Math talk: strike up a conversation with your little learner

Increasingly, teachers are encouraging parents to employ “math talk” or integrating mathematical concepts into everyday conversation and activities. Threading numbers and problem-solving into daily routines, both in the classroom and at home, shows how natural and important these skills are and can help avert the “when will I ever use this?” question that too often arrives with higher-level math.

Math talk can and should begin in preschool and continue in age-appropriate ways. Sometimes it’s just a matter of using specific words in asking for help such as: “How can we divide this fruit so everyone has three slices on their plate?” or “Let’s measure whether this chair will fit under this desk.” Other times, it involves asking kids questions about their reasoning, such as, “Why did you choose that answer?” or “Is there another way of doing that?” Still, other times, it can be fun to strategically plan a few teachable moments. Here are 5 quick and easy ideas geared toward preschool through early grades:

Pair ‘Em Up - Many objects are often used together in pairs. Some examples are salt and pepper, shoes and socks, and spoons and forks. Can your child think of some more?

Math on the Street – Walk along a neighborhood street with your child and play “I Spy a 3-D Shape.” The winner is the first person to find each of these shapes: sphere, cylinder, cone, cube, and rectangular prism. You may see the shapes in balls, streetlight globes, trash cans, fence posts, bird feeders, watering cans, ice cream cones, road-construction cones, birdhouses, doghouses, or cardboard boxes.

Math at the Store – Take your child shopping with you. Encourage reading the price stickers of items under $5.00. Then name an amount of money and ask your child if it is enough money to buy the item. For example, if a gallon of milk costs $3.49, ask “Is three dollars and two quarters enough money to buy the milk? Is three dollars enough? Is four?” Or add, “How much change would you get back from a $5 bill?

Numbers All Around – Point out or ask your child to find numbers in the hundreds and/or thousands in newspapers, online, or books. While you are in the car, billboards and other signs are sources, too. Have him or her say the number and perhaps explain how great the number is in comparison to another number. Also, practice decimal points, percentages, and multiplication when shopping sales racks for back-to-school clothes and supplies.

Surveying and Graphing – Encourage your child to conduct a survey and tally the results. Have him or her pick a topic of interest, such as surveying friends and family on their favorite: color, song, sport, television show, or ice cream flavor. Once the results are recorded, he or she can use them to put together a tally chart, pictograph, or bar graph.