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Math in the Home

By Kara Murphy

Be confident. Jesus will perform it. (Philippians 1:6)

Early math does not need to be learned from a textbook or workbook. In fact, there are those that say using either can actually be detrimental. In the early years, your goal is to help your child understand numbers.

Ideally, before he meets with the written problem 2+2, he will have such frequent experience putting two sets of objects together that it is unnecessary to memorize the fact. The picture will be formed in his head.

Did you know that young children are capable of complicated processes? First grade textbooks do not usually introduce division, but give any 6-year-old a box of cookies, tell him divide it among three friends, and he will even report the remainder!

Math Manipulatives

Everyday objects make the best hands-on manipulatives, as everyday life creates the best problems to solve. It is time to set the table: “There are usually seven of us at dinner but Daddy and little Ted are going to be gone. That’s seven minus two. How many plates do we need? And baby doesn’t get a knife, so how many knives do we need if we need seven minus two minus one?”

Fractions are understood at an early age when learned in the kitchen and in the workshop. Doubling and halving recipes provide natural opportunities for adding and subtracting fractions.

Common household tools increase the ease of including day-to-day arithmetic. A ruler, a yardstick, and a tape measure; an indoor and outdoor thermometer; both digital and analog clocks; a money jar, stocked with coins; don’t just possess these tools—allow your child frequent access to them. (Reserve the money jar for the toddler’s naptime, if necessary.)

Stocking up on expensive educational games is unnecessary, but common family games are a great source for learning. Learn to play Uno, War, and other card games with your child. Dominoes can be fun. Simple board games are also helpful, such as Candyland and Chutes And Ladders.

And don't forget the M&Ms. A big bag of these little candies with The M&M Brand Counting Book by Barbara McGrath (Charlesbridge, 1994) constitute my entire “formal” math program for first grade. What a delicious curriculum!

Math Books

Math-themed literature incorporates math learning naturally and enjoyably.

In Barn Cat, Carol P. Saul (Little, Brown & Co, 1998) follows a barn cat through the farmyard. What is the barn cat looking for? Three butterflies? Seven songbirds? The illustrations for this book are fabulous hand-colored woodcut prints. Each page includes a large numeral in the corner.

1 2 3: A Child’s First Counting Book by Alison Jay (Dutton, 2007) follows a little girl’s sleep-time fairytale journey. From the two wings of Mother Goose carrying her away, her dream takes her through many tales all the way to the Red Riding Hood’s wolf’s 10 sharp teeth, back to two dancing shoes, and one little girl waking. The last page in the book identifies the fairytale on which the illustration was based. The folk-style illustrations are fascinating to study. One help for teaching math from this book is that the numeral is listed next to the number word. This books ties math and literature together nicely.

Don’t let arithmetic worry you. Number learning is easily integrated into your day as you intentionally include your child in real life.

P.S. Once again, I’m going to recommend Ruth Beechick’s THE THREE R’S (Mott Media, 2006). After seeing the types of arithmetic skills to master by the third grade, it is easier to be intentional about including activities throughout the day.

(From the Homeschooling Today First Year email newsletter, November 30, 2009. Used with permission.)

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