I don’t homeschool my children, but that doesn’t mean I don’t teach them. Maybe it is the teacher in me, or maybe it is my natural enthusiasm for learning, but I find myself looking for opportunities to teach my children all the time.
I buy them workbooks at the dollar store and Costco. We do them on long car rides or on a rainy afternoon. But, workbooks are far from my favorite way to teach my children. It’s more effective, more memorable, and more fun to teach them through real life experiences.
So many real life experiences are filled with opportunities to teach math. Math is all around. The bills we pay, the coins we use, the shopping comparisons we make, the measurements we take all require calculations and thinking about math.
Educators have been teaching using real life experience for decades. If you want to fully implement an experiential learning model, you can find a short introduction to the technique here. I think the most important thing for a parent to understand is that you begin a lesson with a concrete experience and follow it with time to reflect and discuss.
Here’s an example: Counting change from a cashier is a good lesson for your school-aged child. A better lesson includes discussion and expansion of the concrete experience. Ask your child why the cashier gave her change. Ask if she noticed which coins the cashier took out of the register first. Did she start counting the quarters or the pennies? Why? Have your child count 89 cents starting with the quarter. Count 89 cents starting with the penny. What do they notice? Could the cashier give a different combination of coins? What coins would the cashier give if she ran out of quarters? Is it possible to give 89 cents if she ran out of pennies? Why or why not? This type of discussion builds on the experience and has the child think critically.
I use real life experiences to teach my children math all the time, but I am not the only mom who does this. Here are just a few of the wonderful ideas I have found on some parenting blogs:
Cooking and Baking Cooking With Kids: Zucchini Slice by Learn With Play At Home. This post shows the child measuring the size of the pan in addition to measuring the ingredients.
What Kids Learn by Baking by Nurture Store. This post includes more than just math. Why not incorporate a few lessons into one batch of cookies?
Watermelon Iced Tea by The Pleasantest Thing. I especially like this blogger’s idea of having the child use a marker to mark each cup in the pitcher as he poured one cup at a time. It helps the child visualize the amounts and can help a child understand conservation of volume.
Introduction to Length by Science Sparks. In my experience, children love to use rulers and tape measures. Take it a step further by estimating lengths before using a ruler or comparing the sizes of the items you measure.
Toolin’ Around by Little Moments to Embrace. Helping a parent with a project is a great meaningful experience to a child. Everyone, young or old, likes to feel useful. Take this a step further by letting the child take the lead on the project. Ask your “boss” plenty of mathematical questions along the way.
Cool Preschool Math Activity by Carrots are Orange. This activity with a measuring tape is more structured than some of the other real life experiences here. It is a fun way to practice measuring and compare lengths.
Mommy’s Store by I Can Teach My Child. Here is a good way to introduce children to the concept of spending money. Make it seem more like a real life experience by using real money. Perhaps the children can really buy small items from you, such as sweet treats or school supplies.
Kids and Money by Kids Activity Blog. This post gives lots of ideas on how to incorporate real life math into your children’s lives. I really like the concept of using an allowance to teach money management by separating it into jars labeled Spend, Save, and Share.
Pumpkin Fun by Science Sparks. So many math lessons in one pumpkin! You can measure it, weigh it, or count the seeds. Be sure to give your child plenty of time to discuss and reflect before moving onto the next lesson.
How Tall is a Tree? by Science Sparks. I love this activity! It is fun for any age, but you are actually putting a difficult geometric concept into action when you try it. Depending on your child’s age and mathematical aptitude, you can use this lesson as a jumping off point to teach the Pythagorean theorem. If the child is younger, you could teach about the different types of triangles or the properties of triangles. If your child enjoys math, you could discuss the validity of this experiment and find ways to test it for accuracy.
Surveys and Graphing
Candy Survey and Graph by Frugal Fun 4 Boys. This is another structured activity. Kids love taking surveys. You can modify this activity for many age groups to teach counting, tallying, or bar graphs.
Shopping Trip Number Hunt by Learn With Play at Home. Here is number activity that can be used with preschoolers or modified to use with school-aged children.
Catalog Number Hunt by Learn With Play at Home. Do your children love flipping through the toy catalogs that are starting to arrive for Christmas? Here is a preschool activity that will keep them thinking as they shop. I plan to modify this activity with my own children by telling them to imagine they have $20 to spend. What toys can they buy? You could also ask children to find the most expensive toy on the page or find 2 toys that add up to $25. There are so many possibilities with a catalog!