Back in December we said that we’d be looking at ways to make Math fun come January.
Was that really just a month ago?
No matter. Here we are, into January and ready to start making math fun.

We’ll be pulling out some of our old math favorites and gathering new ones.
It’s been almost 2 years since we visited this topic and since then, we’ve added over 1700 people to Sizzle Bop.
Even I, with my less-than-stellar math skills can calculate that it’s been waaaay too long since we chatted about Math.

Let’s go for it. We’re always looking for another tool to give our Sizzlers that lead them to success.

So get ready for. . .
A new year.
A new idea.
A new plan.

Here goes–


used with permission of Todd Wilson and

Math and Sizzlers, a Difficult Mix

I breathed a sigh of relief when my Sizzler was done with high school.  Whew…free at last…free at last.
Feel the light summer breeze as it pushed my sheer curtains inward, filling the house with new breath, new calm, new peace.
Why. . .I have so much extra time now, So much verve in my life.  Why I think I’ll take up sailing.
Or learn to quilt.
I might even begin training for a triathlon.
And God laughed. . .and opened my eyes to the sizzle in my youngest.
I don’t know how I’d missed it till then.  Up to starting kindergarten, I just thought she was well, you know…enthusiastic.
But then one day, I saw the light. Or rather, I heard the THUD.

Yes, now that I think of it, that was it.
The THUD was back.
You know, the “THUD”, as she fell off of her chair repeatedly while attempting the simple act of sitting? (and you thought you were the only ones)

It was a sound I hadn’t heard in years.

As the light dawned, I began to take note of other things that pointed the way to the truth.
— the fact that she couldn’t let any of us complete our own sentences.
— the intensity with which she interacts with everything; pencils, volume controls, jump ropes, anger, laughter.
— the fact that I could walk through the house at any given moment and find perhaps 8 projects she had enthusiastically begun, only to be pulled away by the siren call of some other more interesting and compelling activity (see new pile elsewhere)

I resignedly found the need to pull out things I hadn’t used in years.

I dug out old Vicky Velpanoid from Venus since my Sizzler needed flash card practice. (Vicky still works, bless her heart)
I pulled out bean bags and 3×5 cards and magnets and shaving cream.
And skate boards, and highlighters, and basketballs and balloons.
What does any of this have to do with math?

So since you TOO have a Sizzler in your house. . .
And you TOO may have math lessons that should take 20 minutes but instead drag on for 3 hours,
And since you TOO may be out of ideas in teaching a specific concept and need another approach to move this child forward,

— this is going to be MATH week in Sizzle land.

Thankfully, there are many tricks to use and tools to be found.
Let’s get started.

MATH IDEAS – DAY ONE: Minor Motion
Typical Focus Advice–
Clear your desk
Sit still.
Feet flat on the floor.
Elbows near your sides.
Be silent.
Breathe deep.
Exhale slowly.
Get ready to work.
Now. . .focus, focus, focus.

Isn’t this what we typically hear as instructions on how to focus?
And for most kids, this might be useful advice. <though I remain skeptical>
But for the Sizzler, this simply won’t work.
They have a movement requirement as part of their learning process.
Truth is, most kids learn better when motion is involved.
But Sizzlers have no other option. Sitting still and learning are opposing concepts.

The old traditional learning method of Read-This-Fill-in-the-Blanks-Take-a-Test is the kiss of death for most Sizzlers.
And yet this is often the fall-back practice of the majority of curriculum programs.

Sizzlers are guaranteed to become distracted using such a learning method.
Their distractibility falls into one of  two categories.

The Quiet Drifter
Some kids find that quiet actually makes it more likely they will become unfocused. The silence creates an expansiveness in their minds. The mental wood fencing that holds, corrals and pastures the item being studied begins to lighten, shimmer and then finally fade away altogether. Fence rails and posts begin dropping, disappearing, and completely fading from existence, allowing their thoughts to start floating out of that pasture, meandering and rolling over the crest of the nearby hills to places yet unseen, unexplored. Off they float, totally unaware that they are leaving the pasture behind.

The other type of Sizzler?
The Wind Up Car
I once asked my husband to describe the internal tension that he feels, being very ADHD himself. He said it’s like one of those little cars that you drag backwards to create an internal tension, wanting desperately to be released and allowed to go-go-go. But. . .he cautioned, unlike the car, for him, process of “going” only slightly lessens the tension. Even after a burst of activity, the tension is always with him. It can be greater or lesser, but never absent. So instead of calling this “The Wind Up Car” it might be more appropriately called “The Wound Up Car.”

