When you think back to learning math in elementary school, you probably remember sitting at a desk crunching numbers on paper, working through problems with a sharp pencil in hand. If you were lucky, you might have been able to use a calculator or another tool such as a ruler, depending on the curriculum. And while these classic classroom activities still hold a place in the education of today’s youth, teachers are looking beyond the worksheet to help boost interest and comprehension of mathematical concepts.
Learning about math by utilizing items or activities in the real world is highly engaging. It makes math come to life, encouraging resistant learners to open their minds and make new connections, while top learners understand concepts on a deeper level. A math teacher might take a walk in the woods to teach students basic geometry concepts, or lead the kids to the school cafeteria to whip up a snack and learn about fractions and measurements.
“Independent of school, mathematics is a central aspect of how children and adults solve challenges in their lives and complete tasks in their everyday and professional lives (e.g., Goldman & Booker, 2009; Nunes & Bryant, 2010; Roth, 2011). Furthermore, researchers have argued that these informal experiences represent critical resources and supports for mathematics learning in formal education settings,” according to the study Mathematics in Informal Learning Environments: A Summary of the Literature.
For parents, every day presents an opportunity to help underscore the math education your child receives, helping them to make connections and better understand teachings. Be inspired by the educational movement of learning math outside the classroom and watch your child blossom. Here are some simple yet powerful ways to get started.
Whether it’s to pick up groceries, buy new clothes or splurge on a new toy, take your child shopping and go through the entire purchasing process. How much money do you have versus how much the item costs? If items are a certain percentage off, how do you calculate that? What about sales tax? You’ll be adding, subtracting and exploring percentages all in a real-world setting. This can be particularly fun if a child has their own money from a recent birthday or other gifting experience. How many things from their wish list can they get without going over?
From making a meal to baking dessert, food is fun and educational. For young students, measuring ingredients is the perfect way to teach fractions. Show your child how a half cup compares to a full cup so they can see fractions in action. For bigger kids, encourage problem solving by blending measurements. For example, you need two tablespoons for the recipe but only have a teaspoon for measurement. Explain how this can be solved because three teaspoons equal a tablespoon, and since you need two of them, two times three equals six teaspoons to get the correct amount.
A simple walk in the park provides fresh air, exploration of the natural landscape and a peek into the world of mathematics. Wait, what? Yes, so much of nature incorporates math, it’s actually quite incredible. For younger kids, take a walk and identify three-dimensional shapes in nature, such as a sphere, cylinder and cone. Symmetry is another important mathematical concept common in nature, such as in a butterfly’s wings, a leaf or flower. A spider’s web may provide a lesson on geometry, plus you can measure radius and calculate the circumference. Go on a nature hunt and see where your explorations lead you!
Whether you’re taking a road trip or simply walking to a friend’s house, traveling can be a fun way to explore time estimates and mathematical calculations. Practice looking up online distances between two points. Then calculate how long it will take to get there by car versus walking. Older kids might be able to practice calculating fuel usage on trips, or identify detours that save time. You could even discuss the cost of gas so children understand the impact of travel on the family’s budget.
These are just four simple ideas for learning math in everyday life. From telling time to Bricks 4 Kidz classes and camps, there are always opportunities to help your child understand math outside the classroom. The key is to speak up and point out when math is being used. With practice, kids will soon be pointing out those instances to you!