Making Sense of Math: Applying, Playing, Exploring
Does your child …
- Feel competent and comfortable working with numbers?
- Know how to check an exact calculation by estimating the answer?
- Know and choose between several methods of solving a math problem?
- Understand the relationship between the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division)?
- Use mental math efficiently?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then congratulations, your child is numerate! That is, he or she has numbers sense, the ability to use numbers flexibly and understand basic math concepts.
As the foundation for all later math study, numeracy ensures that students will be ready to approach progressively more difficult problems and subjects like algebra confidently and logically—without being overwhelmed. Like literacy, it’s an essential skill set for navigating through life.
But what if your child isn’t numerate? What if your he or she …
- “Hates” math?
- Doesn’t know how to estimate an answer to check its reasonableness?
- Needs pencil and paper to perform simple calculations?
- Isn’t sure how numbers and operations are related?
Well, just because a student isn’t numerate today doesn’t mean that he or she can’t become numerate tomorrow. Here are a few suggestions and resources you can use to help.
Developing Numeracy Skills
To help develop your child’s numeracy skills, it’s important to first understand how students make sense of math. Basically, it comes down to APE: applying, playing, and exploring.
- Applying their math skills to the concrete problems they face in daily life enables students to make sense of (and value) math—whether it’s learning to divide a candy bar between friends today or calculating their first paycheck tomorrow.
- Playing with numbers helps build their confidence and skills. The more they “play,” the more numerate they become. It’s also a simple way to help kids feel less threatened by math.
- Exploring math concepts in a structured way—as our students do in our Math, Science in the Kitchen, or Robotics Clubs—allows students to deepen their understanding and also reinforces their development of number sense.
Identifying the Right Activities
As you start to think more about how students make sense of math, you’ll begin seeing plenty of opportunities in your daily life to support your child’s growing numeracy skills. But you’ll especially want to seek out activities that:
- Offer plenty of practice estimating an answer
- Provide opportunities to choose between estimating an answer and calculating an exact answer
- Allow your student to use mental math
- Connect a math skill to real-world applications
- Encourage your student to describe how he or she solved a problem using math
Finding Grade-Appropriate Resources
Beyond these opportunities for daily practice, you can also find some great websites that offer math tips for parents and grade-appropriate skill-building activities and games for students. Here are just a few of our favorites:
- Math Playground offers dozens of games focused on practicing multiples, spatial awareness, logic, and more.
- GregTangMath.com offers interactive games as well as entertaining illustrations, riddles, and poems that teach math concepts.
- Count Us In includes more than a dozen interactive counting games designed to help students understand basic math concepts.
- Khan Academy features videos and practice exercises on topics ranging from K–8 math to multivariable calculus.
You can also support your child’s mastery of everyday math skills by sampling one of our fun, interactive math learning tools. For some additional ideas, use some of the math-related tips and activities here on our blog, like this creative coin-counting activity.
What do you do to help your child become numerate? Share your ideas with others in the comments below.