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Food for Thought: 5 Ways Hurried Moms Can Make Math Easy

Laura Laing is a writer friend whose new book, Math for Grownups: Re-Learn the Arithmetic You Forgot from School, is perfect for people like me, who sorta remember how to figure out percentages by hand but never actually trust that the final number is correct… Who know that there are 16 tablespoons in a cup, but can’t figure out what fraction of a cup is equal to five tablespoons… Who understand the concept of multiplying recipes, but somehow always ends up adding too much salt… That’s right, this book is for you, too. I asked Laura to write a guest post about using math in the kitchen with your kids, and I love love love what she sent me. I’m doing some of this with Harry already, unintentionally, and I can’t wait to implement the rest. Read on…

Boy, do I remember those early days of parenting my daughter. I was working full time, coddling a strong-willed toddler, trying to serve balanced meals, selecting great books to read to her and trying to keep my house and yard clean enough that my neighbors wouldn’t call Child Protective Services on me.

Adding one more thing to the list would have made my head blow off of my shoulders.

And yet, today, we are being asked to do that one more thing: introduce numeracy to our little Janes and Johns. In other words, math. Like laying the groundwork for early reading skills through reading to our children, we’re told that adding a little bit of math to our everyday lives will help our children understand what the heck is going on when they finally start adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in elementary school.

Worried yet? Don’t be. Looking back, I realize was already doing it, and I had no idea.

Sure, I’m a former math teacher, but I’m no math geek. I just happen to be a little bit more comfortable with math concepts than others may be. But trust me. You can pick up some simple ways to infuse math in your daily routine – without losing any much-needed brain cells. And all of these ideas can be integrated into cooking and shopping duties.

Here’s how:

  1. Count everything. Count the number of apples you’re putting one-by-one in your grocery or farmer’s market basket. If your child is old enough to carry out tasks without help, have him or her count out 5 limes or 7 baking potatoes.
  2. Make math connections. When it’s time to set the table for dinner, put your little one to work. Ask simple questions: “How many napkins do we need?” “Where do they go on the table?” While it sounds silly to us grownups, the concept of matching items (napkins) to other items (place settings) is a big one.
  3. Develop math concepts. So you’ve got your kid setting the table. This exercise is even more powerful, if you help your youngster count the napkins as he places them on the table. At that point, you’re talking about one-to-one correspondence, a concept that relates to basic and advanced mathematics.
  4. Count up. Let’s say you need five eggs, but you only have two in a bowl. Don’t do the math for your little chef. Instead ask him to add eggs to the number you have, until you get to five eggs. What you’re doing here is asking him to count up to five eggs. This little exercise will help develop addition—and even subtraction—skills.
  5. Start factoring. Your child won’t learn her multiplication or division facts until third or fourth grade, but you can start the process now, with simple factoring. While you’re preparing lunch, give your child a pile of baby carrots and ask her to divide them evenly onto the plates. (You can show her how, by “dealing” them out, like you would a deck of cards. Or let her explore on her own how it can be done.) Then talk about what happens if you have left over carrots.

See, it’s not too hard to add a little bit of math education to your already insane schedule!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Carrietracy

    I love these idea Debbie. As an elementary school teacher I can absolutely verify that kids pick up and use these skills!

    Another thing to try:
    Fractions!! – talk about fair shares. I had one parent who cut her first grader's sandwich into different fractions each day when we were studying them. It was as easy as a flick of the knife, and the child was so excited by the equal parts.

  2. altdotanise

    Oh, this is SO true for my just-turned-6 year old! Last week, we were baking in someone else's kitchen, and couldn't find a 1C measure. She grabbed a 1/2C measure, thought for about half a second, and said, "Mom, we need 16 of these for the frosting!" I'm pretty sure I didn't grasp fractions and multiplication until I was in third grade. (Maybe I'll petition her first-grade class to add a cooking segment.)

    Between fractions when cooking, and percentages when dealing with money, her math skills rock.

    Which reminds me: hand your kid a couple of dollars and send them out on their own at a small farmers market. Not only is it good for their math, it's great for self confidence and people skills.

  3. debbie koenig

    Carrietracy, that sandwich-cutting idea is genius.

    And altdotanise, I love that story! As for the shopping, we've been working on that with Harry, but more in terms of helping him to understand that we actually, y'know, *buy* the things we have. Learning math will just be a bonus, I guess.

  4. growfamilygrow

    Awesome. Math and Science are around us everywhere. End Math Phobia!

  5. Suzanne

    I love how you break down the suggestion of introducing numeracy into manageable steps. The suggestions are simple and don’t require a chalkboard.

  6. edillo2

    as a college senior majoring in elementary education, I love this post! It is so so important to make math connections with children on a daily basis & incorportating them into regulary planned activities, they (& you) are getting the extra math practice and don't even realize it! Plus, the positive interaction and conversation with the child, will provide a positive connection to math leading the child to enjoy math instead of learning to despise it!

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