For many Sizzlers, there is an internal tension and constant energy that is always bursting for release. As long as they are in motion, you might not notice it because the tension now has an outlet. They can seem almost normal. But ask them to sit perfectly still and the volume of that ever-present tense energy begins to increase, getting louder and louder, threatening to break loose, and when it does, it is usually not conducive to learning and is also probably pretty annoying.

Luckily for these Sizzlers (and for us) there is an answer.

Motion in learning changes everything.
Once acknowledged and accommodated, it can even change their life.
And it can certainly change math hour.

So what are some ways to put a little motion into math? We’re not talking run-around-the-racetrack motion. Nor are we talking about full games with rules, teams, equipment and an 90 minute commitment.
It really doesn’t have to be much.
Just Minor Motions adding just enough activity to keep them focused and engaged.

Here are some ideas to use while still seated at the table.

Basketball Math
Hand you child their math problems, one at a time, written on the back of a piece of scrap paper cut into fourths. This is to avoid the overwhelmed defeat of seeing 45 problems all at once.
Your child completes the problem.
If they get it wrong, they hand it back to you.
If they get it right, they wad it up and shoot it at a small indoor hoop positioned somewhere in the room. (a large can or even a small trash can will work)
Keep points. You can even have two hoops– the more distant one giving them more points.
This is the one time kids will look forward to the next problem.

Target Practice
A dad once approached me and told me that his son would complete his page of math problems quickly if he knew that afterward Dad would post the paper against a tree and the boy got to use it for target practice with his BB gun. If you’re part of a hunting family, this might be a fun option.
But I came up with an indoor version that was also fun.

Just as in the above game, you provide your child with the problems, one at a time, on a piece of scrap paper.
If they get it right, it is clipped onto a clothes line or string strung up in the room.
After there are quite a few papers hanging on the line, your Sizzler gets a chance to shoot a them with a marshmallow gun.
If you haven’t seen these, they work sort of like paint ball guns, but shoot out soft puffy marshmallows instead.
Take a look at one that uses mini-marshmallows.

In our house, we went through a rubber band gun phase. My son’s many designs kept us in supply.
This simplest of them can be made with a scrap of wood with a clothes pin glued onto it.
Here’s a basic design.
But if your child is bitten by the rubber band gun club, just know that the choices are amazing.

Look around a bit if you’d like to know more.

Beach Ball Math
Take a cheap-o beach ball and using a permanent marker, write numbers randomly all over the ball– from 0 – 12, repeated several times and scattered about on the ball’s surface.
Let it dry.
Now you toss it to your student.
Whatever their right thumb is closest to is the first number.
They throw it back.
Your right thumb selects the second number.
If they need help with addition, they give you the sum.
If they need practice with multiplication, they give you the product.

This is a great game to play with kids at varying levels. A younger child might give you the sum of two numbers while the older child takes the same two numbers and gives you the product.

Toss It
This is a way to practice skip counting.  (counting by 2’s, 3’s, 7’s, etc.) Using a bean bag or another equally safely tossable item, you throw back and forth between teacher and students.
With each toss, the next item in the line-up is spoken.
I toss and say “Three.”
Sizzler tosses back and says “Six.”
I toss back and say “Nine.”

This is so very simple, but it has proven itself over and over again to be effective. The movements your Sizzler needs don’t have to be extravagant. It takes very little to keep them on task.

The Simple White Board
This, again, involves just a bit of movement. For reasons I can’t explain, oftentimes the very same problems that a child will wilt over in a workbook are somehow much more fun when completed on a white board. Don’t know why.
Keep the workbook and its many problems away from your easily discouraged child.
Then write them on the white board, one at a time.
If they get it right, they get to erase it. That is often its own reward.

As we’ve used this method we sort of morphed it into a game.
I will write a problem on the board and then step to the right to begin writing the next one.
My daughter will attempt to solve the problem BEFORE I can complete writing the next one.
Because, if she’s done before me, she begins to hum the Jeopardy theme song. Sing it with me! Dum-DI-dum, dum,dum, dum-DI-dum.- you get it.
It delights here to have “beaten” me.
So of course, I take great pains to write oh-so-neatly so that I take up as much time as I can to give her the opportunity of a win.

I kid you not. When we do math this way, we can finish a typical 20 minute lesson sometimes in less than 8 minutes. Go figure.

White Board Wipe Away
Here’s another simple white board based game that works well with math that can be done in your child’s head.
Take the ANSWERS from one of your student’s set of math problems and scatter them randomly all over the white board.
Then verbally say the math problem out loud for them.
10-3 = <pause>  Your child solves the problem and then scans the board for 7
They quickly erase and then turn to you for the next problem.
A little at a time, the problems vanish, leaving a cleared and pristine board before them. . .announcing their success.

