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Helping Your Child Understand Real World Applications for Grade School Math

Updated on November 30, 2014

Challenges I Faced as a Student

One of the biggest challenges I faced, as a 4th and 5th grader, was knowing how math practically applied to the world around us. Often, I was assigned multiplication and division worksheets requiring timed proficiency and rote memorization. I understood the mechanics needed to solve however, I had difficulties understanding how it applied to our daily lives.

I believe that knowing how math applies, to the real-world, is key to a student's holistic learning experience that goes beyond the pure mechanics of problem solving.

Inspiration for this Article

Back in 2007, Professor James Blackburn-Lynch posted a video on YouTube that really resonated with me. He perfectly describes many of the same struggles that I experienced firsthand in school. He brings to light that math is more than just a string of algorithms and numbers. Rather, it's something that's all around us that we use everyday.

Professor James Blackburn-Lynch
Use this link if the embedded video below does not appear

Another inspiration is my daughter Miriam. In doing her homework, I saw that she struggles with some of the same concepts I did growing up. My hope is that this article serves as a guiding light for her, as well as others, to be successful in math!

Professor James Blackburn-Lynch


A great way to conceptualize multiplication is to look at a real-world example. First, have them count the number of marbles in the first diagram 1-by-1. Next, explain to them how multiplication can be used as a shortcut to easily calculate the total without having to count each one. This can be done by multiplying the total number of columns by the total number of rows. In this example, we have 6 columns and 5 rows. When multiplied together, we get 30 marbles.

Multiplication - Another Practical Application

Let's look at another practical application for multiplication that is used frequently. In this example, we're stocking up on soups for the winter. Today, they are on sale for $3.75. To calculate the total price, we have two options: 1) we can either add each can individually (Option A) OR 2) use multiplication (Option B).

It's easy to see that Option A involves the laborious task of adding each one individually. Going through this exercise will help them understand how multiplication can be used as a shortcut to solving this problem more efficiently.


What in the world is this division stuff about anyway? Let's take a look at a real-world example that children can easily resonate with. Here, we can see that there are 16 marbles that need to be equally distributed between 3 children. Using this this illustration, it's easy to see how division can be used to tackle this problem.

Adding and Subtraction Fractions

As a student, I understood the mechanics of adding and subtracting fractions, however it was puzzling to me why we had to incorporate a LCD (least common denominator). I found this web site to provide excellent insights into this question using slices of pizza as an example. Go ahead and spend sometime going through this website with your child:

Check out the explanation on Math Mistakes web site

Let's look at an example that easily illustrates why the parts have to be equal before they are added.

What subject did you find most difficult in school?

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I would love to hear your feedback. What are some of the topics that your child has struggled with?

Other Great Math Resources on Amazon


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