Making Maths Fun for Kids (at home)

Guest Post by Tierney Kennedy

Today on the blog I have long time Be A Fun mum reader Tierney guest posting about making Math’s fun at home. With three kids of her own, plus 50 books for teachers under her name, she’s the person to talk to!  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments at end of the post.

making maths fun for kids

As a parent I have lots of ideas about the experiences that I want to give my kids, but when it comes down to it I’m usually too tired, busy and time-poor to make them happen.  It’s hard not to feel guilty about the things that we know are important but don’t manage to get to.

Maths is one of those things that we feel guilty about.  Often we are scared of maths because of our own negative experiences, so we avoid it — and then end up passing that same fear onto our kids.  Plus, there is that feeling of not really knowing what to do anyway, so we tend to focus on reading and leave maths to teachers instead of doing much of it ourselves.

I want to share some simple ideas for changing this – for building maths into normal life in a way that doesn’t take a whole lot of time, effort or energy – for making maths fun.

Here are a few of my favourite things to do with my own kids.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as we do!

1. High fives

We like making ‘weird high fives’ using the fingers of both hands (e.g. 4 fingers on one hand and 1 on the other), and then to play around we make other numbers such as high eights or high threes.  It usually results in lots of giggles and tends to get a bit out of control with both boys trying to outdo each other.

2. Maths at breakfast

Often we end up out for dinner or talking through how our days went, so I find breakfast a better time to bring maths into our discussions.  One of my favourites was when I cut up our toast into quarters and presented it on the one plate instead of giving it out individually.  I asked the kids to work out how many bits of bread there had been before I cut them up.  Then I had them work out how to share the pieces fairly.

3. Maths snack

Another cool idea is to give the kids a few sultanas (say 4 or 5) and get them to work out how many there are, then move the sultanas around and see if the number changes.  Don’t tell them, just ask “how many are there now?” and let them count as many times as they need to.  Eventually the idea will sink in, and you can ask “do you think that I could change how many there are by moving them or will it always be the same?”  This might sound pretty basic, but establishing what changes a number and what doesn’t is the key idea that kids need to in order to be successful at school maths and I would estimate that 80% of Prep-aged kids don’t have this concept solidly sorted.  You can play with this concept in a lot of different ways.  Try spreading the sultanas out, squashing them up, putting them in a circle and putting them in a container and shaking it to see if the number changes.

4. Maths while playing

Repetitious games, while boring for us, allow kids to predict patterns and recognise sequences.  Games which have the same answer each time, or the same sequence of actions (e.g. hop twice then blink) are great for future learning of algebra.  These are particularly helpful if you can build on a basic sequence, by repeating it back and then adding in an extra step.  They also build short-term memory retention.  For babies this can be as simple as playing “round and round the garden” and slowing down the steps until the kids are giggling in anticipation of the tickling.

Skittles is also a fantastic game for building number skills.  I used 6 plastic bottles to play with my three year old.  He used to yell out, “Mummy, I knocked 5 down.  There’s 1 left!”  In teacher-talk this is called “partitioning” and it’s about breaking a number up into smaller bits.  Kids who can break any number up into smaller parts can automatically add and subtract when the time comes.

5. Maths with my body

Lots of kids begin with a concept of 1, 2 and then “many”.  They call this many lots of different names, including rote counting, or calling any big number 100.  It can be hard for them to recognise that different amounts have different names.  So when we are introducing numbers it is important to only introduce one at a time and to relate it to what they already know.  If a child knows 1 and 2 (two is one for each hand), then three is the next number.  Three is one in each hand and one left over (or one in each hand and one on your head to make them laugh).  Four can be two in each hand, or one on each hand and one on each foot.  Five can be two in each hand with one left, or one on each hand, foot, and one on your head.  By building up knowledge of numbers as “one more than” we help kids to recognise numbers in their own right and build their confidence as they go.

Have a great time building maths into everyday life and your kids will become more confident with it too.  Look out for opportunities to talk about maths when you are in your normal routine: out for a walk (looking at house numbers), buying things from the shop (counting and weighing fruit) and setting the table (working out how many forks are needed for everyone).

Maths shouldn’t be scary for us, or for our kids.  Mostly, it is just plain fun.

About the Author

Tierney Kennedy is mum to three children, a maths consultant and author of over 50 books for teachers.  She works with teachers from around Australia to help maths actually make sense to kids.

Website: www.backtofrontmaths.com.au/teachers

Facebook page: Maths Matters

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  • Reply
    February 19, 2013 at 10:40 am

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. In our end of year interview with our then Prep boy’s teacher, she told us he was gifted at maths and was already at the end of Grade 1 level. In fact, she said he was probably higher but she couldn’t teach him the concepts to be able to test to see where he was at. I have already spoken to his new Grade 1 teacher and she told me she has a couple of advanced children in her class so hopefully he won’t be bored and can be extended at school.

    I love the idea of introducing more simple maths concepts at home (same as we are always reading to them or with them) so I will certainly look at these and other ideas. I don’t want to go down the track of a tutor or special class when he is just 6! I want him to still love to learn!

    Thank you x

    • Reply
      February 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Hi Jane,
      We have had similar experiences with our son who is 6 and have ended up skipping grade 1. Here are a few extension ideas that I use with our boys:
      1. Give them the street directory to follow along with when you are driving somewhere
      2. Get them to budget to save pocket money and by doing jobs to buy something specific.
      3. Work on the Relative Size of numbers – eg make a number line to show the ages of people in your family. Put the oldest person up one end with their age (plus another 10 years so that the kids don’t think that death is imminent) and 0 up the other end. Place everyone you know on it. Useful for seeing that adult-hood is much, much longer than childhood.
      4. Put a digital and an analogue clock in the room, and tell the kids how long they have for a certain activity. They work out when it should stop. Also, go backwards – “we need to leave at 4pm, so how long do you have to play?”
      5. Play “funny counting”. Count forwards and backwards in the same amount (eg 3s) but start from a weird number. Get the kids to continue the pattern by predicting the next number.
      6. Arrange things into rows and columns (arrays) – eg an egg carton has a 2 x 6 shape. Lego is great for this as well.
      7. Get him to follow Lego instructions / transformer instructions all by himself to make simple things.
      8. Measure the ingredients when cooking. Particularly fractions like “half a cup of flour”, measured using a whole cup and estimating halves, quarters, three quarters, thirds etc.

      Have fun!

      • Reply
        February 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm

        Thanks so much for your response Tierney. I’m thrilled to realise that we are already doing quite a few of your suggestions and I can happily add a few more to our regular routine all under the guise of making maths fun. Thank you for your advice 🙂

  • Reply
    Emma @ Family Life Central
    February 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Great ideas! One of my favourite things for helping with maths awareness at home is baking with my kids – having to find the 1/4 cup etc and counting out the eggs and weighing the butter. Lots of maths involved and something yummy to eat at the end. Win win!

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    April 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    great article. My son is in prep and is learning counting these days. This article has given me so many great ideas to involve maths in our daily discussions.Thanks for sharing.

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