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Parents – How to Help Your Children to Learn & Enjoy Math Part 1

In today’s post we will be exploring how to connect reading to math, math in the home, and math out in the ‘real world”.


Parents are often wondering how to best support their kids at home in math. I’m writing a 3 blog series dedicated to just this! If you are a teacher, please feel free to pass this along to the parents of your students.

As we transition to teaching math more conceptually, teachers aren’t the only ones left a bit mystified. I believe that parents are the most important partners of teachers in their children’s education. I would love to see all parents and teachers working collaboratively to help students succeed and enjoy math! This is why I do a lot of ‘Parent Math Nights’ at schools and pre-schools as a way to invite parents into the conversation and provide them with the reasons why teaching math is changing to incorporate way more conceptual understanding and visuals. Every time I do these parent nights I am inspired by how committed parents are to learning all of these new ideas so that they can best support their kids.

I’ve written a lot about WHY we need to teach math conceptually, so if you are looking for more information please check out these past posts (“new math”, “Seeing is Believing”, “Math Class Make-Over”). In a nutshell, teaching conceptually means to teach WHY the math works as well as how it works. A quick example is to think of a procedure like adding 234 + 28. You were probably taught to line them up to the right, which is a procedure.

We want students to understand that we are adding ‘like terms’ or same place values and using base 10 blocks helps them to develop this understanding so when they do ‘line them up’, they are making sense of the procedure and could even use other procedures that make sense to them. Also, I’ve written a lot about growth mindset and truly believe it is the very first thing both teachers and parents can focus on to improve students’ math learning. If teachers, parents or children have fixed mindsets about math, then their ability to learn it will be reduced. Developing a growth mindset is essential to becoming a good mathematician and math student. See here for more on growth mindset.

There is significant scientific research that shows that our beliefs about our ability to learn have a large impact on our achievements. We want to teach kids that they can learn anything they want – this is having a growth mindset. It will likely take time, effort and often a lot of struggle and failure, but
they can learn what they want. Kids usually have growth mindsets about things they are passionate about so you can relate it to their passions to help them understand. For example, if your child loves to play hockey, you could remind them how hard just skating used to be for them, but with time and practice, skating is now a lot easier.



I will be referring to mathematical habits of mind throughout this 3-part blog series for parents. Some of the mathematical habits of mind that we want to foster in children are: curiosity, collaborating to solve problems, resiliency, resourcefulness, making connections and understanding why things work as they do.


This 3 part series is broken down into the following posts:

1. Seeing the math is already all around us and learning how to engage in informal fun everyday activities.

2. Websites, along with suggestions for use, that will ignite children’s curiosity and mathematical reasoning skills.

3. Games that you can play (or that your kids can play together) with your children that will help them to develop fluency and mental math skills.

So, let’s jump into today’s post: Seeing the math in everyday life! We will be exploring how to connect reading to math, math in the home, math out in the ‘real world’.

Reading and Math:

I highly recommend that you read with your kids (related to math or not) for so many reasons. Check out this informative, research-based blog that shares with you the many benefits of reading with your child as well as ways to stay engaged as they get older. If you are a parent of a middle schooler, I have to confess that I LOVE young adult fiction and you might too- it’s a great way to stay connected to your kids as they start to navigate their adolescence.


Most parents I know read to their kids each night as part of their bedtime routine. This is SUCH a great routine that makes more impact on students’ success than you may think and reading often with your children in their first year of school still has positive effects when they are 15 years old! (check out this study from the OECD)I’d like to add that even reading to infants has been proven to increase their language abilities in childhood – so it’s never too young to start!

Luckily there are a tremendous number of math books so that when
reading stories together, you can also be exploring mathematical ideas.
Click here for a list to get you started. However, you don’t need to search out
specific math books because there is math in ANY book you read. Here are
some suggested questions that you can pose to your kids to help them
find the math:

1. “How many feet are there on this page?”

2. “How many leaves do you think are there on that tree?”

3. “How many kids are in this picture?”

4. “Are there more girls or boys in this picture?” “How do you know?”

5. “What is the biggest animal on this page?”

6. “Which child is the tallest?”


You get the point….math is literally all around us, we just need to open our eyes to it! Better yet, ask them to come up with their own math questions about a book, or page or idea.

Math at Home and in Nature:

We often think of math as calculations. This is arithmetic and it is an important part of math but there is so much more! We know that students who understand math visually and who develop their visual parts of the brain are more successful in math. So, let’s SEE the math at home and in nature.

