Helping your child to reason when answering maths questions is a great way to consolidate understanding and to explain their thinking. Talking about their maths or ‘maths talk’ is easy to have a go at whilst at home.
LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO USE MATH TALK
Math talk grows with your child. Math talk is simply talking to your child about the math that they experience. Parents can mathematize everyday experiences. If we add two more children to your birthday party list, how many children will there be? How many goody bags should we make up? Let the child think about it and work it out. The key is to participate in a friendly discussion over interesting mathematical ideas and concepts. For instance, wrong answers that were arrived at with good reasoning need to be rewarded.
A child who notes correctly that a recipe needs to be doubled to make twice as many cookies but incorrectly computes some of those measurements is using good reasoning, even if the answer is off. Let your child talk through the math and show their reasoning. Often talking it through reveals the error to a child without further parental intervention. Resist the temptation to overdo assistance. Being quiet and listening respectfully is sometimes more helpful.
1. Look for opportunities to count, add, subtract, multiply or divide. Count the number of green tiles on the floor of the grocery store or the number of cracks you walk over on the pavement. Once children are able to count, look for opportunities to allow them to extend that knowledge. On a drive or a walk you might say, “I see two geese on this side of the lake and three geese on the other side. How many geese does that make?” With older children, provide more challenging opportunities; “These boots are 10% off at Sports Direct but £10 off at JD Sports. Which ones will make a better deal?”
2. Look for opportunities to problem-solve. Shopping and other routine situations provide many opportunities for mathematics. For example, asking your children to draw up a list of groceries needed for a trip can involve calculating days, meals, cost per meal, total cost, etc. Calculating the amount of paint needed to paint a child’s bedroom or the weight and/or monetary value of sweets collected on Halloween provide other examples of problem-solving activities in the home.
3. Use open-ended questions to sustain math talk as long as possible. Math talk means talking about mathematical ideas and open-ended means being ready with questions that allow for multiple routes to solutions. Wonder out loud how much money you would have if you had saved a £1 every day since your child was born. Estimate how many acorns have fallen from a tree in the autumn. Sustaining the talk as long as possible is the key.
MATHEMATICS AND YOUR CHILD’S EXPERIENCES AROUND THE HOME
In order to encourage more home-based mathematical activity, try some of the following:
1. Count everything! Count the number of steps to the car, the number of toys in a box, the number of sweets in a packet. Later, introduce estimating the same quantities. Double-check your child’s counting when appropriate. Reasonable estimates are one of the most useful strategies for successful mathematical thinking.
2. Count in a variety of ways! As age-appropriate, move from counting by 1’s to counting by 2’s, 10’s, 5’s and later to counting by 6’s, 7’s, 8’s and 9’s. Count forward and backwards. Count beginning at different numbers, such as starting the count at 4 or 5. Play the game “Blast-Off!.” The child counts backwards from any designated number (say ten) and when they get to 0, they yell “Blast-Off!” and everyone jumps up. The next child may say they want “Blast-Off!” to be counting forwards to ten or some other number. When they get to the designated number, everyone yells, “Blast-Off!” and jumps in the air. Although this is a simple game, it is usually met with a significant buy-in from young children.
3. Daily routines a. Open up daily routines and experiences for math-based activity. Use specific mathematical terms, for example: “Is it five minutes until the bus comes?” or “The temperature in here seems low, can you please read the thermostat for me?” b. Point out math in your environment. There are numbers everywhere: on houses, on thermostats, on football tops, on buses, in the newspapers, in the weather app on your phone, on speed limit signs, in phone numbers. Discuss what these numbers mean.
4. Bake together! Let your child become familiar with the purpose of measuring, the various measurements (milligram, gram, litre) and an understanding of quantity. At later stages, let them work out amounts naturally, such as doubling or halving a recipe.
7. Encourage measurement in the home! Let your child make meaningful and helpful measurements, for example: “How high should the dog house for our new dog be?” Use both standard measurement (e.g., centimetre, metre, etc.) and non-standard (e.g., child’s footsteps, blocks or cubes).
8. Encourage measurement in daily activities! Go for a walk. Point out when you have walked approximately a kilometre. Show what a metre looks like (roughly one large adult step). Predict and measure how long it takes to run 20 metres.
9. Play with perimeter and area! Point out and measure perimeter and area when building or setting up a garden, for example. It’s fun and easy to illustrate using real spaces: perimeter equals the distance around the outside of something; area equals the number of consistently sized shapes that cover something. Measurements can be made either with standard tools such as a measuring tape, or using non-standard measures such as counting footsteps around a perimeter.
10. Point out fractions! Cut food into equal pieces. Point out 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, etc. Help establish the concept that 1/4 of a piece of a chocolate bar is smaller than 1/2 of a piece.
11. Set a math reading time Set aside time every week to read a math story rather than a traditional story. Make sure they are interesting stories that both engage the reader and provoke mathematical thinking. Ask questions about counting, comparing, finding totals and differences, looking at patterns or shapes, etc.
12. Create a family math night! Designate a night as Family Night. Play board games and other games that use number cubes (dice), card games, dominoes, puzzles, tangrams (Chinese puzzle), pentominoes, Googleplex, Magneblox, etc.
13. Ordering take-away food night! If your family sometimes orders take-away food, keep the take-out menus handy and have your child calculate the amounts required and the total cost. If the amounts are beyond your child’s mathematical understanding, help them use a simple calculator.
14. Do a shape hunt! Look for shapes in your home, estate, playground, etc. (e.g., our house has a rectangular door; our windows are square). Use terms that will be introduced at school (e.g., our house is shaped like a rectangular prism – square or rectangular sides; our roof is shaped like a triangular prism – triangle shapes at the ends but squares or rectangles on the sides).
15. Plan a garden or other space! Use estimation to consider how many plants might fit into the space. Work out accurate measurements and then compare.
16. Household chores! Estimate the time it will take to clean a bedroom or toy box. Then do an accurate timing and compare.
17. Outdoor activities! Look for things to count, then compare and tally. For example, ask, “How many doors do you think there are on this street?” Take the time to use math in physical activity. Can your child run faster or jump farther than they did the last time? Use rulers, stopwatches and tape measures to track distance and time.
18. On the road! Play number games in the car. Try a mathematical scavenger hunt. Take turns choosing and searching for something specific, such as a lorry with eight wheels, a speed limit over 30 mph, a house number, or shapes in the environment.
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