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Schermerhorn: Need help reinforcing math facts with children

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

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McHenry County educators do all they can to prepare your child for the skills they will need to be successful adults, but it’s not exclusively up to the teachers to educate your child.

Every day, math skills need regular reinforcement in your child’s world.

The fundamentals of math – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – are the foundation for the more complex math concepts to come. If a student does not master these – and when I say master, I mean can answer 7 multiplied by 8 in fewer than 10 seconds – he/she is destined to find math difficult and fall behind. Fractions, geometry and more cannot be grasped without a strong knowledge of basic math facts.

Being your child’s educator is not hard and can be integrated into everyday life. There are always the math drill sheets your child brings home from school. Putting a chart on the refrigerator where he/she enters the time it takes each day to complete a sheet is a good motivator. The focus is on your student doing their personal best.

There are more fun, family friendly ways. In a shoebox, put a deck of cards, two or more die, flash cards you can make yourself with index cards and an egg timer. This is the family math competition box. One game: Deal two cards and time how long it takes for your child to add them, or subtract the larger number from the smaller, or multiply.  Second game: Roll two, three or four die at a time and see who can be the first to add them correctly. Family members can compete to add, subtract or multiply the numbers on a flash card. One of the ultimate family games that incorporates math is Monopoly, and there is a card game called “24” one can order online or find at learning stores.

In the real world, nearly everything involves math. The grocery store is a plethora of math teaching opportunities.

“Susie, the macaroni and cheese is 99 cents per box, and we need to buy four boxes. How much will that total?” Susie might try solving the problem the hard way, adding each 99, or she might round up to $1.00 and add four times, then subtract four cents, or she might multiply $1.00 by four then subtract four cents. However she does it is great. If the answer isn’t correct, then you can take this moment to explain the different ways to figure it out. If she gets it right, ask her how she calculated it and whether she can think of any other ways to do it.

Play games with money. The American monetary system is more difficult than in other countries because it has denominations that are not just based on tens. Nickels, quarters and two and five dollar bills are examples of this. The household change box or jar – we all have one – can be used to help your child understand how to calculate money. Ask your child to total specified amounts with the change. Show them there are many ways to come up with the same total. For example, 50 cents can be two quarters, five dimes, three dimes and four nickels, and on and on.

Making change. It is amazing how many young people and adults have difficulty calculating the change they should get back after a purchasing transaction. Even adults in commerce rely on their cash registers or calculators. So how can anyone be sure they get the correct change back? Practice with your child. If I pay $20 and the groceries cost $16.50, how much change should we get back?

Cooking and baking provide a perfect opportunity to learn units of measurement. Have them follow a recipe where they measure out teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, quarts, half-gallons. Making cookies requires all of these measurements. Ask why soda comes in liters and milk in gallons. Some containers are labeled in both systems.

Something simple such as measuring your children’s height is an opportunity to discuss the number of inches in a foot and feet in a yard. Flip the measuring tool and measure in metrics. Ask your child which measurement is better and why. Which one they choose doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are thinking about it. You are creating the important skill of inquiry in your child.

Children who can calculate math equations from many different angles will grow up to be the problem solvers of the future.

• Leslie Schermerhorn is regional superintendent of McHenry County schools.

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