Reinforcing Math Concepts

Common toys and shapes for kids: LEGOs, marshmallows, ping-pong balls in a bowl, balloon, road sign
FOTF/Cary Bates

Math is a part of life so why not reinforce concepts as you go about your daily routine? Here are some creative ways that other parents have found to do this: 

It's About Time

To help my son better understand how time works, we play a game. I ask questions like, "If we arrive in 25 minutes, what time will it be?" or "We have to be at school by 8 a.m. It takes 15 minutes to get there. When do we need to leave the house?" He looks at the clock and adds or subtracts to find the answer. It helps him relate time to real life.

—Cassia Elder

Fun With Math

My husband and I wanted to give our four kids a good foundation for learning. Here's what we did to help reinforce basic math concepts:

Count like an Egyptian. Our kids loved Play-Doh! We had them roll balls, cut squares or mold shapes into groups of 10, and then counted by 10s as they rearranged the groups into a pyramid of 100. We repeated this with other numbers.

Play games. Simple card games helped our children build important cognitive skills. Go Fish helped them recognize numbers and develop matching skills. War reinforced the concepts of greater than, less than and equal to. Skip Bo helped them count in order.

Build with limited LEGOs. Our kids chose six blocks to build one tiny creation. Next, they were able to choose two sets of six blocks to build something a little bigger, then three sets, and so on. This helped them understand multiplication; they saw how sets of a specific number of blocks increased a creation in size.

—Nicki Bishop

Edible Math

My mother, an educator, taught me to use food to teach math concepts so my kids would associate math with something enjoyable. When my children struggled with math concepts, here's what I did:

M&M's worked for multiplication. My children would sort them into 10 piles of 10, and then count the total number of candies. In reverse, they learned division (20 pieces separated into four groups) by counting the candy in each pile.

For fractions, I used either pizza or brownies to show the equivalency of amounts (9/12 = ¾).

For number lines, we used Twizzlers. A Hershey's Kiss or gumdrop marked the number value.

And I taught congruent shapes with sandwich wedges (congruent triangles: same shape and size).

My children had the immediate reward of consuming their math lessons as they gained the long-term benefits of grasping foundational concepts.

—Marybeth Mitcham

Math Games

Why simply eat a waffle when you can make fractions with it? My boys enjoy reviewing math in creative ways, so I've come up with fun, simple activities that reinforce math concepts. Here are some games that work well for us:

Hide and Seek: Instead of counting traditionally, the seeker counts by twos or fives.

Adding Toss: Write numbers on pingpong balls. Kids toss them in a bowl and total their score.

Subtraction Scramble: Lay flash cards numbered one to 10 on the floor. Call out a math problem, such as "five take away three." Children run to the flash card with the correct answer.

Rocketship Counting: Before eating, count backward until blastoff.

Beat the Balloon: Ask math questions while tossing a balloon. Children try to answer before the balloon hits the ground.

LEGO Equations: Use the studs on LEGO bricks to build equations: 2 bricks + 4 bricks = 6 bricks.

Driving Discoveries: Ask shape-related questions, such as, "What would happen if circles disappeared for a day?" or "How many octagons can you spot?"

Yummy Shapes: Build geometric shapes by joining toothpicks and marshmallows.>

—Karen Gauvreau

Make Homework Fun

My son was having trouble getting his math assignments finished in a timely manner. Although he was good at math, he didn't like doing the work. So I decided to add a little competition to the task. I said, "I'll do the assignment, too, and we'll race to see who can finish first."

That challenge was just enough to get him motivated. Sometimes we raced each other; other times we set a stopwatch to see how long we each took. Deductions were made for incorrect answers since accuracy was always of highest importance. Eventually, it was no longer necessary for me to participate because our competition had motivated him to complete his assignments quickly and accurately.

Little did I realize that harnessing his competitive energy was preparing him for future math competitions. He had learned to focus on improving his personal best, rather than trying to defeat others. This enabled him to become a great team member, encouraging others to pursue excellence and victory.

—Carolyn Stonehocker

"Reinforcing Math Concepts," the compiled article, first appeared on in July 2016. "It's About Time" first appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Fun With Math" first appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Edible Math" first appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. "Math Games" first appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of Thriving Family magazine. "Make Homework Fun" first appeared in the October/November 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Motivated by Competition." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"Reinforcing Math Concepts" compiled article © 2016 by Focus on the Family. "It's About Time" © 2016 by Cassia Elder. "Fun With Math" © 2016 by Nicki Bishop. "Edible Math" © 2016 by Marybeth Mitcham. "Math Games" © 2014 by Karen Gauvreau. "Make Homework Fun" © 2011 by Carolyn Stonehocker. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: Critical Thinking Skills

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