Q: I'm looking for ways to reinforce math skills with our children. We do the obvious, like grocery store estimation. Are there fun math books, games and activities to enjoy with our kids?
A: There are many captivating children's books with math themes, notes Marilyn Burns, one of the nation's top math educators and founder of Math Solutions, an organization that provides mathematics resources to educators around the country. For example, "12 Ways to Get to 11" (Aladdin, 1996) builds familiarity with the number 11. "Monster Math" (Sandpiper, 2002) reinforces an understanding of "one less," and "Monster Math Picnic" (Cartwheel, 1998) develops an understanding of addition combinations of 10.
Ask the school librarian for books that match your children's levels, or go to Burns' bibliography of math-themed children's literature at mathsolutions.com/documents/lessons_chart-2.pdf.
Jen Hataway, a math lab instructor at award-winning Beacon Cove Intermediate School in Jupiter, Fla., sends home the following list of games and says, "The games are appropriate for kids 5 to 95!"
-- "Angry Birds": trial and error, weights, angles and positions
-- Battleship: algebraic thinking, plotting coordinates
-- Blokus; Blokus Duo: algebraic thinking, area/spatial sense.
-- Bop It; Simon: auditory patterns, physical actions
-- Dicecapades: basic facts, physical actions, spatial sense, art
-- Dominoes: algebraic thinking, addition, subtraction, fact families
-- Farkle: patterns, probability, addition with large numbers
-- Legos/K'NEX/Lincoln Logs: angles, two- and three-dimensional construction
-- Mastermind: algebraic thinking, patterns, trial and error
-- Monopoly: addition, subtraction, money
-- Name 5: attributes, real-world application of skills
-- Othello: algebraic thinking, area/spatial sense
-- Perplexus and Rubik's Cube: rotate/reflect, matching
-- Rush Hour: algebraic thinking, rotate/reflect, area/spatial sense
-- Qwirkle: attributes, shapes
-- Rumis: algebraic thinking, volume, area/spatial sense
-- Sudoku: algebraic thinking, patterns
-- Trouble and Uno: algebraic thinking, patterns, counting
-- Yahtzee: algebraic thinking, patterns, addition
"You don't need to spend a fortune," says Hataway. Some of these games have free downloadable apps. You can pick up used ones at yard sales and thrift shops.
"Playing old favorites such as rummy or poker with a regular deck of cards promotes algebraic thinking, patterns, place value, basic facts and attributes," she says.
When playing with your children, Hataway offers these tips:
First, interject the vocabulary they are learning in math class, such as "vertical," "horizontal," "diagonal," "clockwise," "counter-clockwise," "column," "row" and so on.
"If you've got a card that's a diamond, explain that it's also called a rhombus," suggests Hataway. "This reinforces terms used in geometry."
Second, encourage them to explain their actions and predict outcomes.
"When it is their turn, ask them what result they expect and then review what happened, much as a coach might," says Hataway. "In math, it's important for kids to talk about their thinking."
Third, don't let them win.
"Doing so deprives them of true accomplishments," says Hataway. "Instead, model winning strategies and let them learn from your example. We want children to feel as smart as they really are; it does them no service to instill a false sense of success."
Fourth, keep it fun!
"There's lots of math within these games. Families can have a wonderful time finding it. But stop when the fun stops and start again another day!"
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)