Playing Math with A.A. Milne

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
Other stair
Quite like
It.
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
Where
I always
Stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
“It isn’t really
Anywhere!
It’s somewhere else
Instead!”

—A.A. Milne
When We Were Very Young (affiliate link, see details)

The Stair-Counting Game

Play on any set of stairs where you won’t get in other people’s way. Start at the halfway step.

  • Roll one 6-sided die. Go up that number of steps.
  • Roll again. This time, go down that number of steps.
  • Keep rolling the die, alternating movements up and down.

Will you ever escape the stairs?

Fill the Stairs Game

Each player draws 11 stair steps (counting the top and bottom floors) on a piece of paper. Write zero on your middle step.

Remove the face cards and jokers from a deck of playing cards. Mix the remaining cards face down in a fishing pond.

  • On your turn, choose one card. Red cards are negative numbers, and black cards are positive.
  • Write the number from your card on one of your stair steps.
  • Then mix your card back into the pond.
  • The first player to fill their stairs with numbers in order wins the game.

The numbers have to grow as you go up the stairs and get smaller going down. But you can skip numbers. For instance, you could put +2 on the stair above zero, if you like. Or you could write −4 two steps below zero, leaving only one blank in between.

If you draw a card that will not fit on your stairs, you lose that turn. Mix the card back into the pond without writing anything.

If you make a mistake — like putting +9 too close to the middle, so there’s no way to fill the higher stairs — you can use a turn to erase one number on your stairs. You don’t get to choose a new card on the same turn as erasing a number.

Fill the Stairs Variations

Help young students understand negative numbers. A stairway makes an excellent number line visual.

Download the place value version (no negative numbers) of the stairway game from Math for Love.

Or discover variations for all grade levels at Math Hombre blog. I especially like John’s Decimal Point Pickle game. And the exponential version looks like a fun challenge.

Your Turn

Do you play stairway math? Please tell us your games and variations in the comment section below.

Or share other ideas for playing math with children. I love to hear new ways to play!

Mathematics: An Acrostic

What Is Your Child’s Experience of Math?

If your children made an acrostic for the word “Mathematics,” what would they include?

Would they think of adjectives like artistic, mysterious, or sublime?

Or would they focus on words like answers, maddening, and stress?

I love taking a playful approach to mathematics. Puzzles, games and art projects lay down a foundation of wonder and enjoyment. This creates a strong, positive base to support our kids through the inevitable difficulties of learning an abstract subject like math.

There are many rich math resources these days! So different from back when I started homeschooling. If you need ideas to help you transform your child’s experience of math, check out my Free Math on the Internet pages.

Internet Math Resources

In fact, I have a huge folder of even more bookmarks and links that I hope to add to my resource pages, whenever I find the time…

Does your family have a favorite way to play with math?

CREDITS: Water background photo by Ishan via Unsplash.

Get Your Weekly KenKen Puzzles for Kids

KenKen6x6

KenKen arithmetic puzzles build mental math skills, logical reasoning, persistence, and mathematical confidence.

Free via email every Friday during the school year.

What a great way to prepare your children for success in math!

Sign up anytime:

Click Here for KenKen Classroom Newsletter

How to Play

For easy printing, right-click to open the image above in a new tab.

Place the numbers from 1 to 6 into each row and column. None of the numbers may repeat in any row or column. Within the black “cages,” the numbers must add, subtract, multiply, or divide to give the answer shown.

How to Talk Math With Your Kids

A friend shared this video, and I loved it! From Kent Haines, a father who happens to also be a math teacher…

“I hope that this video helps parents find new ways of interacting with their kids on math topics.”

Kent Haines

More from Kent Haines

Advice and Examples of Talking Math with Kids

Danielson-Talking Math

If you enjoyed Kent’s video, you’ll love Christopher Danielson’s book and blog.

It’s a short book with plenty of great stories, advice, and conversation-starters. While Danielson writes directly to parents, the book will also interest grandparents, aunts & uncles, teachers, and anyone else who wants to help children notice and think about math in daily life.

“You don’t need special skills to do this. If you can read with your kids, then you can talk math with them. You can support and encourage their developing mathematical minds.
 
“You don’t need to love math. You don’t need to have been particularly successful in school mathematics. You just need to notice when your children are being curious about math, and you need some ideas for turning that curiosity into a conversation.
 
