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.

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10 Ways to Play Math with Play-Doh

Today we have a guest post from Lucy Ravitch, author of the new Kickstarter picture book Trouble with Monkeys: A math concept story of place value. She’s sharing a few ideas from her Math Activity Thursday (M.a.Th.) video series. Enjoy!


Hello, math fans and enthusiasts! Each week I try to give you and your family a fun math activity to try. Two months ago I posted this video with ten ways to turn play dough into an engaging activity for lower and upper elementary math.

If you want to make your own dough from scratch here are a few simple recipes. I encourage you to let your children play freely at first, before trying these activities.

Below I have identified some of the math concepts that your kids will experience as they play.

1. Toss It

Practice counting. With older children, record your results and make a graph of the data.

  • How many times can you catch it in a row? What’s your average number of tosses?
  • Talk about attributes. Does the size or color of the play dough balls make a difference?
  • How high are you tossing it? Talk about measuring systems. Do you use feet and inches, or meters and centimeters?
  • If you know how to juggle, time how long you can keep the balls going.

2. Smash It

Make several small balls or pieces. Then play as you smash them.

  • Play a NIM game: Make 10-15 small play dough balls. Take turns. On your turn, you can smash one ball or two. Whoever smashes the last ball wins the game.
  • Or smash your math facts: Choose several equations for your children to practice. Write each answer on a 3×5 card. Lay out each card next to a play dough piece. As you call out the equations, kids smash the play dough next to the correct card.

3. Shape It

Have fun molding your play dough. Roll it out to cut shapes.

  • Try making 3D shapes while practicing your math vocabulary. MathisFun.com has a great section about solid geometry. Can you find three math terms that are new for you?
  • Roll out the dough and cut 2D shapes. Discuss their attributes. Can you cut your shape in half to be symmetrical?

4. Hide Things in It

Find small objects around the house and enclose them inside play dough.

  • Take turns hiding small objects in play dough. Optional: Give a one-minute time limit to guess before opening it. This gives you and your kids a chance to talk about size, shape, or other attributes.
  • Have challenges to use the least amount of dough to hide identical objects. Two players have two minutes to hide an object in as little play dough as possible. The object must be completely concealed within the dough. What methods will you use?

5. Make Imprints on It

Show off your design skills and observe textures.

  • You can practice counting as you poke and press your fingers or objects into the dough. Older children can discuss the distance between impressions and/or the pressure applied.
  • As you and your kids make designs, talk about what you notice: Is your design symmetrical? What tools did you use (toothpicks, pencils, marbles, fingers, toy cars)? Which objects make interesting textures?

6. Cut It

Use a butter knife or the edge of a ruler to cut your play dough. Discuss findings as you play and explore.

  • In the video, I posed the question: how many sections do you get if you make only three cuts? Try it and see.
  • Does the number of pieces change if you use a shape other than a flat circle?
  • Discuss making straight cuts that will intersect or be parallel. Bring in more geometry terms.
  • Experiment with a different number of cuts.

7. Weigh It

Pull out a kitchen scale or balancing scales to use with dough.

  • Older children can make conversions between ounces to grams. They can make calculations about doubling or multiplying the measured weight. With younger kids, try using balancing scales. Compare the weights between pieces.
  • Try making two pieces that weigh exactly the same. This is harder than it sounds! For small children, this gives them the opportunity to see that the mass (weight) of an object can come in different shapes.

8. Measure It

Use a ruler or measuring tape while you play. There are several ways you can measure your dough — height, width, and length.

  • How long can you extend one ounce of dough? Pick your own size/weight of play dough and see who can get the longest. What fraction of a yard or meter is it?
  • Discuss height and what it takes to make dough stand vertically. How tall can you get three ounces to stand? Can anything help make it taller?

9. Roll It

Make sure you have plenty of room for this activity. Playing outside or on smooth floors works best.

  • With one push how far does your play dough roll? Is there an ideal size for a piece? Is there an ideal weight for rolling?
  • Is the ground sloped? What effects does the rolling surface have?
  • Why do some shapes roll easily while others don’t? Can you create a not-round shape that will roll?

10. Compare It

Compare similarities and differences between dough colors and types. Consider comparing the previously listed activities

  • If you made your own dough, compare consistency between batches. Is homemade dough denser or lighter than store-bought dough?
  • What are differences between the dough you played with and the dough that has not been touched?
  • Which of these activities do you think will take the shortest amount of time? The longest? Or put the activities in order based on how much dough you will need — least to greatest.

May you and your students have fun as you play with dough!


About the Author

Lucy blogs at kidsmathteacher.com and is the author/creator of Kids Menu Books. The first book in that series is The Pancake Menu, an interactive book that lets kids practice math as they play restaurant.

And be sure to visit Lucy’s Kickstarter project! She’s teamed up with artist Trav Hanson to create the delightful picture book Trouble with Monkeys: A math concept story of place value.

Playing with Math Shapes

Playing-with-shapesI love it when a plan — or rather, a series of math thoughts — comes together.

On Monday, Emily Grosvenor (author of the Tessalation! picture book) asked me how parents who are insecure in math could help their children learn through play, and I responded with this quote from my Let’s Play Math book:

If you are intimidated by numbers, you can look for patterns of shape and color. Pay attention to how they grow. Talk about what your children notice.

But I wasn’t entirely satisfied with that answer. So many adults have come away from their own school experience thinking math is only numbers. Even with shapes, isn’t it the numbers about them — how many sides, what size of angles, calculate the the area or perimeter — that are important? That’s what school math tends to focus on.

