Parents MY CHILD'S ACADEMIC SUCCESS
Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics
With activities for children in preschool through grade 5
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Mathematics on the Go — Activities

Most of us spend a lot of time moving from place to place in our cars or in cabs, on buses and on trains and in airplanes. Travel, whether across town or around the world, provides many opportunities for you to help your child learn about and apply math.

On This Page

    Off We Go
    Are We There Yet?
    Number Search
    License Plate Riddles
    License Plate Special
    Ease on Down the Road


Off We Go
Preschool

Show children that you use math skills by "thinking out loud" as you do things such as measuring distances on a map: "Let's see, it's five miles to Jackson and then three miles from Jackson to Albany, so that's a total of eight miles. It's two miles from Jackson to Corbin, so that's a total of seven miles. Albany is further away from Jackson than Corbin is."

Involving young children in trip planning can be a time to introduce them to measuring and comparing.

What You Need

  • Maps
  • Marker

What to Do

  • Before your family leaves on a trip, sit with your child and show him a map that includes both where you live and where you're going. Talk with him about what maps are and how they are used. Use the marker to circle your hometown, and then explain that this is where you live. Then circle the place you plan to visit and explain that this is where you're going. Draw a line between the two (a simple straight line-don't attempt to follow the highway route!)

  • Point out and mark other places that have meaning for your child—the place where his grandmother lives, the place where his favorite theme park is located and so forth, and do some simple comparisons of distance: "Grandma's is closer to us than where we're going on vacation. See. She lives here and where we're going is way over here." The idea is to familiarize your child with maps and distances, not to have him understand complicated directions or measurements.

  • Use the map to play number and counting games as well: "Can you find three 2s?" "What number is on this sign?" "How many rivers are in this state?"

  • As part of getting ready for a long trip, involve your child in finding and counting things that should be packed—two shirts, three pairs of socks, five books and so forth.

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Are We There Yet?
Kindergarten-Grade 2

Children develop positive attitudes toward math when they see that their parents and families value it. Find ways to show that you enjoy math. Let your child see you using math not only for routine activities, such as paying bills and following recipes, but also by playing number games and solving math puzzles.

Traveling—whether by car, bus, train or plane—provides many opportunities for children to use mental math and estimation to solve time and distance problems.

What You Need

  • Information about how far you're traveling and how long it will take
  • Bus, train or plane schedule

What to Do

  • On a routine trip around town, point out the time on a watch and say, for example, "It's 3:15, and it takes us 30 minutes to get to your dentist's office. Are we going to get there before your 4:15 appointment?"

  • Show your child a bus, train or plane schedule and explain what it is and how to read it. Point out, for example, that a schedule shows when the bus leaves one place and when it arrives at another. Have her figure out how long it takes the bus to get to several places listed on the schedule.

  • On a longer trip, occasionally ask your child to estimate how far you've traveled and how much longer it will take to get where you're going. Use road signs or schedules and timetables to help her check the answers.

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Number Search
Kindergarten-Grade 3

Helping children practice number recognition can take many forms. Encourage them to listen for common expressions that include numbers and number words, such as: "Two's company, three's a crowd"; "Two can play that game"; or "Three strikes and you're out."

Traveling provides children with lots of opportunities to practice number recognition as well as counting skills.

What You Need

  • Paper
  • Crayons or markers
  • Ruler

What to Do

  • Before you leave on a car trip, draw a "Number Search" grid, with five boxes across and 10 boxes down. In each box (moving across from the first box), write a number from 1 to 50. Make a copy of the grid for each family member (except, of course, the driver!)

  • As you travel, have family members play "Number Search." Tell everyone to be on the lookout for numbers and when they see one on a car or truck, a billboard, a sign, a building, or anything else, to point out the number, then circle it on the grid. (Only the person who spots the number first gets to circle it.) The first person to circle all the numbers on the grid wins.

  • Ask your child to look for words and phrases on signs and billboards that have numbers (or number words) in them, such as "1-stop shopping," "2-day service," "buy one, get one free" and "open 24-7."

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License Plate Riddles
Grades 2-4

For fun, point out license plates on which numbers are part of a message: ALL 4 1; IML8 (I'm late).

