Heart to Heart


When teaching math, propose problems that show the importance of the new concept. For example, when introducing division, give a problem that will eventually affect your child in real life. “If you had a job making $200 a week, what would be your daily wages?” Now simplify, using concrete materials. “Missy, Kerri, Amanda, Sarah and you own a lemonade stand. You make $10. How will you divide the profits evenly?” Let your child use real one-dollar bills to figure out this problem. Repeat the process, using different materials. “Now, all of you want to play marbles. Here are 50 marbles. Divide them equally between the five of you.” Using a map and Monopoly houses, tell your child to divide their 25 acres into 5-acre lots and place a house on each lot. Next, tell your child that his Sunday School choir of 30 children needs to sit in 5 even rows for church service on Wednesday. Using a geoboard and rubber bands, have them find out how many children will sit in each row. For further concrete, hands-on practice, divide pennies, raisins, beans, tooth­picks, crayons … into groups of five. Once the child understands the process of division, they are ready to see it on paper.


Be sure to place the materials you’re using directly above the equation on paper. An example would be to give the child 15 raisins and have them divide them into 5 equal groups. Then write 15 ÷5 = 3 right below the raisins. Explain that the phrase “groups of” means to multiply so that 5 “groups of” 3 means 5 x 3 and that equals 15. Continue practicing using different objects and varying amounts, but continue displaying it on paper.


To better understand increments of 5, place a number line on the floor and have your child walk off 5, 10, 15, 20, 25…. Ask him how many steps it takes to get to 40, 15, 35…. Continue to use the number line to help them memorize their 5’s to 100.


Having established a strong foundation of understanding how division works, the child is now ready to progress to practice problems on paper, flashcards, and then to oral problems. At this point, application to real-life situations becomes essential. Using recipes, your child could divide the quantities of ingredients to feed a small number of people. Children could go to ˝-off or 25%-off sales and figure prices of items. Have them take your bills, and budget a monthly amount. This practice is much more relevant than all those problems in the workbook.


Which brings me to the question of what about workbooks? Workbooks are effective if used properly, but if abused can cause boredom and burnout. Workbooks should be used for practice once your child has performed an adequate amount of hands-on activities. They should never be used as a teaching tool.


Once again, keep in mind that workbooks are created for classroom teachers with twenty or more students. Much of the work is repetitious busywork, so feel free to cross out problems and entire sections, or remove entire pages of busywork, keeping only those needed for practice. For instance, instead of completing fifteen division problems, have them do three or four. To illustrate my point, consider that my daughter’s third grade math workbook continued to present problems reviewing time. Now since my daughter had mastered telling time in Kindergarten, it would be ridiculous for me to make her do those problems just because her workbook contained them.


Even in the fourth grade, about every other workbook page contained addition and subtraction drill, yet she practiced addition and subtraction every time she multiplied and divided, so why continue repetition? A child doesn’t need to practice a skill a million times to be proficient. If I had to bake a million pies when I first learned how, you can bet I would never have willingly baked another one. It only took a couple of times with a loving mother before I could bake pies on my own, and I still love to make pies. Too much practice is deadly; application is productive.


In recognition of how children grasp and assimilate new ideas, it becomes absolutely necessary to develop a strong foundational understanding of new concepts by providing successive, meaningful applications.


The following ideas are just a few sparks that hopefully will ignite a burning desire for pursuing a fun, meaningful approach to teaching these life skills:

¨              Play store using real items around the house and real money. Take turns being the sales clerk and the customer. Teach the proper way of counting change back to the customer. This facilitates the establishing of correct change when the child becomes the customer.

¨              Play restaurant with menus, waitress pad, and real money, taking turns being the diner and the waitress. Teach the child how to figure the appropriate tip.

¨              Play board games using money. Let the child be the banker.

¨              Using catalogs, select items, calculate prices, add shipping and handling, total items, and write a pretend check for the amount.

¨              While shopping, frequently allow the child to purchase your items, stressing the importance of verifying their change.

¨              Save coupons. Figure amount saved if coupons are doubled. Compare savings.

¨              Plan a meal and purchase the ingredients. Figure how much it costs to feed each person. Plan meals for a week and purchase on a fixed budget. Plan a party and purchase items on a set amount.

¨              Average weekly grocery receipts. Graph grocery receipts for a year. Determine which months of the year cost the most. Divide several receipts into the four basic food groups to ascertain the percentage of money spent for each group of food.

¨              Graph the monthly utility bills to determine which months are the most energy efficient and which months cost the most. Design a monthly utility budget based on your findings.

¨              Figure the gas mileage of each car.

¨              Total each car’s maintenance expenditures and compare their performance to establish the most economical vehicle.

¨              As a family, save for a vacation or something for the house. Show the importance of delaying gratification. Discuss the satisfaction of saving for something special. Keep a graph on the refrigerator that shows weekly or monthly progress towards your goal.

¨              Open a savings account. Illustrate compounded interest with imaginary amounts. Have the child enter all his deposits and interest earned.

¨              Using an imaginary amount of capital, each family member should invest in the stock market over a predetermined period of time. Follow and graph the performance of each stock, bond, or fund. Examine each other’s investment gains and losses. Compare stability of certain investments like utility stocks with junk bonds.

¨              Read articles in The Wall Street Journal and define such things as capital gain, tangible and intangible assets, international marketing, diversification, liquidation, dividend….

¨               Average grades. Graph grades to ascertain achievements.

¨              When studying measurements, measure things in your home.

¨              Build a birdhouse, balance beam, or bookshelves.

¨              Take measurements to determine the exact amount of materials needed to paint a room, roof the house, carpet a room, fertilize the yard, sow grass seed in a lawn, or make drapes for a window.

¨              Measure each room and compare the space. Figure square footage of the house.

¨              Before weighing different objects, estimate the weight of each object first to see how close they can get to the exact weight.

¨              Purchase vegetables and fruits from a neighborhood stand. Figure prices by pecks, bushels, and pounds.

¨              Convert measurements.

¨              Increase and decrease recipes to feed just your family, a large party, or a banquet.

¨              Read maps. Calculate miles to certain destinations in your city. Take imaginary trips across the country, calculating miles traveled. Figure gas expenditure and decide which mode of transportation would be the most economical.