Tag Archives: fun math

Recreational Maths

I’m pretty sure most homeschoolers know Vi Hart’s videos, but just in case there’s anyone left who doesn’t, they’re really fun math videos.  We watch once occasionally just for fun and then get our doodles on or just go, “Hey, wow!” and leave it at that because we know we don’t have it in ourselves to make that many cookie tessellations.

But the other day, we got onto the hexaflexagons and got quite inspired.


Elementary math has to involve a good bit of drudgery practice for most kids to get fluent, but we’re always trying to balance that with tricky problems that make you really think, games instead of just drills for the practice, real world practice like cooking and measurement, and math whimsy, like the hexaflexagons.

Weird Math

We’ve been doing “fun” math word problems here lately.  I think nearly everyone in homeschooling already knows about Ed Zaccaro’s great series of books, including Primary Challenge Math, but in case you don’t, his books are wonderful.  I have been looking forward to using Primary Challenge Math for awhile.  It explains a type of problem, then gives three different levels of problems about it.  It’s hard to say exactly what makes it so appealing.  The math isn’t so different from what’s in many quality word problem sets.  However, the way Zaccaro lays it out is fun and engaging and not overwhelming at all.  The boys have enjoyed this.

Second, we have done a few problems from the bizarre book The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math.  The problems in this book all involve monsters and impending doom.  If you can solve the problem, you’ll survive and if not, then you’re done for.  Each problem also includes a math lab to explore, which is fun.  We got this at the start of the year and have only done a few, but it’s been a neat thing to have on hand.  Some of the problems, such as about probability and statistics, will be better suited to fourth grade anyway.

Finally, I have finally taken out an old favorite of mine, Louis Sachar’s Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School.  I adore this book and used it for fun when I was teaching sixth grade math.  I haven’t seen people mention using it as a resource, which makes me sad.  More people should know about it!  The opening chapters give math problems where each letter stands for a digit 0-9 and you have to figure out what each is by looking at the whole problem.  For example, four + eight = twelve and elf + elf = fool.  It’s good mathy fun.  The rest of the book gives amusing logic problems.  It is already a big hit here.

Polyhedra in the Meantime

Here’s another post that languished without me getting around to posting it for a couple of weeks.  But hey, now it gets to have a pretty picture of some geometry adorning our Christmas tree, so it’s more festive now anyway.

BalletBoy has hit a bit of a math wall.  He’s been slowly trudging his way through Math Mammoth Blue.  He made it through nearly all of the parts of the various special topic books, like Clocks and Measurement, and through both the Place Value 3 and Multiplication 1 books, which are the heart of the third grade sequence, along with Division.

Then we hit a snag.  He knows his facts, but memorization has never been his strong suit.  He can run through the whole multiplication table with the flash cards in about six minutes.  But it’s not good enough to get him through division, which is so slow it’s at frustration level for him.  He’s only made it through half of the book and the second half will be even slower going.  Thus the the need for some breaks.

Cover of: Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter by Cindy NeuschwanderCover of: Primary Grade Challenge Math by Edward Zaccaro

In the meantime, while we run drills and practiced things, we’ve had more of a chance to look at some of our other resources.  For one thing, we revisited geometry and make a little booklet of the polygons with cute smiley faces.  Then we did a shape scavenger hunt and made a little picture of them all outlined.  The tiles in the Metro are all hexagons, you know.  We also found areas and perimeters and played around with graph paper.  Some of the popular Sir Cumference books have been read recently here for this, though we’ve also been reading The Number Devil aloud as well, so math read alouds have abounded.

Also for geometry, we made the polyhedra models we’d skipped in Math Mammoth earlier.  I went to Worksheet Works to print out a bunch.  The kids made cubes, tetrahedrons and octahedons.  I made a truncated icosahedron, otherwise known as a buckyball.  When we colored them, they came out so pretty that the Husband said they should be Christmas ornaments, so we made some more for the tree.  That’s an icosahedron decorating the tree there.

photo (74)

We played around with measuring a little more and have especially enjoyed doing a few of the measuring dot to dot puzzles found at Math Pickle.

We’ve also finally started doing Ed Zaccaro’s Primary Challenge Math.  I saw Ed Zaccaro speak at a conference last year and just loved all the things he had to say about math and problem solving.  I had been concerned that some of the stuff in Primary Challenge Math might be too challenging, but it has turned out to be the opposite.  It’s perfect fun math for my kids.  As we’ve gone back to the Singapore Challenging Word Problems a little more, I’ve found that one of Zaccaro’s strategies, to plug in easier numbers for more challenging ones, has worked really well for BalletBoy.