– look for all sorts of shapes in: nature, pictures, toys, books, puzzles, cars, parking lots, buildings, etc. Name these shapes if you can and look at how rectangles come in so many forms – they can be long and skinny or almost like squares. Many kids think that triangles are only triangles if they have 2 or 3 equal sides because most toys and books only show these types of triangles so they would benefit from seeing all sorts of triangles including scalene (triangles with no equal sides).


You can also start to talk about the attributes of shapes. How many sides – what are sides? How many points or corners? Parallel and non-parallel sides, etc.


We want to nurture children’s innate curiosity –so ask them what they wonder about. How many sides does a circle have? Can a shape have more than 5 sides? Kids often wonder some pretty profound things, some of these ideas they can figure out or look up while others might require some further math learning.


This is a mathematical process as it helps us to make sense of things so you can ask your kids to sort their toys or a pile of blocks, dominoes, cards, etc. in any way they want but they have to describe their ‘rule’. Better yet, make it a game! They categorize their toys into 2 or 3 piles and you have to guess their ‘rules’ for each pile. You can incorporate this into cleaning up their room by asking them to put away all of their toys into ‘like groups’ (however they define this – stuffies, dolls, trucks, etc.) and younger children can work alongside
an older sibling if needed (collaboration!).



measuring lengths, weighing, and estimating measurements are another facet of math that we often forget about. If you have a scale, practice guessing how much things weigh and then weigh them (how much do YOU think a carrot weighs?). Kitchen scales are great tools for this, especially for food items or lighter items. Using measuring cups and spoons, kids can explore volumes of containers. You can ask them what they think holds more a tall skinny container or a short fat one (think capers jar versus tuna can). Here’s a fun one you can do with popcorn: take a piece of paper and roll it into a tall cylinder and then with another piece of the same size paper roll it into a shorter cylinder.
Tape them shut and then ask your children to predict which one will hold
more popcorn or will it be the same? It’s the same size paper so many
predict the capacity will be the same….carefully fill each with popped
popcorn and then measure the amounts that fit into each with a measuring
cup…try it out and see what happens.


Baking and Cooking

– Involving your kids with cooking and baking is a great way to see the math in everyday life. Cut a piece of celery into 10 pieces – what fraction is each piece? Does it matter if they are the same size? Even if you don’t know all the answers, it is valuable to pose the questions. Baking is especially valuable as they are getting used to using measuring cups and understanding that when we need ¾ cup we can use ¼ cup 3 times or we can use ½ cup + ¼ cup….great learning here, especially understanding why this works! If you are doubling or halving recipes, even better!



If you are kids are with you at the store, this is another great opportunity to make a game out of math. Have the kids estimate the total cost of all of the items and see who gets closest. If your kids are quite young, you can start by asking them to round the cost of any one item to the nearest dollar by asking them to consider which it is closer to (is $2.45 closer to $2 or $3? How do you know?) – By the way, we want to do this with meaning, so have your kids determine if it is below or above the half-way mark, rather than tricks like ‘if it’s five or more round up’ (which only works in base 10  and doesn’t help students to develop understanding).


 Math in Nature:

I have to at least mention the math in nature in this post! There are some pretty cool ratios and patterns, such as Fibonacci’s series that can be found in nature. The Fibonacci series starts with 1, 1, 2, 3,.. and can be continued by adding the previous 2 values to find the next value. So after the 3 comes a 5 (3 + 2), then 8 (5+3), …you can keep going as long as you want! The spirals you see in the pictures below follow this series! Nature is also a great place to look at quantities and shapes! How many leaves are on a tree? How many blades of
grass in a yard? These are BIG numbers that kids often have trouble understanding unless they can SEE what they might look like :).


These are all very general examples but I wanted to open your eyes to the possibilities and to help you see how you use math daily, even when you don’t think of it as math. If your child gets frustrated remember to remind them that struggle is an important part of learning. In fact, if they aren’t struggling, then we aren’t challenging them at the right level. We want kids to engage in productive struggle and so we need to reframe struggling to understand something from being viewed as bad or to be rescued from, to being a normal part of the learning process. Along with teaching and modeling the growth mindset, this creates resiliency. (Important side notes: if the problem is way too hard, this is NOT productive struggle. Additionally, you want your child
to have success, along with struggle, so they enjoy playing these games
with you.)

Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll give you some websites and activities you can do with your children! Remember to be positive about math, its uses and the struggle to figure things out.

Have fun learning with your kids!

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