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A chalkboard with numbers.

Children can discover the usefulness of math when you engage them in fun counting activities.

Playing by the numbers

By Martha Erickson

From eNews, September 16, 2004

Math plays an integral part in everyday life, and it's relatively easy to engage children in activities that build their skills and show them the fun and usefulness of math. You can have your children keep score at miniature golf or bowling; track their own growth--weight and height--on a chart in their bedroom; or try some of the other activities below to encourage your child to develop a positive attitude toward math.

In the kitchen Have your children measure the ingredients for their favorite recipes or calculate what time the dish will be ready according to the cooking time. To introduce multiplication, have them double or triple a recipe, and to teach simple division, have them divide a batch of cookies equally among all family members. Then show them how you can multiply the number of people times the number of cookies each has and come up with the total again (an important math principle). Even setting the table can involve a lesson in fractions if you have the kids fold the napkins in half, quarters, and eighths.

At the store At the grocery store have your children keep a running total of what you're spending and tell you when you've reached the limit. Or show them how to figure out the price per unit, then have them decide which box of cereal is the better value.

In the car On a road trip, have your children keep track of the miles to your destination and calculate what the odometer will read by the time you arrive. Or have them estimate your time of arrival at a certain speed. As their skills develop, help them figure out how many miles you're getting to the gallon. Give them simple, step-by-step directions, and heap on the praise as they solve these challenging problems.

Pocket money Children usually are highly motivated to learn the math concepts involved in keeping track of their own money. Engage them in figuring out how many weeks of allowance they'll need--or how many extra chores they'll need to do--to earn and save enough money for the new toy they want. Help them make their own "bank book" to keep track of what they have and what they can spend. To encourage saving while teaching a high-level math lesson, pay them interest on money they save for a certain period.

Martha Erickson is a developmental psychologist and the director of the U's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium.

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