Math Split

Well, it’s happened.  Mushroom and BalletBoy have been on different levels with different things for awhile, even using different things occasionally.  However, biting the bullet to do two different paths with math feels like a big leap for us.  But we’ve done it.

BalletBoy’s Math


BalletBoy is continuing with Math Mammoth.  We use the blue series, which breaks the topics up into separate books.  He’s currently working on Place Value 2 and Addition and Subtraction 2b, with a little bit of Introduction to Fractions thrown in.  He’s also working on the Singapore Math Challenging Word Problems.

I’ve never done much of a post reviewing Math Mammoth here, but I just want to sing its praises for a moment.  I really love how Math Mammoth takes a topic and slowly teaches and circles around different ways to approach it.  The books are deceptively simple.  When I first began using it, I was concerned that they were too simple and that they were too structured.  I worried it wasn’t conceptual enough.  However, I have come to see that by giving kids really incremental steps, letting them have a crutch, such as an intermediary step in a simple problem, then gradually taking it away, is really useful for many kids.  I think that for really math-loving kids or kids who like solving problems or intuit steps, it would be tedious, but for BalletBoy it’s just right.

We’re also really enjoying the Challenging Word Problems.  He’s doing them a year behind, so he’s about halfway through the first grade problems.  I know they’re just first grade math, but occasionally the challenge problems make me pause and think for a minute before I’m sure I have the answer!  It scares me a bit for the future.  If this is first grade math, what will it look like in fifth?  Nonetheless, I’m really impressed with how these have taught BalletBoy how to break a problem down and show his work.  He doesn’t always get the challenging problems right, but he’s getting better at them.

As always, we read math books and play games.  BalletBoy kicked my butt in Corners the other day and he honed in to read about negative numbers with Mushroom on the sofa too.

Mushroom’s Math


Math Mammoth and Challenging Word Problems was not working for Mushroom.  Or rather, sometimes it was fine, but a lot of the time, it was a disaster.  He would get 20 problems right, then after finding out he got one wrong, he would get the next 20 all wrong, as if he was trying to prove to me that he was wrong all the time.  Basically his anxiety was kicking in, stopping him from finding any success.

So I decided to let him catch up with Miquon.  Because we were never using it as our primary program and only doing it occasionally, he’s only halfway through the second book, the Red Book.  I bought the next two, but it’s good that he’s only in the Red Book because he needs some confidence builders.  I also bought him another confidence builder, the Usborne Big Book of Sticker Math.  This is mostly first grade math.  It’s simple stuff, but he seems to like it.

I also bought him a math journal.  Here’s some of the things we’ve put in it so far:

  • math using dollar and coin stickers
  • a couple of brain teasers
  • living math books based math – for example, we read Loreen Leedy’s 2×2=Boo at Halloween then he practiced easy times tables in the journal
  • shopping math with the Lego catalog
  • practice math for more practice so he can keep getting more fluent with math facts
  • Miquon-like lab sheets

I want to do more with the math journal.  A thread on a certain forum pointed me to this page, where most of the stuff is a little too easy and not exactly my style, but gives a few starting point ideas for younger kids doing math journals.  Blog, She Wrote also has some good math journal related posts.

I want to keep up the Miquon, but one of my main things for Mushroom is the realization that while it’s more work for me, he really needs to be seeing lots of resources, doing things in a more spiral way.  It grates on me, really.  I believe in mastery.  But I also believe in teaching the kid you’ve got.  If Mushroom needs me to alternate between games, storybooks, worksheets, manipulatives and back around again, then I guess I’ll do it.  I’m looking at resources like Games for Math and Family Math for ideas.

To round things out, I’m upping the math games for Mushroom, especially games like the RightStart card game Corners and the game Knock Out, both of which encourage kids to be able to break numbers up and see their relationships more easily.  I also have ordered him addition and subtraction wrap-ups, which a friend showed me, but we don’t have them quite yet.  I’m letting him play more math games online.  He usually goes to Sheppherd Software, which has a whole lot of games and links to more.  I’m especially fond of this one, which allows kids to practice facts quickly.  Free Rice is another good quick resource for math practice, one with a nice social benefit (they donate rice to people in need).

In the end, I’d like him to end up in more or less the same place as his brother at the end of the year, so I’m looking at BalletBoy’s Math Mammoth table of contents as a guideline for skills I’d like him to achieve.

Math Picture Books

We’ve gotten back to math picture books in the last week or so.  Last year, we didn’t do a formal math curriculum for kindergarten, so games and picture books were a cornerstone of what we did.  This year, we’ve moved away from using them, but I picked out a few things at the library and pulled some stuff off the shelves and I was reminded of how much fun math picture books can be.  There are many, many math picture books, but here’s a few of our favorites.

Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base
This little tale is part environmental parable, part seek and find book and part math.  The numbers of all the different elements in the story ascend and descend in different ways – counting, doubling, prime numbers, multiplication.  It’s a fascinating little book that can be read again and again for different elements.

One Grain of Rice by Demi
Demi is such a great illustrator.  I like her detailed art with its Asian influences.  The kids like her use of shiny gold.  She’s also a good storyteller.  This book tells an old folktale with a mathematical lesson.  As a reward, the emperor agrees to give a woman a single grain of rice on the first day and double it every day for a month.  Obviously, emperors should be made to study more math.

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumisa Anno
Any of the Anno books could have made my list.  We own two of the Anno’s Math Games books and I also think Anno’s Counting House is an excellent book for learning what combinations of numbers add up to ten.  However, we’ve been enjoying simple numbers this week, looking for patterns and counting things out.

Math-terpieces by Greg Tang
This is one of the kids’ all time favorites.  Each page shows a famous work of art and an element next to it you need to group into certain numbers in different ways.  Such as finding four ways to group Monet’s water lilies so they make eight.  Greg Tang has other math picture books, but this is by far the best, especially for younger kids.  I can’t sing this book’s praises enough.

More, Fewer, Less by Tana Hoban
We use this book much the same way we use Anno’s Counting Book, by looking at patterns and counting out numbers.  The book contains only photographs without text.  The reader is invited to compare sets of things in the photos – such as different colors of shoes or sandals to boots.  I also ask the kids to find certain numbers of things.

A Rambling Post About Weekends, Math, and Waffles

On Sunday, we had a lovely school morning, reading picture books for Story of the World and playing a math game I stole from the blog Tinderbox and tweaked a little.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, they do school on Sunday?  Yes, I’m a mean mama who makes her kids do school on the weekends.  But honestly, in our house, there is no Saturday and Sunday.  The husband works double shifts on the weekends, meaning that this isn’t really family time, so it’s easier for me if we just continue with our routine.  It’s only for an hour or two on any day.  Besides, if we do school on the weekends, it gives us the flexibility to not do it on other days if we’re busy or just need a break.

So here’s the game.  We’ve been working on greater than and less than with MEP.  I wrote down math problems in chalk in our backyard.  A wizard bewitched the backyard to protect his magic stone on the other side, but he had to leave himself a path.  To get across, you have to step only on problems with sums greater than 5.  On the way back, it’s reversed and you can only step on sums less than 5.  If you make a mistake, a magic bird (aka, yours truly) swoops down and carries you back to where you started.  By the way, if you’re wondering how big a rowhouse backyard is, well, that’s our whole space you see in the pictures.

The other day, I asked why is math so much easier with M&M’s.  Now I ask, why is math so much easier with sidewalk chalk?

They liked the game so much, that they wanted more math problems and circles to jump on.  Then they played for quite a long time.  The other day, Smrt Mama had a post about working independently.  Mushroom and BalletBoy aren’t quite there yet for long stretches of seatwork.  They can work a little handwriting or math alone, but I still need me to be pretty close at hand.  BalletBoy will read a book by himself, but I can’t count on more than ten or fifteen minutes of independent work at the most from the two of them.  That’s something I’m very much looking forward to building up over the next few years.

However, every once in awhile, we do something that sparks them to play with it for ages as was the case with this math game.  Taking advantage, I came inside to make our favorite breakfast: whole wheat peanut butter waffles!  I experimented with this recipe for pumpkin waffles, but they honestly weren’t all that, so I think I’m sticking with the peanut butter waffles and I’ll save my hoarded cans of pumpkin from the pumpkin shortage for muffins.  I like to make a huge double batch and freeze them so we can eat them for breakfast every day.  Just like I always feel better when I’ve got a pile of school things ready to go for the next few weeks, I feel better when there’s a fat bag of peanut butter waffles in the freezer to make our mornings go smoother.

I never do recipes on this blog, but I love this so much, I always want to share it.  Here’s hoping you’re not peanut allergic or gluten free or anything.  I add a little extra sugar so we can eat them plain, without syrup or honey.  However, you could cut the sugar down to a tablespoon if you wanted to top them more traditionally.  One of the best things about waffles is that the recipes are pretty generous.  If your batter’s too thick, you can add extra milk.  If it’s too thin, you can add extra flour.

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Waffles

1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. white flour
4 tsp. baking powder
generous 1/2 c. peanut butter
generous 1/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. oil or melted butter
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine all the ingredients.  If you’re super awesome, I guess you can whisk up the wet then fold into the dry, but I find it’s not needed for waffles.  Then cook ’em up in your handy waffle iron of choice and let them be fuel for doing math problems!