Are you a parent who wants to increase your child’s motivation and interest in math? If so, avoid math workbooks and flashcards. While some children may find these challenging and interesting, most children find worksheets and flash cards boring and self-defeating.

As they encounter problems on these tasks that they cannot easily solve, they lose self-confidence and, eventually, the motivation to learn the math skills they need. Instead of providing these formal math devices, you are more likely to spark interest and enthusiasm with real-life problems that require the child to solve a problem that is of importance to them.

The key is to think about the opportunities to build math skills during normal, daily activities. Working out problems with your child allows them to see that math is something you appreciate, enjoy using and need. Depending on the developmental level of your child, the appropriate skills will vary.

Let’s explore just a few.

Breakfast: 

  1. Estimate the number of pieces of cereal in the bowl 
  2. Measure the milk for the cereal in measuring cups
  3. Count the number of bites it takes to finish the bowl of cereal 

Lunch:

  1. Figure out fractions of a pizza per person
  2. Divide price of pizza by number of people eating it for cost per person
  3. Count out potato chips so each person has the same amount

Dinner:

  1. Help cook dinner and use measurement tools and addition
  2. Follow recipe and modify based on number of people (multiply or divide)
  3. Count items as the table is set (one-to-one correspondence)

Riding in the car:

  1. Estimate the number of miles to the destination (check upon arrival)
  2. On return from destination, intermittently determine how many more miles to go to get home (subtract)
  3. Count the number of red cars you pass
  4. Look for things in various shapes (geometry)
  5. Figure out how much gas you can get for $25

Grocery Shopping:

  1. Estimate total costs as things are added to the cart
  2. Weigh items and determine weight 
  3. Multiply weight times cost per pound
  4. Give the child $20 toward the purchase of groceries and let him add items to the cart until he gets to $20
  5. Determine price per volume for best buy
  6. Add up coupon values

Eating out:

  1. Estimate the total cost of the bill of everything ordered
  2. If the bill for what is wanted is too high, subtract some of the food from the bill
  3. See how many shapes you can find on the table and around the restaurant
  4. Figure out what the tip would be for varying bills and tip percentages

Playing games:

  1. There are endless games online requiring math, but don’t forget nondigital games with social interaction
  2. Play card and dice games.  Depending on the game, they require matching, adding, counting, determining probability, and so on
  3. Young children enjoy math games that require counting, matching, adding, and so on
  4. Spend time building structures, or kits, and jigsaw puzzles, all of which require math skills

Watching television:

  1. Watch National Geographic and similar shows that often highlight interesting science and math facts (length of the Great Wall, how much food animals eat, geometry and construction of pyramids, etc.)
  2. Determine how much time is left until a favorite show is on
  3. Add up the total amount of time is spent watching TV, using computer, on phone

The more frequently a parent uses math with their child, the more comfortable the child will become with the math curriculum they encounter in school. Monitor the math skills in homework and then incorporate some of those skills into real life situations to provide practical examples.

Conversely, take the homework problems and translate them into a real-life problems. For example, take the problem 30 – 17 = X. That can be illustrated by taking the child’s favorite TV show, “Let’s say you are watching Sponge Bob, which is 30 minutes long. After 17 minutes, Dad calls you to come help him with something. How much of the show will you miss?”

Challenge your kids to come up with math questions for you. By helping children see that math is needed everywhere in their day, math becomes more relevant, and thus more interesting.