“In nearly all circumstances, our conversations grow organically out of our everyday activity. We have not scheduled “talking math time” in our household. Instead, we talk about these things when it seems natural to do so, when the things we are doing (reading books, making lunch, riding in the car, etc) bump up against important mathematical ideas.
 
“The dialogues in this book are intended to open your eyes to these opportunities in your own family’s life.”

— Christopher Danielson
Talking Math with Your Kids

CREDITS: “Kids Talk” photo (top) by Victoria Harjadi via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). “Parent Rules” by Kent Haines.

Math Humor and Copywork

Homeschooling Memories…

The more years we spent homeschooling, the more I appreciated Charlotte Mason’s work and tried to incorporate her ideas into our laid-back, eclectic, not-quite-unschooling program.

We never fit the typical Charlotte Mason mold. Mosquitos and natural laziness limited our nature walks, and our version of narration was much too informal.

But those are just techniques, methods.

What really interests me in Mason’s writing is the philosophy behind the methods. Two points resonated: That we must respect our children as persons in their own right. And that we must provide a generous, wide-ranging feast to their minds.

Striving to live out those principles had a profound influence on our day-to-day homeschooling.

Which Brings Me to Copywork

I’ve never managed to keep a diary-style journal, though as the years roll by, I wish I had. But I’ve always enjoyed saving favorite tidbits from the books I read.

Mason called it a commonplace book. I call it my “magpie” journal, where I collect my treasure of shiny things.

And so I brought copywork into my homeschooling system. I taught English spelling, grammar, and mechanics through living language. My favorite exercise was to write a short quotation on the whiteboard, leaving out all punctuation and capital letters, for my children to edit.

Do you use copywork or keep a commonplace book? I’d love to hear your experiences or read one of your favorite quotations.

Please comment below!

Math Humor Quotes

As you probably guessed, my personal magpie journal overflows with mathematics. Inspirational, insightful, or simply instructive — if it catches my eye, I grab it. But my kids always prefer the funny bits.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Arithmetic is neither fish nor beast; therefore it must be foul.

—Anonymous

Mathematics: a wonderful science, but it hasn’t yet come up with a way to divide one tricycle among three little boys.

—Earl Wilson

Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.

—Anonymous (similar to a comment by Morris Kline)

You propound a complicated mathematical problem: give me a slate and a half an hour’s time, and I can produce a wrong answer.

—George Bernard Shaw

I pulled these quotations from the (out of print) Dictionary of Mathematical Quotations by Donald Spencer. Quotes range from thought-provoking to inane, including an assortment of “anonymous” bumper-sticker or T-shirt-style quotes not usually included in a quotation book. I do wish Spencer had included documentation with the quotes. Even though I’d probably never look them up, I’m still curious about where the quotes came from.

If you’d like to add mathematical copywork to your school repertoire, you’ll find the following online sources useful:

CREDITS: Feature photo (top) by Bruce Guenter via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Even a Math Workbook Can Be a Game

Homeschooling Memories…

My youngest daughter wanted to do Singapore math. Miquon Red was her main math text at the time, but we added a bit of Singapore Primary Math 1B whenever she was in the mood.

We turned to the lesson on subtracting with numbers in the 30-somethings.

The first problem was pretty easy for her:

30 − 7 = _____

I reminded her that she already knew 10 − 7.

She agreed, “Ten take away seven is three.”

Then her eyes lit up. “So it’s 23! Because there are two tens left.”

Wow, I thought. She’s catching on quickly.

Mom Always Talks Too Much

We went to the next problem:

34 − 8 = _____

“Now, this one is harder,” I said. “But you know what ten minus eight is, right? So we could take one of these tens and—”

She waved at me to be quiet.

I was just getting started on my standard speech about how to turn a tough subtraction like 34 − 8 into the easy addition of “2 + 4 + two tens left.” But her mind was still on the last problem, specifically on the two tens and the seven.

“If you have 27,” she said, “and you add three more, you get 30. And four more is 34.”

“Um, yes, but…” I interrupted.

She shushed me again.

“And then you can take away the four. And then you can take away the three. And then you can take away one more…It’s 26!”

Mom Learns a Lesson

She continued through the next page that way. For every problem, she started with whatever number struck her fancy, usually containing at least one digit from the problem before. She added enough to get up to the 30-something number in the book.

Only then would she deign to subtract the number in question.

I don’t think she ever saw the point of the mental math technique the book and I were trying to teach, but she did have a lot of fun playing around with the numbers.

In the long run, that’s much more important.

Feature photo: “Laughing Girl” by ND Strupler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).