Hands-On Learning typography
Stef Layton

Real-Life Math


y oldest tactile son seems to think math is a four letter word. I can not really blame him considering that math has always given me indigestion. How does one mom (who may or may not have failed college algebra more than once) confidently teach her hands-on student Math?

One rare day, my oldest son was displaying outstanding behavior, the type of behavior that makes you think you should consider writing a parenting book. I did not want to ruin our great mood by pulling out the dreaded Math book. Instead, I suggested we play cards. I took the chicken exit out, but it was worth it to play Gin Rummy. This card game was a favorite pastime my mom used to play with me. The object of the game is to collect a hand where most or all of the cards can be combined into sets and runs. Once a player can “go out” everyone counts points on the table. If you are left with cards in your hand, their value is subtracted. About the third hand it dawned on me, Math skills had stealthily invaded our fun time.

Fast forward a few weeks to a weekend beach vacation when we found the Yahtzee game in a drawer. Immediately, my 1st grade son started counting dice. We were all laughing and cheering for one another. I don’t know of a math class where you count and cheer for one another, and believe me, I have been in a lot of math classes. So I began to seek out more ways for all of us to enjoy hands-on Math.

Grocery Store Math
While in a rush at the grocery store, I had one of the boys weigh some apples for me. I grew impatient as he weighed oranges, then avocados, and tomatoes. So I asked him which fruit was heavier and by how much. He answered quickly. We were doing math, and it was fun. On another day, I asked my oldest to help me calculate items on sale to determine if they were really a good value. After a few trips with grocery store math, I realized that it is not wise to try this out if you are in a hurry or if it’s the weekend. The other customers do not find it cute when they are in a rush and your homeschoolers are playing with the scale.

Show Me the Money

Count and roll coins together. Real money gives a great opportunity for practical application. Our boys are encouraged to save their birthday money and pay the cashier themselves. If you want to see your child practice math quickly, introduce them to sales tax.

Dirty Measurements

The best way to teach measurements is to get in the kitchen. Use real measuring cups and real spoons. I promise they are more fun than the black and white pictures in your books. I took the measuring cups and spoons outside one hot Florida day. Then I turned on the water hose. You would have thought we were at Sea World. The boys had a blast pouring, spilling, and getting drenched while learning about ounces and cups. Keep your quart and gallon containers for serious splash zone fun, or buy a cheap plastic set of measuring tools at the dollar store just for fun. Let your hands-on learners measure dirt and make mud pies. Just be sure to hose everyone down before they come back inside.

As my oldest has become more mature, I let him help me in the kitchen while making dinner. He reads the ingredients, measures, and even cooks.

a little boy wearing a blue shirt does a learning activity using raisins while at a table
Dump the Toys
Are you looking for more real life hands-on math ideas for little ones? Dump all your Legos, or dinosaurs, race cars, marbles, army men, etc and have them sort everything by color. Next, count by 5’s and 10’s. You can also group them from largest to smallest, or even divide them by 2’s. This is a great opportunity to start early and get on your young learner’s level with his favorite things. This is also a fantastic way to spend quality time with your child. Whatever games you play, be patient. Do not count for your children just to speed up the game. When we do everything for our children because we are in a rush, they end up learning less. Give them time. It’s great when students can memorize a math equation, but raising a child who can problem solve is far more valuable. Remember to reward your mathematicians with praise, plenty of high-fives, and scheduled game time. You don’t have to play a game every day, but it is worth it to schedule in game time on the calendar. In our home, it has become an incentive to get school work and chores completed (with a good attitude) because the boys know game night is coming up.
Math Games for Kinesthetic Learners

Write numbers on balloons and call out an equation. 5 – 2 = ? Let your students find the 3 balloon and give them a chance to pop it. Just keep track of which balloon numbers are left. Play the same game with water guns. Write numbers with chalk on outside walls, and let your students shoot the right answers.

Tempura paint has always been my favorite homeschool supplement to have in stock. It’s not just handy for art time. You can paint numbers on your tiles. I have done this all throughout preschool. I promise tempura paint will wash off with a mop. You can let your children hop scotch their way to correct answers to equations, or throw a bean bag onto the correct numbers.

My oldest son loves to head out to the trampoline. He can jump or flip as many times as the answer. It is fun for him and a great workout. I tend to do this when he has a bit too much energy.

measuring spoons
Scavenger Hunts & Challenges
Grab the tape measure and come up with some random challenges. Which is taller, the end table or the bath tub? Combine this with an anatomy course. How big is your head? Arm? Leg? Use a ruler and do the same thing. Which is longer, the fork or the marker? You can also pull out a kitchen scale to weigh and compare toys. How many Legos does it take to reach 1lb?

Use small clocks children can change themselves to play with time. What time will it be in three hours? What time was it 45 minutes ago? What time does your favorite television show come on?

Always encourage your learners to help clean up! A great saying is, “many hands make a big job small.” I have told my boys we will continue to do these fun math games if we all help clean up.

You do not have to have a tactile learner to try these fun hands-on real life math opportunities. You might be surprised how they make any child’s math skills stronger. It’s all about repetition in different forms.

Now you will be able to easily answer the “when am I going to use this in real life” math question we asked our parents.

legos built to look like land and ocean
measuring tape end

“It’s great when students can memorize a math equation, but raising a child who can problem solve is far more valuable.”

Stef script typography
headshot of Stef Layton

tef Layton has lived in Florida for majority of her life. She is wife to Thad, a golf course architect, and homeschool mom to two hands-on active boys.  When she’s not planning the next great field trip, Stef enjoys yoga and tennis.  You can keep up with their fun hands-on ideas on Twitter or Instagram @StefmLayton.