To increase the tension, you can play a song on a CD with the goal of having a set of problems finished before the song is done.
WARNING–Some kids respond well to such a time crunch. Others however, will completely unravel. Use cautiously. You’ve been warned. :-)

Some time ago I learned of a mom who put her child’s homework at the kitchen table in “stations”. By this I mean that she had a math “station”, a spelling “station”, a writing “station” and so on all around the table. Her daughter worked on a particular subject until she finished OR became bored and felt the need to move on or shift gears. Nothing can be too overwhelming because she can simply move along whenever it seems to be too much.

There might be other ways to work through the stations.

–You might want to require that she first completes a section before moving on.
–You might set a timer of 5, 10 or 20 minutes at each station.
–You might have her stay at a station as long as it takes a particular song to play on the CD player.

You choose. But the delight for the child is when a particular subject is finished, it is removed from the table. Whoo hoo!
Thus, as she does her assignments and moves along the line, she can actually see their projected work load grow smaller and smaller.

The Puzzle
This idea was explained in my very first book; many of you are already familiar with it.
It goes like this.
Make a blank puzzle template on a piece of regular letter sized paper.

Now flip it over. Write a quick message on the back that will encourage your child.
“You’re the greatest math kid!”
” I’m so proud of YOU!”
Write big so that your message fills most of the page.

Now back to the front again– put an answer from your child’s math exercises onto the center of each puzzle piece. Cut out the pieces.  Lay them out in front of your child, answers up.
Now he —

  • Does a math question
  • Looks for the puzzle piece that corresponds to his correct answer.
  • Grabs that piece
  • Goes to the next math problem.

Slowly he accumulates the pieces. Each problem solved has a miniature reward in the acquisition of yet another piece of the puzzle.  Over the course of doing his math, he puts the puzzle together (we use scotch tape to hook pieces together as the paper is a bit flimsy) and when he’s done he has the bigger rewards of flipping it over and reading the secret message. This takes longer to explain than to do. And it always makes math time fun.

The Puzzle Meets The Stations
A combining of the two previous ideas can be fun too.
Divide your child’s math lesson into smaller, digestible components.
You might simply photocopy the lesson and actually cut out the sections so they are separated.

Place one section at a particular spot which you call Station #1, another section at Station #2, and so on.
At each station there is also a sealed envelope.
When your child completes a section, he opens the envelope and now has one piece of the puzzle.
(There are no answers or solutions on the pieces. This puzzle simply has a message on the back. )
As he progresses, he’ll accumulate puzzle pieces, each one an incentive to keep going.

You could use any incentive that works. Perhaps minutes of play on a computer game. Perhaps a ticket redeemable for a piece of candy. For those don’t want to encourage candy, insert the item of your choice. The point is to have them moving.

The Sticky Solution
Sometimes our Sizzlers find that their hands tire quickly. Adding the element of writing with aching hands will slow down any lesson.
A fun and simple way to combat this is to have the answers to their math problems written (randomly again) on a peel-and-stick page of stickers. We use the little circles often used for garage sales.
Now the child does the math problem. And he searches for the answer on the page of stickers. When he locates it, he peels it off and sticks it in the correct place in his work book.

Going Fishing
The exact same math problems that make your child moan and groan will suddenly be fun if they have to go fishing to get them.
You write their math problems, one at time, on a piece of paper (or a 3×5 card).
Put a paper clip on it.
Now lay them face down on the floor.

These are your fish.

Next, give your child a stick with a string tied on the end, with a magnet tied onto the end of the string.
This is their fishing pole.
They retrieve their “fish” one at a time, do the math problem, and then go fishing for the next one.

If they get it right, you could even have a stringer to showcase his “catch”.
But if they didn’t get it right and you think your child could use the review, tell him that’s one that got away.
And just put it back in the mix of fish to be tried again.

Well, that’s our list of suggestions for today. If you have any ideas YOU’VE used, please send them in.

We’ll be back tomorrow with some simple ideas for those days when adding just a little bit of motion won’t cut it.
It’s time for some all out full body movement. We’ll be going from Minor Motion to MAJOR Motion.

See you then!


2 Responses to “MATH WEEK – Day 1”

  1. Rikki Says:

    Thank you all of this math advice. My sizzler will benefit.

  2. Becky Says:

    These are life savers! Thank you so much for making math fun for my son and me 🙂

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