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Living Math

Updated on June 12, 2015

Hands-on, Real Life Math Experiences

In a child's early years, math is actually play. Counting, stacking, sorting, and balancing are all fun activities that develop mathematical reasoning.

Don't separate math from fun. Don't kill a child's natural love of mathematical play by insisting all mathematical concepts be relegated to a textbook or a workbook once she reaches the elementary years. By using math in daily life, especially in games and playtimes, not only will your child avoid the "math dread" so many of us have, but he will also end up with proficiency in many math skills. Math will come alive and become living math.

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Learning Math Through Play

Whether it's deliberate on your part or not, these activities all benefit math comprehension. There are ideas on this list to suit everyone from preschoolers to upper elementary students.

Just look at the math display pictured below. In the eyes of a child, these are TOYS, not "math manipulatives." Do you have attractive, engaging math toys in your home? Consider the list. Most of them are inexpensive.

  1. sorting buttons, counting bears, or beans
  2. board games -- any games that require moving pieces after a roll or spin, Monopoly, Battleship
  3. card games -- UNO, SkipBo, War, Rummy
  4. math bingo
  5. tangrams and other shape blocks or number rods
  6. dice games -- Yahtzee
  7. following recipes while cooking
  8. memory -- matching the problem with its answer
  9. sorting pom poms or dry pasta into egg carton sections
  10. saving and spending money
  11. dominoes
  12. scales, tape measures, and rulers
  13. hundreds chart
  14. timers, clocks, and stopwatches
  15. abacus
  16. pattern blocks

Living Math - a Charlotte Mason philosophy

Those who homeschool with a Charlotte Mason approach often speak of living books, living science, and living math.

What is living math, anyway?

Simply put, living math is real math, used in daily life to solve actual problems or to play games. It is math outside of worksheets and textbooks and instead inside the context of solving relevant problems -- how can we double this recipe or how much money will I have to save each week to be able to buy my brother a birthday gift?

So with living math, textbooks or worksheets are never used, right? Well not exactly. As long as life is breathed into the curriculum, textbooks can still be part of a living math program. But to use a living math approach, you have to be very deliberate to add the daily use of math to solve life's problems and to have fun.

To read more about living math, download the Winter 2007 Charlotte Mason Educational Review from Childlight USA. Look for the great, 2 page article called "Making Math Meaningful" by Dr. Milton Uecker. It offers seven great strategies that you can incorporate into your homeschool math experience. And read Miss Mason's own words about math as well.

The Best Math Resource

These books are for mom or dad to plan some fun games and activities for math learning. Armed with these ideas, you won't hear groans "Oh no! Not math again!" Instead, you'll hear, "Horray! We can play a game!" Or you get a note like this one that my daughter gave me after a day when we incorporated a game from Family Math.

Family Math
Family Math
This book is a fantastic resource of math brainteasers, games, and activities all meant to be done by a parent and a child (or children). If you want to make math more fun, put away the textbook for a day and pull out this volume! This is the book that got me the sweet note above. If you want to begin implementing living math, this is the ONE book I'd recommend.

Practical Math Ideas from Real Moms

These blog entries from real, homeschooling moms will inspire your math learning!

25 Super Cool Math Board Games: Easy-to-Play Reproducible Games that Teach Essential Math Skills, Grades 3-6
25 Super Cool Math Board Games: Easy-to-Play Reproducible Games that Teach Essential Math Skills, Grades 3-6
Get kids fired up about math with this big collection of super-cool reproducible board games that build key skills: multiplication, division, fractions, probability, estimation, mental math, and more! Each game is a snap to make and so easy to play.

Living Math Books

These are just good books. But they happen to include mathematical concepts. So they are perfect for a living math curriculum.

For book lists of even more living math titles, visit Penny Gardner, Ohio Literacy Resource Center, McGraw Hill, or Living Math.

And for more about the use of literature in math instruction, see Mathwire.

A concise article that's worthy of a read is How to Use Leveled Readers in Math. You'll find a step by step approach.

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale
Visit Teach with Picture Books blog for some great ideas for this book.

What's Your Angle, Pythagoras?

What's Your Angle, Pythagoras? (Charlesbridge Math Adventures)
What's Your Angle, Pythagoras? (Charlesbridge Math Adventures)
I love how this picture book brings the Pythagorean theorem to life with clear illustrations and an engaging narrative.

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table
For free lesson plans and printables to accompany many of the Sir Cumference titles, visit Homeschool Share.

Homemade Math Manipulatives and Games

I love this blog post explaining How to Use Math Manipulatives. Keep MIchele's recommendations in mind as you implement these great resources.

Math Curricula

Research these options for a living math approach.


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