License plates can be used both to help children develop their knowledge of numbers and as an introduction to algebra.

What You Need

  • License plates
  • Paper
  • Crayons or markers

What to Do

  • If you're stuck in traffic, point out the license plate of a car in front of you and ask all family members (except the driver, of course!) to study it closely. Then tell everyone to use the individual numbers on the plate to make the largest three-digit number possible and write it down. For example, if the plate number is 254-116, the largest three-digit number that can be made is 654. Have each person read aloud his or her number. The person with the largest number wins the round. You can change the game by asking everyone to make the smallest three-digit number.

  • For your younger child, these activities can be simplified by having them find the largest single or double digit, or even to recognize individual numbers or add all the numbers on the plate.

  • Choose a license plate number, for example, 663M218. Then ask your child to use numbers from the plate to solve math problems such as the following:

    • add two numbers to get the answer 5. [answer: 3+2 = 5]
    • use three numbers to get 5. [answer: (3+2) x 1 = 5]
    • use four numbers to get 5. [answer: (6+3+1) ÷ 2 = 5]
    • use five numbers to get 5. [answer: (6+6+3) - (8+2) = 5]
    • use six numbers to get 5. [answer: (6+6) + (3x1) - (8+2) = 5]
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License Plate Special
Grades 2-4

Help children to understand that numbers have the same value whether they are expressed in figures (1, 2, 3) or in words (one, two, three).

Licenses plates can be used to reinforce children's understanding of the language of mathematics as well as their mathematical reasoning abilities.

What You Need

  • License plates
  • Paper
  • Crayons or markers
  • Ruler

What to Do

  • As you travel in a car or on a bus with your child, point out a license plate and read it to him using only number names (excluding the letters). For example, if the license plate is 663M218, read it as six hundred and sixty-three thousand two hundred and eighteen. Ask your child to find and read another license plate. Ask him if his number is less than, greater than or equal to yours.

  • Ask your older child to estimate the difference between his number and another license plate number. Is the difference less than 10, more than 100, more than 1,000?

  • Ask your child to write the names of the different states he sees on license plates (later he can check an atlas or dictionary for spellings—or you can help him use the abbreviations for each state). After the trip, ask him to tell you which state plates he saw most often. Which the least often? Help him to make a bar graph to show his findings.

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Ease on Down the Road
Grades 3-5

Involving children in planning trips and in giving them important jobs on the trip, such as following the correct route, can increase their self-confidence as well as their math skills. However, if they make mistakes, such as giving the wrong directions for a turn, they need to be reassured that mistakes are part of learning. Help them to understand what went wrong and how to get back on track.

An important mathematical concept for children to learn is the relationship between two quantities such as miles per hour or cost per gallon.

What You Need

  • Maps
  • Marker

What to Do

On car trips with your child—short or long—take advantage of the following opportunities that allow him to apply his math skills:

  • Before leaving on a trip, give him a map and tell him that you want him to be your "navigator" as you drive. Help him to mark the route that you will take. Then show him how to use distance numbers on the map to estimate the distances between different locations. Check the odometer before you begin the trip and have him write down the mileage.

  • As you're driving, ask him to check the route marked on the map and let you know in advance when you'll need to turn onto another road-the name and about how far away it is. Point out road signs along the way that tell how many miles to a junction or town or city. Let him point out some for you.

  • On the highway, ask your child to read road signs and look for signs that show the speed limits. Then ask him to watch the speedometer and let you know if you're driving too fast for the posted limit. Help him to practice his mental math skills by asking him questions such as, "The speed limit is 65 miles per hour. How far will we go in one hour? two hours? three hours? How long will it take us to go 500 miles?"

  • When you stop for gasoline, ask your child to look at the pump to see how many gallons of gas you bought and the cost per gallon. If the gas cost $1.59 a gallon, ask your child what five gallons will cost. 10 gallons? 20 gallons? Ask him if he knows an easy way to figure this out. (estimating the cost by rounding the cost per gallon to $1.60).

  • When you reach your destination, have your child write down the new mileage on your odometer. Show him how to figure the actual number of miles you traveled by subtracting the mileage when you left home from the new number. Then have him compare the actual mileage to the estimated mileage.

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Last Modified: 02/27/2009