When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, we didn't have Gamecube or X-box, or videos and cumputer games. Instead, we played jacks or marbles. We always knew exactly how many marbles we had. I knew how many groups of two, three, or four could be made from my ten jacks. From simples games, we progressed to Aggravation, Monopoly, and elaborate card games. All these activities gave us an underlying numbers concept that made math at school seem simple.
I have been chagrined to find that my public school students and homeschooled tutoring students often don't know, even at upper levels, how to count their way around a simple game board. The educational systems used are not to blame. Rather, I think that the games kids play often have little to do with numbers and quantities. Parents will need to find real-life reasons for counting and performing various math operations with their offspring to offset the mind-numbing influence of electronic media.
Parents are the first teachers of their children. The first math learning begins long before kindergarten age. Wise parents begin early showing number concepts to kids by posing verbal problems and challenging their offspring to draw conclusions.
There are countless opportunities to teach basic math skills through games and household chores. Preschoolers should learn "how many?" at the same time they are driving you crazy with the "why?" question. Divert their inquisitiveness by suggesting that they count eggs, bars of soap, balls, socks, anything handy.
Once a child can count, he can play the simple games such as Canyland and Aggravation. Card games provide strategy and critical thinking challenges.
With my students, I teach ratios by using the 52 cards in a normal deck. I ask them to predict probability of choosing a king, for example, out of the deck. (4/52) Then we explore the chance of choosing any heart card (1/4).
Last weekend, my 23-year old daughter brought home a marvelous new game for us to play called "Settlers of Catan." Players had to amass raw materials to build roads, houses, and town. The game required forsight and math skills, and I recommend it to any game player for fun and math wisdom.
Children of elementary school age must learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Opportunities at home abound for teaching these concepts.
Ask "how many?" often--how many pairs of socks, how many individual socks, enough outfits for x number of days...It will help her a lot as she learns time and quantity and if she pictures plenty of real-life decision making ahead of math lessons.
Do we have enough cereal for the next week? How about if we have friends sleeping over? How many bowls of cereal do you think there are in the box?
Is there enough sugar to make ice tea, cookies, and bread?
How many slices of bread are in 1 loaf? So how many sandwiches can we make? What if they were triple-decker sandwiches?
Time: How much time will you need to get ready for bed? To type an instant message? To watch a movie?
When my son was thirteen, he dreamed of raising an exotic lizard. We asked him to research the project and tell us the cost.
Sam listed every item necessary, from UVB lamps to sand and the aquarium cost. He estimated how many crickets the critter would eat. He found a source on the internet where we could order crickets, and tacked on the shipping cost. He then measured the space in his bedroom to see whether a lizard aquarium would fit there comfortably, providing the square footage recommending for optimum bearded dragon health. Sam learned a whole lot more from this real-life project than from any math lessons I offered him all that year.