Table: A Life Skills Approach

        Continuing on my theme of times table facts, here’s the inimitable James Tanton:

        Did your device hide the video? Find it on YouTube here.

        “If our task is to memorize this table, please make it about mathematics — about thinking your way through a challenge, and what can I do to make my life easier.”

        —James Tanton, Making Memorising Multiplication Facts (if one really must) a meaningful Life Skill Lesson

        For Further Study

        You may also enjoy my blog post series about working through the times tables, paying attention to mathematical relationships (and a bit of prealgebra) along the way.

        Times Tables Series

        Click the button to see the whole series. Scroll down to the first post to go through it in order.

        Only Three Facts to Memorize

        A comment from a friend got me playing around with multiplication. I found a few videos from some of my favorite math people, so I’ll be sharing over the next few days.

        Here’s one from Sonya Post of Learning Well at Home. Also, Sonya just hosted Playful Math Education Carnival #143, which is well worth your time to explore!

        Did your device hide the video? Find it on YouTube here.

        “When students have to drill multiplication facts, it’s frustrating, unproductive and it makes them hate math. A better way to master the multiplication table is work on the skills that allow students to multiply quickly and efficiently.”

        —Sonya Post, Why We Don’t Drill Multiplication Facts – What We Do Instead

        Doubling and Halving

        Making doubles and halves are a great foundation for all sorts of math.

        Do you ever play the doubling game with your children? One player picks a starting number, and then you take turns doubling it until your mental math skills run out. How far can you go?

        Or try the halving game: One player chooses a starting number, and you take turns cutting it in half. How tiny can you go?

        As Sonya demonstrated, these skills help your child master their multiplication facts. And they are fantastic preparation for exponents and logarithms, too!