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Math in the Home



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Doing Mathematics With Your Child

Learning Partners

This section provides the opportunity to use games and activities at home to explore math with your child. The activities are intended to be fun and inviting, using household items. Remember,

  • This is an opportunity for you and your child to "talk math," that is to communicate about math while investigating relationships.

  • If something is too difficult, choose an easier activity or skip it until your child is older.

  • Have fun!

Index of Games and Activities

  1. Picture Puzzle
  2. More or Less
  3. Problem Solvers
  4. Card Smarts
  5. Fill It Up
  6. Half Full, Half Empty
  7. Name that Coin
  8. Money Match
  9. Money's Worth
  10. In the News
  11. Look It Up
  12. Newspaper Search
  13. Treasure Hunt
  14. Family Portrait

1) Picture Puzzle

Using symbols to stand for numbers can help make math fun and easier for young children to understand.

What you'll need
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Crayons
What to do
  1. Choose some symbols that your child can easily draw to stand for 1s and 10s (if your child is older, include 100s and 1,000s). A face could 10s, and a bow could be 1s.
  2. List some numbers and have your child depict them.
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2) More or Less

Playing cards is a fun way for children to use numbers.

What you'll need
  • Coin
  • 2 decks of cards
  • Scratch paper to keep score
What to do
  1. Flip a coin to tell if the winner of this game will be the person with "more" (a greater value card) or "less" (a smaller value card).
  2. Remove all face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) and divide the remaining cards in the stack between the two players.
  3. Place the cards face down. Each player turns over one card and compares: Is mine more or less? How many more? How many less?

This game for young children encourages number sense and helps them learn about the relationships of numbers (more or less) and about adding and subtracting. By counting the shapes on the cards and looking at the printed numbers on the card, they can learn to relate the number of objects to the numeral.

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3) Problem Solvers

These games involve problem solving, computation, understanding number values, and chance.

What you'll need
  • Deck of cards
  • Paper
  • Pencil
What to do
  1. Super sums. Each player should write the numbers 1-12 on a piece of paper. The object of the game is to be the first one to cross off all the numbers on this list.

    Use only the cards 1-6 in every suit (hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds). Each player picks two cards and adds up the numbers on them. The players can choose to mark off the numbers on the list by using the total value or crossing off two or three numbers that make that value. For example, if the player picks a 5 and a 6, the player can choose to cross out 11, or 5 and 6, or 7 and 4, or 8 and 3, or 9 and 2, or 10 and 1, or 1, 2, and 8.

  2. Make 100. Take out all the cards from the deck except ace through 6. Each player draws 8 cards from the deck. Each player decides whether to use a card in the tens place or the ones place so that the numbers total as close to 100 as possible without going over. For example, if a player draws two 1s (aces), a 2, a 5, two 3s, a 4, and a 6, he can choose to use the numerals in the following way:

    30, 40, 10, 5, 6, 1, 3, 2. This adds up to 97.

These games help children develop different ways to see and work with numbers by using them in different combinations to achieve a goal.

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4) Card Support

Have your children sharpen their math skills even more.

What you'll need
  • Deck of cards
  • Paper
  • Pencil
What to do
  1. How many numbers can we make? Give each player a piece of paper and a pencil. Using the cards from 1 (ace)-9, deal 4 cards out with the numbers showing. Using all four cards and a choice of any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, have each player see how many different answers a person can get in 5 minutes. Players get one point for each answer. For example, suppose the cards drawn are 4, 8, 9, and 2. What numbers can be made?


  2. Make the most of it. This game is played with cards from 1 (ace) to 9. Each player alternates drawing one card at a time, trying to create the largest 5-digit number possible. As the cards are drawn, each player puts the cards down in their "place" (ten thousands, thousands, hundreds, tens, ones) with the numbers showing. One round goes until each player has 6 cards. At that point, each player chooses one card to throw out to make the largest 5-digit number possible.

  3. Fraction fun. This game is played with cards 1 (ace)-10, and 2 players. Each player receives one-half of the cards. Players turn over 2 cards each at the same time. Each player tries to make the largest fraction by putting the 2 cards together. The players compare their fractions to see whose is larger. For example, if you are given a 3 and a 5, the fraction 3/5 would be made; if the other person is given a 2 and an 8, the fraction is 2/8. Which is larger? The larger fraction takes all cards and play continues until one player has all the cards.

Players can develop strategies for using their cards, and this is where the math skills come in.

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5) Fill It Up

Children enjoy exploring measurement and estimation. Empty containers can provide opportunities to explore comparisons, measurement, estimation, and geometry.

What you'll need
  • Empty containers in different shapes (yogurt cups, margarine tubs, juice boxes with tops cut off, pie tins)
  • Rice, popcorn kernels, or
  • water
  • Marker
  • Masking tape
  • Paper
What to do
  1. Have your child choose an empty container each day and label it for the day by writing the day on a piece of masking tape and sticking it on the container.

