Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mondays Our Way:Math is for the Birds

If all of the homeschooling parents I know have one common fear, it's teaching math. Most of us rarely use it, barely remember it, and-let's be honest-don't even like it. I mean, who likes math?

My sister, that's who.

She's a total freak of nature, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. My little sister currently has her BA in Mathematics, is planning on getting her PhD in a couple of years, and is currently teaching a bunch of groaning high schoolers in the public school system....but while she loves to teach her first passion is math itself. Her love of math is freakishly strong; she loves it more than most people hate it. Case in point-

My sister has a math joke tattooed between her shoulder blades.

I know what you're thinking-yes there IS such a thing as a math joke, and YES she is the biggest nerd alive (even if her fellow math geeks consider her to be the 'inked rebel' among them). She's also a bonafide genius in the flesh. So naturally when it comes to teaching math to the kidlet's she's number one on my calling list.

I asked her recently what was the most important thing to teach little kids about math. Her answer? To be mathematical thinkers. Teaching children to think in mathematical type processes will help them succeed in their future math endeavors. Introducing concepts like "putting together" and "taking away" and "less than" "more than" and "equal to" introduce basic math skills to your children. It's very important to give small children opportunities to solve problems, to work with shapes, and to think in steps.

Does this mean it's time to whip out the math worksheets? Not unless you want to!

One of the best ways to help kids develop their mathematical thinking is by using manipulatives--or blocks, as my kids like to call them! Giving children blocks of different shapes and sizes gives them the opportunity to practice important mathematical basics like sorting, adding/subtracting/dividing/multiplying, and problem solving (how does one build a tower taller than themselves?). Blocks are, literally, the building blocks of mathematical thought process. The problem? It is nearly impossible to find a set of classic blocks these days. Lincoln logs, sure. Legos, sure-and of course those are great tools as well....but try to find a set of back-in-the-day good old wooden blocks and you're going to have quite an adventure on your hands! Trust me. The good news for you is I've already done the leg work and can tell you that the ONLY place I have been able to find a set of classic blocks is at All Children's [Exciting news/disclosure: I am working on an upcoming review and giveaway with these nice folks~so keep a look out for that!]

Another great math learning activity can be found in origami. Origami teaches children to work with step by step instructions, recognize shapes and patterns, build on their spacial skills, and gives kids the opportunity to become the teachers (an important part of learning, called a "teach-back") when they share their Origami art with others. You can find instructions for a ton of fantastic origami items of varying difficulty levels at

One of my very favorite ideas is building birdhouses. Building a birdhouse combines spacial skills, shape and pattern recognition, step by step thinking, and problem solving skills and can easily be incorporated with science as well as art. You can find birdhouse building kits for right around $10. I found a fantastic site online called Birdhouse Villages Collections, which has very reasonable prices and has a small book collection of bird guides as well.

After talking with Her Royal Genius Queen of Math Nerdom, I am no longer apprehensive about teaching math-to tell the truth, I can hardly wait to get started doing all of these fun, math skill building projects-and we'll be doing lots.....we've got to make some for the grandmas and grandpas too! Fun, education, and Christmas presents from Monkey all in one?

Math IS fun! [Don't tell anyone I said that.]


Beth in NC said...

Just coming over from SITS roll call.

I'm glad to know that my daughter playing with blocks and perhaps puzzles is helping her with math (in the future). Math terrifies me. My husband is a human calculator. Me, not so much. Ok, NOT AT ALL. I am LOST without my calculator. (How did I graduate from college with honors? I haven't a clue. lol)

Anyway, I love your blog. I am going to follow and keep up with you.


Scrappy Girl said...

I totally enjoyed finding neat ways to teach math...I hate it normally...but enjoyed teaching it to my homeschooler.

Jenny said...

Great ideas. Abby is always sorting, matching and organizing things just for fun. Those blocks look cool!

The Blonde Duck said...

Popped in from SITS! Does she seriously have that tatoo?

MrsM said...

I absolutely kid you not. She has a calculus equation, that she WROTE HERSELF, blue ink right between her shoulder blades. I guess it's more of a riddle than a joke though, because you have to solve it to get the answer (like anyone could actually do that). The answer comes out to be "I am a cutie pie".

There is no end to her nerdness.

Helene said...

This was such an interesting post filled with good info! I was amazed that my 4-yr old twins learned the concept of adding in preschool last year. The thought of having to help them with their math homework scares me...English was my thing, not math.

Thank you for sharing all this good stuff!

JennyMac said...

maybe I am the nerd since I didnt know a math joke COULD exist nor that someone would then tat in on themselves..which is actually kind of uber cool in a nerdy math way. LOL.

Muthering Heights and Other Senseless Sensibility said...

She whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?? I have to say, she is the only person I have ever heard of with a math related tattoo...

Stepfanie said...

Hi! Visiting from SITS! You have a very lovely blog!

I'm having 2 giveaways on my blog, enter them here at

Jenny said...

I have an award for you here: