What math teacher has not been faced with the common student question, “How is this useful in the real world?” Math standards stress the need to relate skills to everyday life. Well-written word problems assist in this endeavor by presenting realistic scenarios for specific skills, yet they usually lack hands-on practice. As a homeschool parent/teacher, I spent lots of time teaching my sons math skills with pencil and paper; but I found that the greatest learning experiences came by bringing those skills into the real world.
By involving our sons in everyday tasks, hobbies, and projects, my husband and I were able to model and reinforce a variety of math skills. Our boys sharpened their addition and subtraction skills by helping us balance our bankbook. My husband credits much of his math ability to the time he spent with his own father, who would involve him in paying bills by asking him to solve the calculations. My youngest son and I often played “store” by pricing some of his toys and “purchasing” them with real coins. We took turns being the customer and cashier. The game sharpened his counting, money, and addition skills. As the boys grew older, carpentry and metalworking offered great opportunities to reinforce measurement and geometry skills.
Such learning opportunities are not limited to homeschool families. With a little planning, all parents can involve their children in such experiences. Begin by noting how you use math in your day-to-day life, then think of ways to involve your child in the process at his/her level. Here are a few suggestions:
• Involve young children in counting and sorting of anything from multicolored candies to laundry items. Help them to recognize geometric shapes in everyday objects.
• Cooking is great practice for fractions and measurements.
• Vacations or short trips can provide experience in calculating mileage and fuel costs.
• Grocery shopping can sharpen estimation skills if you have your child round each item to the nearest dollar as it goes into the cart. Keeping a running total on a notepad will give them a final estimate to compare at the register.
• Encourage children to budget and save money towards a specific spending goal. When the goal is reached, have them pay for the item themselves under your supervision.
• Home remodeling or do-it-yourself projects can involve students in measurements, geometry, budgeting, and cost estimates.
• Gather and chart data on weather temperatures, rainfall, sports scores, cell phone usage, video game stats, or auto maintenance. Create a growth chart for themselves, a sibling, or a pet.
• Include teenagers in discussions and calculations regarding mortgage, loan or credit card interest. Having them assist you in tax preparation is good practice for their future.
Math reinforcement is just one benefit of involving children in such tasks. Parents who include their kids help them to build important life skills. It also creates an atmosphere of teamwork in the family, giving parents and children more quality time together. As a busy mom, I often found myself battling the excuse of “I can do it quicker by myself.” Yes, involving the kids always takes more time, but the educational, life skill and family bonding gains make it worthwhile.
Posted by Carol Welch, abcteach staff writer