  2. Discover which containers hold more than, less than, or the same as the container chosen for that day by filling the day's container with water, uncooked rice, or popcorn kernels; and pouring the substance from that container into another one. Is the container full, not full, or overflowing? Ask your child, "Does this mean the second container holds more than the first, less, or the same?"

  3. Ask your child questions to encourage comparison, estimation, and thinking about measurement.

  4. Put all the containers that hold more in one spot, those that hold less in another, and those that hold the same in yet another. Label the areas "more," "less," and "the same?

  5. After the containers have been sorted, ask, "Do we have more containers that hold more, hold less, or hold the same? How many containers are in each category?"

The process of predicting, filling the containers, and comparing how much each will hold, gives your child the opportunity to experiment with measurement without worrying about exact answers.

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6) Half Full, Half Empty

It is helpful to explore whole numbers and fractions through measurement and estimation. Children can see relationships and the usefulness of studying fractions.

What you'll need
  • Clear container with straight sides, that holds at least 4 cups
  • Masking tape
  • Marker
  • Measuring cup with 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 cup measures on it
  • Uncooked rice, popcorn kernels, or water
  • Other containers with which to compare
What to do
  1. Have your child run a piece of masking tape up the side of the container so that it is straight from the bottom to the top.

  2. For younger children, use a 1-cup measure. For older children, use a 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 cup measure. Pour the chosen amount of a substance listed above into the container.

  3. Mark the level of the jar on the masking tape by drawing a line with a marker and writing 1 for one cup or 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8 on the line.

  4. Follow this procedure until the container is full, and the tape is marked in increments to the top of the container. Now, the jar is marked evenly to measure the capacity of other containers.

  5. While filling different containers, ask your child "thinking" questions.

    • How many whole cups do you think this container will hold?
    • How many 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8 cups do you think the container will hold?
    • How many 1/2 cups equal a cup?
    • How many 1/4 cups equal a 1/2 cup? A cup?
    • How many 1/8 cups equal a 1/4 cup? A 1/2 cup? A 1/8 cup?

This activity provides a "hands-on" opportunity for children to experience fractions while making connections to the real world.

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7) Name that Coin

Children love to look at coins but sometimes cannot identify the coins or determine their value.

What you'll need
  • Penny
  • Nickel
  • Dime
  • Quarter
What to do
  1. Look at the coins and talk about what color they are, the pictures on them, and what they are worth.

  2. Put a penny, nickel, and dime on the floor or table.

  3. Tell your child that you are thinking of a coin.

  4. Give your child hints to figure out which coin you are thinking of. For example, "My coin has a man on one side, a building on the other."

  5. Let your child think about what you have said by looking at the coins.

  6. Ask, "Can you make a guess?"

  7. Add another clue: "My coin is silver."

  8. Keep giving clues until your child guesses the coin.

  9. Add the quarter to the coins on the table and continue the game.

  10. Have your child give you clues for you to guess the coin.

This guessing game helps young children learn to recognize coins and develop problem-solving and higher level thinking skills.

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8) Money Match

This game helps children count change. Lots of repetition will make it even more effective.

What you'll need
  • A die to roll
  • 10 of each coin (penny, nickel, dime)
  • 6 quarters
What to do
  1. For young players (5- and 6-year-olds), use only 2 different coins (pennies and nickels or nickels and dimes). Older children can use all coins.

  2. Explain that the object of the game is to be the first player to earn a set amount (10 or 20 cents is a good amount).

  3. The first player rolls the die and gets the number of pennies shown on the die.

  4. Players take turns rolling the die to collect additional coins.

  5. As each player accumulates 5 pennies or more, the 5 pennies are traded for a nickel.

  6. The first player to reach the set amount wins.

  7. Add the quarter to the game when the children are ready.

Counting money, which involves counting by 1s, 5s, 10s, and 25s, is a challenging skill and usually does not come easily to children until about the third grade.

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9) Money's Worth

When children use coins to play games, it may help them use coins in real life situations.

What you'll need
  • Coins
  • Coupons
What to do
  1. Coin clues. Ask your child to gather some change in his or her hand without showing what it is. Start with amounts of 25 cents or less. Ask your child to tell you how much money and how many coins there are. Guess which coins are being held. For example, "I have 17 cents and 5 coins. What coins do I have?" (3 nickels and 2 pennies.)

  2. Clip and save. Cut out coupons and tell how much money is saved with coins. For example, if you save 20 cents on detergent, say 2 dimes. Ask your child what could be purchased using the savings from the coupon. A pack of gum? A pencil? How much money could be saved with 3, 4, or 5 coupons? How could that money be counted out in coins and bills? What could be purchased with that savings? A pack of school paper? A magazine? How much money could be saved with coupons for a week's worth of groceries? How would that money be counted out? What could be purchased with that savings? A book? A movie ticket?

Counting money involves thinking in patterns or groups of amounts: 1s, 5s, 10s, 25s. Start these activities by having your child first separate the coins or coupons by types: all the pennies together, all the nickels, all the dimes, all the quarters; the coupons for cereal, the coupons for cake and brownie mixes, the coupons for soap.

