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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 (Equals Series)
Family Math (Equals Series)

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?
What's Your Angle, Pythagoras?

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 (A Math Adventure)
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (A Math Adventure)

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.

Let your Comments Multiply Here

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    • profile image

      GrinningFool 6 years ago

      I think using math in the home for everyday is a good thing. I try to expose my kids to it as much as I can.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What do you call the colorful circles on the second picture? It looks so enticing, my kids will surely love playing with it. Right now they both love playing memory games online, geography games as well as Math cool games at because it saves me a lot of bucks, instead of buying toys... they just play games online but I make sure that they play games that can enhance their skills and can be beneficial in their studies.

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 7 years ago

      Living Math ... what a great idea. You present Maths in such a fun and interesting way. Lensrolled to My Mathematics Lenses lens. :)

    • javr profile image

      javr 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @javr: Returned to give this lens a Squid Angel blessing.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      Now, you know ... math was a top subject for me. I love how you have presented it artistically.

    • javr profile image

      javr 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love your ideas. Thanks!

    • profile image

      IscahDesigns 7 years ago

      You've made me want to learn math and teach math, at the same time! I want to get in and play with the toys! It makes perfect sense that kids would want to too!

      Brilliant site! I want to order everything! Why does money (or the deficiency thereof) get in the way?

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I love this idea of Living Math. As a special education teacher, the most important math I teach is the math that they will encounter in their every day lives. There is always the argument of teaching to the test versus meeting the real need of our kids. These are some great ways to teach the math that is relevant. "Living math is outside of worksheets and textbooks and inside the context of solving relevant problems..." This is so important!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Love your ideas! I'm blogging about living math and have a rather extensive booklist. Hope you visit! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Jamie this is an amazing list of resources. I live overseas like yourself and to have these at our finger tips just makes me smile all over. I am very keen to make many of the manipulatives with my three boys. Thanks again for this great warehouse of fun ideas!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Yay! I'm REALLY excited about this one! Lots of links I'll come back to... once again, I was going to blog this, but instead maybe I'll just link to you! hahah.


    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 8 years ago

      Love the ideas here. I'm homeschooling my son, and it is difficult to get him engaged when it comes to Math. I've scoured the internet looking for ways to make math fun and interesting, to no avail...until I came here. Finally, something cool and fun for him.

    • ILoveLegosToo profile image

      Tom Fattes 8 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Great information on starting children early with Math. I even consider games like Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly great ways to learn basic counting and counting money.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      A big help. I'm trying to incorporate more living math, & this is very helpful!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 9 years ago

      I love your homeschooling lenses :) this one has some great resources listed. And as a math teacher myself, I totally agree: make it practical. Certainly before age 6 there's no use forcing paper and pens on kids. And after that arithmetic should be complemented with practical calculations and spatial exercise (did you know PE is actually good for geometrical insight?).

    • profile image

      marsha32 9 years ago

      I'm glad I opened this one. I found a couple of links to put in to favorites :)

    • profile image

      cindykwest 9 years ago

      Okay, seriously, how many of these lens do you have?? :o) I added this one to my links, too!


    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Excellent resource. I like your approach. Lensrolled at

      Is this okay?

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      THANK YOU, Jimmie! I just read your blog today and had to check out this lens. With 3 little ones at home, trying to find math games for everyone is tricky. THanks for putting all these resources together in one place!! You saved my sanity :)

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I try and do a lot fo practical math with my eldest daughter. She loves to figure out prices on the menu or other places where we see prices or numbers. It's a lot of fun and educational too. 5***** for yet another great homeschooling lens. Thanks so much for the blessing on my Religious Jokes lens, I really appreciate it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      This is a great resource - thanks Jimmie! I'm having great success with the literature math books - but I'm going to have to try some of these other games etc.

      Lifestyle Homeschool

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 9 years ago from Arkansas USA

      More wonderful memories for this retired homeschool mom. Such great ideas. You have some very fortunate kids!

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Jimmie, your lenses have saved me so much time!!! Thank you for putting them together.

      Now to's a link to free math manipulatives and printables at Houghton Mifflin:

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 9 years ago from Royalton

      The Alligators came over to check out your lens and liked it so much that they are sending you some virtual math games. We always look forward to reading more of your lenses.

      Lensrolled to Hands-On Math and Fun Educational Games.

    • groovyoldlady profile image

      groovyoldlady 10 years ago

      I'd love to see a ink and plug for Math*U*See here. We love there curriculum so much that I wanted to sell it, but they don't market it thrugh individual dealers. It's practical, it's simple and it's FUN!