Those of us who are comfortable with math know that there are many more things to notice and think about than just numbers. We know that it’s this noticing, thinking, and wondering that is at the heart of math. And that just playing with shapes can build a powerful foundation for future math learning.

And then yesterday, Malke Rosenfeld posted a beautiful article about a paper manipulative created by Paula Krieg. Which included this video:

The ability to create, and maintain, and manipulate shapes mentally — that’s the goal. Just like kids who can put numbers together in their heads, kids who can rotate, flip, and think of how shapes fit together in their heads have a powerful tool to analyze not only simple shape puzzles, but dividing up an area that’s a more complex room shape … to look at a piece of artwork … or look at a building … For these kids, all the world around becomes a playground to use mathematical ideas.

— Doug Clements
Problem Solving Development: Composing Shapes

Of course, pattern blocks are good for much more than just filling in worksheet pictures. But I love this peek into how a child’s understanding grows, in bits and spurts — without any numbers at all — until the world itself becomes a playground for mathematical ideas.

Want more?

You know what? Children like mathematics. Children see the world mathematically … When we do a puzzle, when we count things, when we see who’s got more, or who’s taller … Play and mathematics are not on opposite sides of the stage.

— Doug Clements
Why Early Childhood is the Right Time to Start Learning Math


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New Picture Book: Tessalation!

When I run a math circle or co-op class, I love starting with a picture book. This new beauty from Emily Grosvenor will be perfect.

You could say that Tessalation is a book about tessellations (repeating tiled patterns), but it is really a children’s picture book about discovering order in a chaotic world.

— Emily Grosvenor

Seeing Math in the World

In taking a playful approach to mathematics, I hope to open children’s eyes to math in their world. Schooly math lessons have led many of my math group kids to think a “pattern” has to be a strictly repeating (and rather boring) series of shapes or colors.

But in the real world, patterns are so important that American mathematician Lynn Arthur Steen defined mathematics as the science of patterns.

“As biology is the science of life and physics the science of energy and matter, so mathematics is the science of patterns,” Steen wrote. “We live in an environment steeped in patterns — patterns of numbers and space, of science and art, of computation and imagination. Patterns permeate the learning of mathematics, beginning when children learn the rhythm of counting and continuing through times tables all the way to fractals and binomial coefficients.”

Tessa Truman-Ling’s delight in patterns is contagious. And it will provide a wonderful jumping-off point for a variety of math activities.

Visit Grosvenor’s Kickstarter page to find out more about her lovely book:

Further Exploration


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Active Math Game: Rock

Gordon Hamilton of Math Pickle posted Rock, a new active math game for grades K–2. If you have a set of kids and a few minutes to spare, give it a try!

How to Play Rock

  • Everyone makes a rock shape with eyes closed.
  • Everyone chooses a number: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 …
  • Teacher calls out numbers consecutively, starting at 0.
  • When a student hears their number being called they immediately raise a hand. When the teacher tags the hand, they stand up.
  • If more than one hand was raised, those students lose. They become your helpers, tagging raised hands.
  • If only one hand was raised, that child wins the round.

Rock-game

“Each game takes about 45 seconds,” Hamilton says. “This is part of the key to its success. Children who have not learned the art of losing are quickly thrown into another game before they have a chance to get sad.”

The experience of mathematics should be profound and beautiful. Too much of the regular K-12 mathematics experience is trite and true. Children deserve tough, beautiful puzzles.

Gordon Hamilton

What Happens When Grownups Play Rock

What are the best numbers to pick? Patrick Vennebush hosted on online version of the game at his Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog a few years back, though we didn’t have to bend over into rocks‌—‌which is a good thing for some of us older folks.

Vennebush also posted a finger-game version suitable for small groups of all ages, called Low-Sham-Bo:

  • On the count of 1-2-3, each person “throws” out a hand showing any number of fingers from zero to five.
  • The winner is the person who throws the smallest unique number.

You may want to count “Ready, set, go!” for throwing out fingers, so the numbers in the count don’t influence the play.

The official name for this sort of game is Lowest Unique Bid Auction.


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Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs

Support This New Book from Natural Math

Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs by Malke Rosenfeld and Gordon Hamilton is filled with a diverse collection of math games, puzzles, and activities exploring the mathematics of choosing, identifying and sorting. The activities are easy to start and require little preparation.

The publisher’s crowdfunding goal is $4,000. The book is almost ready to go to press, and I can hardly wait to see it!


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Math Game: Chopsticks

Feature photo above by Harry (Phineas H) via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).

Math Concepts: counting up to five, thinking ahead.
Players: two or more.
Equipment: none.

How to Play

Each player starts with both hands as fists, palm down, pointer fingers extended to show one point for each hand. On your turn, use one of your fingers to tap one hand:

  • If you tap an opponent’s hand, that person must extend as many extra fingers on that hand (in addition to the points already there) as you have showing on the hand that tapped. Your own fingers don’t change.
  • If you force your opponent to extend all the fingers and thumb on one hand, that makes a “dead hand” that must be put behind the player’s back, out of the game.
  • If you tap your own hand, you can “split” fingers from one hand to the other. For instance, if you have three points on one hand and only one on the other, you may tap hands to rearrange them, putting out two fingers on each hand. Splits do not have to end up even, but each hand must end up with at least one point (and less than five, of course).
  • You may even revive a dead hand if you have enough fingers on your other hand to split. A dead hand has lost all its points, so it starts at zero. When you tap it, you can share out the points from your other hand as you wish.

The last player with a live hand wins the game.

When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.
When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.

Continue reading Math Game: Chopsticks