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10) In the News

Young children love to look at the newspaper. It is fun for them to realize that there are things for them to see and do with the paper.

What you'll need
  • Newspaper
  • Glue
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or crayon
What to do
  1. Newspaper numbers. Help your child look for the numbers 1-100 in the paper. Cut the numbers out and glue them in order onto a large piece of paper. For children who cannot count to 100 or recognize numerals that large, only collect up to the number they do know. Have your child say the numbers to you and practice counting. Collect only numbers within a certain range, like the numbers between 20 and 30. Arrange the numbers on a chart, grouping all the numbers with 2s in them, all the numbers with 5s, and so on.

  2. Counting book. Cut out pictures from the newspaper and use them to make a counting book. Page one will have one thing on it, page 2 will have 2 things that are alike, page 3 will have 3 things that are alike, and so on. All the things on the pages have to be the same. At the bottom of each page, write the number of items on the page and the word for the item. Have your child dictate a story to you about what is on the page.

Being able to read and understand the newspaper involves more than just the ability to read the words and understand what they say. It also involves the ability to read and understand numbers.

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11) Look It Up

These activities help children understand how items can be organized and grouped in logical ways.

What you'll need
  • Newspaper
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
What to do
  1. Section selection. Show your child that the paper is divided into different sections and explain that each section serves a purpose. Show him that each section is lettered and how the pages are numbered.

  2. Ad adventure. Provide your child with grocery store ads from the newspaper. Help him see how many items are listed and the prices. Compare the prices at different stores. Ask which store has the best bargain and why. Talk about the difference in prices between items bought at regular price, items on sale, and items bought with coupons. What happens when an item is bought on sale and bought with a coupon?

  3. Solid search. Look at the store ads or coupons for pictures of all the cylinders, boxes, or cubes you can find. What are their different uses? Paste the pictures on paper and make a "book of geometric solids." Have one page for each solid.

Understanding that there is a logical order to the way things are arranged in the newspaper, and in the book of solids, helps show that math skills can be used in organizing written material. Comparing information, such as the sale prices at stores, also helps children see logical relationships that can be applied to writing.

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12) Newspaper Search

Search through the newspaper for mathematical data.

What you'll need
  • Newspaper
What to do
  1. Numbers in the news. Find the following things in the paper:
    • a graph
    • a number less than 10
    • something that comes in 2s, 3s, 4s
    • a number more than 50 the days of the week
    • a number more than 100
    • a number that is more than 100 but less than 999
    • a symbol or word for inches, feet, or yards
    • a schedule of some kind
    • a triangle
    • a weather symbol
    • a percent sign
    • sports statistics

  2. List it. Provide your child with the grocery section of the newspaper in order to make up a list of food that will feed the family for a week and meet a budget of a certain amount of money. Have your child make a chart and use a calculator to figure the cost of more than one item. If the total for the groceries is too great, talk about which items can be eliminated. Could the list be cut down by a few items or by buying less of another item? What will best serve the needs of the family?.

  3. For a fraction of the cost. Give your child a few coupons and grocery ads from the paper. Help your child match the coupons to some of the grocery items in the ad. What fraction of the cost is the coupon? For example, if an item costs 79 cents and the coupon is for 10 cents off, what fraction of the cost can be saved? (About 1/8.) What percent are you saving on the item? (About 12 1/2 percent.)

One of the main ways people use numbers is for planning. Knowing how to plan how much things will cost before going to the store and how to read schedules and weather information from the paper will help your child understand the world.

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13) Treasure Hunt

Everyone's house has hidden treasures. There is a lot of math you and your child can do with them.

What you'll need
  • Buttons
  • Screws
  • Washers
  • Bottle caps
  • Old keys
  • Sea shells
  • Rocks
  • or anything else you can count
What to do
  1. Find a container to hold the treasures.

  2. Sort and classify the treasures. For example, do you have all the same sized screws or keys? How are they alike? How are they different?

  3. Use these treasures to tell addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division stories. For example, if we share 17 buttons among three friends, how many will we each get? Will there be some left over? Or, if we have 3 shirts that need 6 buttons each, do we have enough buttons?

  4. Organize the treasures by one characteristic and lay them end-to-end. Compare and contrast the different amounts of that type of treasure. For example, there are 3 short screws, 7 long screws, and 11 medium screws. There are 4 more medium screws than long ones. This may also provide an opportunity to talk about fractions: 7/21 or 1/3 of the screws are long.

Finding a container to hold the treasures gives your child practice in spatial problem solving. The treasures may help you to explain the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division because they can be moved around and grouped together so your child can count the items.

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14) Family Portrait

Have your child get to know members of your family by collecting information and picturing it on a graph.

What you'll need
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Crayons
What to do
  1. Choose an inherited family characteristic: hair colors, for example.

  2. Count how many people in the family have the different hair colors.

  3. Make a graph. For example, if 5 people have brown hair, draw 5 heads side by side to show these five people. Do the same for the other hair colors.

Graphs help everyone, including adults, understand information at a glance. By looking at the lengths of the lines of heads, your child can quickly see which hair color, for example, is most common.

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