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My Kid Can't Math: 5 Fun Activities to Help Your Child Learn Math

We've all heard someone say it. You might even be guilty yourself. In my classroom, there are 4 harmless words, that become illegal when strung together in this order:

"I can't do math."

For whatever reason, some kids think it' ok to have a defeatist attitude about math. I'm here to say that your kid can do math. Maybe they think it's boring, maybe they've had one too many failures in the past, but for whatever reason, your child has decided they are doomed to life of confusion and frustration in math.

Here are some fun math-based activities that will help your child break the cycle of failure and recognize the value of math skills they learn in school.

The best part is, your child won't even feel like they are learning math!

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This first game helps students gain fluency with basic math facts: (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing).

1) 24: Four players each have a stack of playing cards. Each card represents a numerical value (A=1, J=11, Q=12, K=13). Four players flip their cards and must apply whatever mathematical operation (add, subtract, multiply, divide, exponents) to all of the cards in any order to produce the number 24. This is the ultimate operation fluency task. Not only does it teach kids to recognize numerical patterns and fast-track their math facts, but at advanced levels, it requires kids to hold multiple different possible plays in their heads at once. The winner gets all the cards in play. Play continues until one player runs out of cards.

For less competitive play, make it a team objective to come up with as many different ways to get 24 as possible. Try to beat the previous best for each round. For younger students, take away the requirement of using all 4 cards. Anytime an 8 and a 3 are on the board, the student should recognize that they multiply together to equal 24.

This next game helps kids understand number lines and the foundation of adding and subtracting.

2) Candyland: For younger students- this is a great game for teaching early counting skills. Specifically, I have seen so many students start counting spacs by already counting the space that they are in. It is a good opportunity to teach the differences between where you started and where you ended up. Write numbers on the spaces and note the differences between starting spaces and ending spaces are the same as the number on the dice. When adding or subtracting on the number line, students need to first identify the starting point, then count the number of times they move from that starting point.

Number sense helps us understand numbers better. The more we count, the more we estimate, the more we compare, the better we get!

3) Incorporate estimating and counting into every day affairs. Count the number of light posts on your walk home from school. Count the number of red cars on a drive. Count how many floors in that high-rise building. Count the number of times Dad burps at the dinner table. Keep a tally and revisit old data from time to time. Has dad stopped burpring so much? Is this building taller than that building?

Guess how many M&Ms are in a fun-sized bag. Count how many M&M’s are in a fun-sized bag. Count another fun-sized bag to see if it contains the same number of M&M’s.

Skip counting is the basis for multipication and ratio reasoning. Some things come in pairs, groups of 5, or groups of ten. Point out those relationships!

4) Use skip counting to teach ratio and proportional reasoning. Count how many earlobes are in the doctors waiting room. Estimate how many toes are on the bus (assume everyone has 10). Then, skip count like crazy. Skip count on stairs, skip count during the tick-tock of a clock. Skip count how many times you throw a ball back and forth.

Drill and kill, baby! Ok, so not really. But filling out multiplication tables can help students see the patterns inherent in multiplying numbers.

5) Students should learn multiplication one fact family at a time. They should memorize their 1’s, 2’s and 5’s first. Then the 3’s and 4’s should be close behind. Usually 9’s come next (thanks to some great tricks out there). Finally, 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s take a long time to come around. Here is an activity you can do at home to support fluency and automaticity with these tasks. Print a partially filled out times table from Math-aids.com (Best source for FREE customizable worksheets for k-6 math. Their times tables can be partially filled out (10%-90%) or completely blank. Start with a mostly filled out times table, show them how it works, and let them fill in the blanks, given their knowledge about multiplication as repeated addition. Do one a day. After a week or two of filling out a 90% completed chart, have them fill out one that is only 80% complete. Continue with this pattern (BE CONSISTENT!) of daily times table practice until they are filling out completely blank times tables. Once they are able to fill out a times table independently, start to keep track of how long it takes for them to get through a whole times table. Encourage them to beat their best time every day.

BONUS! (See, It's ok to get numbers wrong from time to time!)

6) Flashcards. An oldie but goodie. Kids love flashcards. Flashcards are the ultimate test of math fact fluency. The facts are presented in isolation, meining students are not able to rely on countin-on startegies to arrive at the product. Time students and make two piles: cards answered correctly and cards answered incorrectly. Once you have gone trough all of the cards, go though each of the cards in the smaller pile. Talk about strategies for remembering the card, ways to reason through the answer so that in the future, even if it isn’t automatic, they have a fall-back method to remember.

The main thing you want your child to learn from these activities is that math is not impossible.

You want your child to have a positive attitude about math. This includes having concrete examples of how math affects their everyday life. Your child should also have a sense of accomplishment and success when doing math. Make sure you keep the attitude light when introducing these math activites.

Making mistakes is OK!

That's how we learn. If your child is willing to give up just because it's not easy, remind them that learning to ride a bike involves a lot of falling down. But we keep on getting right back up. Learning math is no different.


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