How My Family Maths

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Apparently there are people out there who don’t like math. It’s such a crazy concept to me, because we math a lot in our house (so much so, that it’s a verb now). To clarify just how math our family is (yes, it’s an adjective, too), I had to find math-themed books to get my youngest child to read. In order for me to engage them in something new, I connect to the math in it. Because math? It really is everywhere. So if your kids struggle to connect to math, here are some ways that math connects to our lives.

Math Time

We can’t pass a digital clock without my youngest asking if it’s a math time. Can you use all the digits of the time (in any order) to create a mathematical equation? Example: At 3:25, we can say 3 + 2 = 5 so yes. One minute later, 3:26 can be turned into 3 x 2 = 6 so yes. 3:27 has nothing (that I can think of at the moment), but 3:28 is valid because 2 to the 3rd power equals 8, while 3 squared equals nine for 3:29. 3:30 becomes 3-3=0, and 3:31 is valid because 3 / 3 = 1. See? Any equation, any operation, any order.


Here are some books that totally engaged my littlest (and one that didn’t):


One Grain of Rice, by Demi

Penrose the Mathematical Cat, by Theoni Pappas

Secret Coders, by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

I tried The Boy Who Loved Math, by Deborah Heiligman, but without any actual math to do in the book, he didn’t really connect. But I include it because maybe it’d work for you.

The Number Devil, by Hanz Magnus Enzensberger – This is the book that started it all. My eldest read it in seventh grade (for school), yet it became an enjoyable bedtime story for him.


We never seem to follow a recipe exactly. Usually, we have to scale it up (somehow recipes are never made to serve 5). When my kids help me cook (mostly, dessert, which is good because it requires actual math, as opposed to when they make salad and can just throw in what they want), they do the scaling and measuring. I stand back to clean and help as needed.


We play The Price Is Right at the checkout counter, where each person guesses what the total will be. The closest, without going over, wins. He who pays attention to prices along the way does best.

When they go to a store with money of their own, they need to track how much they can buy (also accounting for tax) with the money they have.

Also, they each have a custodial bank account for them to deposit their money into and learn how to bank.


We use a shared online calendar, and they need to know where to go and when. If they want to go to a friend’s house, they first have to figure out when they need to be back to do what needs to be done. If I tell them they can’t go play, they understand that there simply isn’t enough time to get themselves ready for their next task. This incidentally also happens to help them take responsibility for their own commitments, instead of making me the schedule-master. But there is definitely math involved.


Instead of giving them a list of items (or packing for them), I have them figure out how many days we’ll be gone, how many of what items they’ll need (they’re welcome to check the weather in our destination), and have them lay out all the items (I’ll still review before we go, just in case). Because, frankly, counting, calculating, grouping, sets–these are all mathematical principles they apply in their daily lives. If I can frame it in a mathematical framework so they see how they’re mathing, and that gets them more involved, all the better. Alternatively, explaining after the fact that they have learned these math concepts helps reinforce the fact that they are good at math, even if they didn’t realize it.


If I catch a kid in the right mood, I can convince him to help me sort socks (in return, I help him hang up his shirts). We play the matching game. At “Go” we race to match the most socks from the giant mound on the middle of the bed (and fold them together). Then we open the drawer where they go and try to toss them in. It’s not rip-roaring fun, but it sure takes the drudgery out of laundry.

Lemonade Stands

These, of course, are great for math. Budgeting, measuring, counting currency, calculating change, dividing proceeds evenly between participants. Doesn’t always feel mathy, but it counts.

Celebrating Math Days

June 02 was Avogadro’s Day (Avogadro’s number, from Chemistry, is 6.02 x 10^23). We missed it this year, but maybe once our kid learns chemistry we’ll celebrate. By eating Mexican food. (Avocado, mole sauce. Get it?)

Here’s a post that lists fourteen math days to celebrate. But there’s no reason to limit yourself to just these.


My kids have math shirts. They proudly wear their creative geekdom, and I’m happy to encourage it by getting them more.


We go on walks, and the kids will look for Fibonacci sequences in the number of branches on tree, to the number of leaves on a branch. We might listen to the time between lightning and thunder to figure out how far a storm is. We listen to the church bells to tell the time. They climb the magnolia tree out front and compare their weight to the strength of the branch to see if it’s safe. Whether we are conscientiously pointing out math-related activities or reflecting on it later, they’re developing math skills.


Keeping score, of course, involves math. Spewing statistics, sure. But computing the trajectory to make a basket, throwing a ball or catching it, either standing still or while running. Pitching, hitting, fielding. These things involve mathematical calculations going on in their heads, whether they realize it or not.


Honestly, not much of this happens in my house, but the very act of translating the real world into an artistic medium involves scaling and transformation from three dimensions to two.


Counting beats, dancing, rhythm… all math. Whether playing an instrument, listening to music, or dancing, there’s math involved.


Clearly, even without trying very hard, we do a lot of math in our house. But I would contend that other than the complex math problems that our youngest asks us for when he’s bored, a lot of the things we do that makes us so math-focused are not so out of the realm of what most people do. We just happen to notice the math element of it. Which means, for your “not into math” child, so can you.


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2 thoughts on “How My Family Maths

  1. We loved “Penrose the Mathmatical Cat” and “One Grain of Rice”. You may also have tried “How Much is a Million” and the Sir Cumference series, they are fun too. I will have to check out “Secret Coders”.

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