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Hands-On Math Activities

By Marcia K. Washburn
We all teach some subjects we dont care much for, dont we? Math happens to be
my least favorite subject to teach. After all, Im a musician, not a mathematician.
Musicians count: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. Our idea of higher math is 1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-34-5-6.
In most subjects, I am an auditory learner, but in math, I am a kinesthetic, handson learner. Of course no one had heard of learning styles when I went to school, so I
struggled through Algebra II and determined never to take another math class.
And then came homeschooling. Not only did I take several more math classes, but
I also had to explain the concepts to our sons. God has a sense of humor, doesnt
Like it or not, math is an essential subject and our children really do need to
understand it. The logical thinking that children learn by doing math exercises is
An old axiom says: What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I
understand. Even those individuals who learn math easily enjoy playing games now
and then. Here are some math games, in approximate order of difficulty, to get you
Egg Carton Math
Using a marker, number each cup of an egg carton from 1 through 12. Using 78
beans, buttons, or pennies, have the child count, placing the appropriate number of
items into each cup. Having the total correct number of items to begin with (78) is a
good accuracy check.
Measuring for Beginners
Use non-standard items such as a paper clip, a crayon, a childs foot, a piece of
string, etc., to measure a variety of objects placed on a tray. Decide which objects
would best be measured with a smaller unit, such as a paper clip, and which items
would best be measured with a long piece of string. Size, shape, and accessibility of
the object could all be factors in the decision. Objects you might measure include
these: rolling pin, pencil, football, book, toothpick, etc.
Make a chart to record the childrens answers. The mechanics of measuring are still
difficult for young children. Saying This toothpick is two paper clips long, makes
more sense to a child than saying This toothpick is 2 inches long.
Cut several 3 x 5 file cards in half. If you wish, the cards may be cut into the shape
of fish. Write one single-digit numeral on each card. Draw the same number of dots
on the card so a younger child can count them if he doesnt yet recognize written
numerals. Place a paper clip on each card. Place the cards in a shoebox (the fish

tank), number side down. Glue or tie a small magnet to the end of a wooden dowel
(purchase at a craft or hardware store); the magnet attracts the paper clips onto the
fish. The player uses the dowel fishing rod to catch two fish cards. The child must
then add the two numbers.
Note: This activity also works well for older children; make it more challenging by
having them subtract or multiply the two numbers.
Recognizing patterns is an important skill. Teach the concept of patterns by using a
paper chain or colored beads or a variety of types of noodles to make a necklace.
Think of a way to design it so that the colors or patterns will keep repeating. A
simple pattern would be red, yellow, green, red, yellow, green. Let the children
experiment. See if they can find the patterns in each others designs.
Logic Cards Game
This activity uses Bingo-like cards and colored squares to teach elementary logic.
The parent and each child will need one card with three rows of three squares each.
Each square should be about 1 inch in diameter. Each person will also need nine 1inch square pieces of paper, three each of red, yellow, and blue.
The teacher places her nine colored squares on her own card, taking care not to let
the children see the pattern.

All of the same-colored squares must touch another square of the same
color on at least one full side. Corners only touching doesnt count.
Demonstrate this to your children.
Vertical squares on the card are called columns. Horizontal squares are
called rows. Hence, reading from left to right, the verticals are Columns
A, B, and C. Reading from bottom to top, the horizontals are Rows 1, 2,
and 3.
Players take turns asking the parent what colors are in a particular row or
column. The parent states the colors in that row or column, but not
necessarily in order.
The object is for the players to figure out the parents secret pattern by
asking as few questions as possible. Students may discuss their ideas
after each clue.
It is helpful to turn the colored squares at an angle (with points facing up
and down like a diamond) until they are certain that a particular color
belongs in that square. When the color for that particular square has been
confirmed, the colored square can be turned to square up with the cards

After the children understand the game well, let them take turns being the leader
who makes the secret grid. This game may also be played with sixteen squares for
older students.
Three-Bean Salads

This interesting activity is adapted from Family Math by Stenmark, Thompson, and
Cossey.1 Each student needs a paper plate and about ten each of lima beans, red
beans, and black-eyed peas. Several recipes will be given; the students must
figure out how many beans go into each salad.
Rule: Every salad will require all three kinds of beans.
The students will actually use some elementary algebra to find the unknown
quantities. A formal knowledge of algebra is unnecessary, however; by
experimenting with the beans, they can find the correct answers. The recipes are
from Family Math (p. 135) and are numbered from easiest to hardest. Students and
parents may make up new recipes also. Older students may wish to make up their
own recipes.

This salad contains 2 lima beans, twice as many red beans as lima beans, 10
beans in all.
This salad contains 4 red beans, half as many black-eyed peas as red beans,
10 beans in all.
Lima beans make up half of this salad; the salad has exactly 2 red beans; the
number of lima beans is double the number of red beans.
This salad contains the same number of red beans as lima beans, 3 more
black-eyes than red beans, a total of 18 beans.
This salad contains 12 beans; half of the beans are red; lima beans make up
one-quarter of the salad.
This salad contains at least 12 beans; it has one more lima bean than red
beans; it has one more red bean than black-eyes.
This salad contains 3 times as many red beans as black-eyes, one more lima
bean than red beans, 8 beans in all.
This salad contains an equal number of red beans and black-eyes, 5 more
lima beans than red beans, no more than 20 beans.

Make math a part of your familys daily equation with these and other fun activities.
Marcia K. Washburn holds degrees in elementary and music education. She
homeschooled her five sons for nineteen years. This article is adapted from HandsOn Homeschooling in the Management for Moms series by Marcia K. Washburn. See
this and other homeschool resources at www.marciawashburn.com/index.html.
1. lawrencehallofscience.stores.yahoo.net/familymath.html

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally
appeared in the January 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, the family
education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on
the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on
your mobile devices.