Friday, July 6, 2012

Living with Math. It can be fun!

I first got to know Karen as our kids are of the same age. Like Pamela Gordon, Karen used to be a school teacher who specialises in Math. With so much changes in the Primary School Syllabus, I thought that it would be great to have Karen share some tips on "Living Math"!

Math can be as easy as we make them. Just teach them in the right order. That’s all! Ready?Magic formula.

Let me explain a little.

Because Math is abstract, we need to make it concrete; meaningful to the children. And when something is meaningful to us, even adults, it doesn’t get purged. Instead, it goes to our long-term memory and weave itself into our prior knowledge, and our web of knowledge grows.

Ideally, the children should be able to spend a lot of time, as much as they need, on the Concrete stage. They get to touch, see, feel and ‘live’ in the Math concepts. Once they’re very familiar with that, then they move on to pictures on papers. And then lastly, abstract refers to words and numbers aka symbols and problem sums.

Live Math, Breathe Math, Love Math!

There is no better way for children to learn Math concretely than in their natural environment – their homes!

I am sharing some everyday Math ideas. But the list is definitely not exhaustive and being the uncreative mummy I am, I’m sure many other mummies have already come up with these ideas and much, much more. And for mummies who haven’t, I hope my suggestions will give you inspiration!

Card Game – ‘Ten’ Fish

I am a huge fan of playing cards. Yes, the same kind we gamble with. However, because the cards are so representative, anyone who cannot read the numerals will still be able to count and play! As a result, playing cards make a good Math manipulative (for that reason, Uno cards are not as good). However, I would remove the picture cards.

Here’s a game which I find useful for Math learning. I was taught this game since young. Each player gets 5 cards and then 12 cards open up on the table. The rest of the cards will be placed face down, in a deck.

Players will take turn to make 10 (same colour) by using a card she has to ‘fish’ for another card from one of the 12 cards on the table. The two cards must add up to be 10. She then placed the fished cards in front of her, turned up.

Each player will then take turns ‘fishing’. If a player doesn’t have a card that can add up to 10 with any of the cards on the table, she can then draw a card from the remaining deck. If there’s still no match, she has to keep the drawn card and her turn is passed. The game ends when everyone has used up his or her cards. Or when there are no more fishes on the table.

Each player will then add up the numbers of their RED cards. The winner will be the one with the biggest total.

Of course, the game rules can change, and you can choose to add up the black cards instead. Change the rules as you deem fit and fun!

There are many games we can play with playing cards. Make up your own games and rules. Games have way more advantanges than disadvantages, especially if we do them right. Read more about gaming here from the fabulous Pamela Tan!


Car rides need not be boring. The numbers on the other cars’ licence plates can prove to be an interesting Math resource.

Here are some Math related activities you can do:

Addition of the digits
Comparison of numbers (for bigger kids)
Rounding up of numbers (for bigger kids)

To market, to market

I think markets and supermarkets are one of the best places to learn Math. And I know I’m not the only person who think so. The resources in a supermarket are endless! It’s a Math playground!

Here are some ideas:
Shapes (of the boxes; 3D)
Capacity (reading the labels)
Mass (best if you can find those with scales, especially in markets)
Money (counting; comparison)


Like the markets and supermarkets, the kitchen is also another fantastic Math playground! A child can partake in cooking/baking and they don’t only learn those skills, they can learn Math too!

Fractions (which can lead to division)
All the 4 operations
Capacity (play with the different receptacles)
Problem solving (I have 3 cupcakes but I have 4 people. What can I do for us to have equal amount?)

1st, 2nd, 3rd

Through games like car racing, or everyday affairs like eating, children can be exposed to oral cardinal (counting) or ordinal (positional) numbers. And when given a lot of exposure, children will then be able to relate these real life experiences to what they see in worksheets later on.

Informal Measurements

The power of estimation is to Math like the power of observation is to Science. Knowing how to estimate is a life skill.

Estimation is a skill that can be honed with frequent exposure. And these can be done at home.

Length (guessing and measuring items; do you know the length of your neck is half of your waist length? Or that your height is also the length of the span of one hand to another if you spread your arms out to both sides? Or that your feet size is equal to the length of arm from the elbow to the wrist? These are interesting facts about length and our body!)

Mass (know how heavy 1kg and 1g are)

Capacity (playing with water!)

Rhythm is a … Pattern!

Pattern is a very important aspect of Math. Math is pattern and vice versa. 1 x 2 is 2. 2 x 2 is 4. So on. That itself is a pattern. Music is also a pattern. So listening to music a great way of learning Math! Point out the rhythm of the music. Clap to it. Hear the beat!

Model Math thinking

We do a lot of Math in our heads but we don’t voice them out. For eg, oh it’s 4 o’clock! Time to head out soon!

If we need to talk a lot to get our children immersed in the languages, we should do the same for Math.

We are everyday problem solvers. By thinking aloud, we can help our children to do Math.

At the supermarket scenario, “Oh okay, this packet of rice costs me $18.75 which is about $19 and the bottle of milk costs me $2.10 which is about $2 so I will have to pay $19 + 2 which is about $21!”

Just by thinking aloud, I would have solved a problem, done addition and estimation. The child may or may not have heard it all but by hearing even part of the above thought, something is still learnt!

Once again, I like to stress that the above list is not exhaustive. And they are not commandments. Do what you enjoy and find it natural.

And do share, in the comments, if you have fabulous ideas too!

Karen Ang, mother of a soon-to-be 4yo was a teacher for 10 years before she quit to become a full time tutor. She was also trained as a LSM Teacher. Read more about the Learning Support Programme here. She was also in the panel for curriculum planning in school for the now replaced SEED programme. Karen can be contacted at

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