Sometimes our kids are perfectly capable of handling the math concepts in front of them. In fact, that can almost be part of the problem.
How’s that?–you ask.
Well, if they are learning a new concept, they have to focus really hard to learn it. The newness of it may be enough to keep them paying attention.
But when the math skill being reviewed is one they fully understand and even find to be easy. . . well, then they may be more likely to loose their focus.

That’s when you need some ideas in your arsenal that permit ways to add an element that is focus worthy in and of itself.
That usually involves motion, or fun, or both!

Here are some ways to take a traditional math lesson and break it up a bit.CHANGES IN WRITING

Math often involves a bit of writing. This alone can discourage many Sizzlers, who often struggle with the physical act and fine motor skill requirements of writing. Their hands frequently tire much sooner than the hands of their peers. They grip the pencils more tightly, squeezing harder and pressing down with greater intensity. Telling them to loosen their grip is usually forgotten three numbers into the process.
There are some things you can do instead.

Different Writing Instrument
Choose a writing instrument that is simply more fun. Some pencils are simply more fun. The shapes vary. There are whimsical toppers available. Perhaps you could locate a pencil that would delight your child and make it the official “math pencil”.  Take a look at some choices from this website just to give you an idea of what’s out there.

Ditch the Pencil
Get rid of the pencil. If it’s just basic math facts, allow an oral response. Or let them dictate their answers to you and have you write them. And don’t forget the stickers option! (see Day one)

Writing with Shaving Cream
Put a bit of shaving cream in a zip lock bag, press the air out, seal it well, and then have your student draw the answers on this new fun medium.

Writing in Sand
Get a tray of wet sand and have them write their problems and solutions on this unusual surface. Pat it down and start again.


Bath Math
This GREAT idea was sent in by one in our Sizzle Bop community.

Well, I have this boy who avoids school very purposefully and then finds himself busy doing something he just knows mom wouldn’t want to interrupt because it is usually good things he has found to do.   ( like reading books, practicing typing, taking care of his baby sister…anything but the thing on subject that was required of him. )  I went to hunt him down the other day.  Determined that wherever I found him, there would be math!   There he was, in the tub , why would mom stop him from getting clean?   TO my own amazement, I had his math in my hand, a concept to teach and a dry erase marker in my apron pocket. So, I was thrilled to find out that dry erase markers work quite well on the walls of our fiberglass bathtub/shower.   We did his whole lesson with him in the tub.  He later had to do the written part on paper but, the explanation of the concept was a delight.    Maybe someone else needed to hear that!

Thanks for sharing!

We learned of the possibilities of using shower walls with dry erase markers back when we were looking for an inexpensive alternative to those big, beautiful but costly white boards. A giant piece of shower wall purchased at Home Depot was suggested as a thrifty substitute.


Balloon Pop
This is too simple to actually qualify as a game. In truth, I got this idea from a young woman who had to find little self-motivating ideas to keep her on track through college. I liked this one instantly because it worked with any subject and was quick and easy to duplicate. If she had four math sections to complete, she would put four inflated balloons up onto her corkboard. When she completed a section, she got to pop a balloon. That’s all there was to it. But there was something very invigorating and satisfying about popping that balloon and having a loud verbal exclamation of a task finally done.  Imagine if you had several kids, each with their own row of balloons. There would probably be a race to see who got to pop through theirs first.

Play War
In the original game you divide a deck of cards evenly between two people.  Then you each flip over the first card.  Whoever has the highest card takes both cards (spoils of war) and puts it in their win pile.  You continue flipping until your cards are gone.  If you want, you can end here and just count the highest card holder as winner.  Or you can pick up your pile and continue the game until one person has taken ALL the cards. (Warning…this can take awhile)

In playing this game there is the exciting moment when both players flip over their cards and the values are exactly the same.  In other words, you both find you have a value of say…8.  Now what?  Who’s the winner?  Well, you both now put down three secret cards (face down).  These remain down and are going to be part of the victory spoils for the next play.   At this point, you both flip a new card.  You determine who wins with these cards.  The winner of THAT play takes everything… including the secret cards.

Now for the fun modification.
In the math version of this game, each player flips over 2 cards instead of the usual 1.  If you’re child needs work on addition, they add them.  If the skill that needs practice is multiplication, he finds the product instead.  Now the game proceeds as usual.  The highest TOTAL or PRODUCT takes the cards.

Your child gets lots of practice in adding or multiply, but is so wrapped in the game that they don’t notice they’re improving their skills.  For extra practice, I also make my child determine the sum or product that results from MY cards as well as his own.

Play Spoons

How to play Spoons–
Put one less spoon than the total number of players are placed in the center of the table. So if 6 people are playing, put 5 spoons on the table.

Four cards are dealt to each player. The dealer looks at the top card from the remaining deck to see if he or she can use it to help make a four of a kind. If not helpful, it’s passed on the table to the player to his right or left.   Choose a direction follow it for all players through the entire game.

Players must hold four cards at all times so if the card they pick up is a keeper, one in the hand must be passed on to the next player.  That player picks it up and checks to see if it’s helpful, if not it’s passed to the next player and so on. The dealer checks and passes cards off the deck as fast as possible. The game takes goes into hype-speed as more and more cards are being passed.

Organization and decision making skills are taught as players must deal with an avalanche of cards coming in. When a card returns to the dealer it’s discarded in a pile. The object of the game is for the first player to accumulate a four of a kind to grab a spoon. The rest of the players at this time must also grab a spoon, regardless of what cards they are holding. Since there is one less spoon than the number of players, it now becomes a test of peripheral vision, awareness, reflex and hand speed. Players take turn being the dealer since they have the advantage of controlling the flow of cards to their liking and the fact that they don’t have to pick the cards off the table.

THREE ALTERATIONS– making Spoons a math game.

The goal is a total: The first change we made was to pull out the face cards.  We kept the idea of working with four cards, but instead of trying to achieve four of a kind, you had to try to achieve four cards that would add up to 20.  The game moves a bit slower as it takes longer to think through the value of the card you’ve received.  But it isn’t much slower, once you realize the exact card needed to achieve victory.

All stay in play: The second alteration we make comes at the end.  In the original, game, when someone has accumulated four cards that match their desired sum, the spoon grab is on.  Someone will be left without a spoon.  Someone must lose.  This player is now considered “out” and the game continues until there is a lone survivor.  However, we decided we wanted the child who lost to remain in the game.  After all, the goal is to sharpen weak math skills.  They still need the work.  So in our game we keep score.  The player who first got four cards and started the spoon grab gets 50 points.  The others who managed to grab a spoon each get 20 points.  And the player who didn’t grab a spoon in time gets no points, but all remain in the game for the next round.  The first person to reach a predetermined score (let’s say maybe 150 points) wins the game.  But all have had addition practice and all have had fun.

Simpler game for younger children: When playing with younger children, we simply lowered the amount of cards held in the players’ hands and changed the sum being attempted.  In other words, when playing with our youngest players we decided that all players will keep only two cards in their hands during play.  The goal will be simply to achieve a hand that adds up to 10.  For slightly more advanced kids, you might want three cards in the hands and a goal of 15.

Our family had fun with this.  We hope yours does too!

Favorite Game Review
Choose a family favorite board game and use it as a review vehicle for your child.
Let’s say the game of choice is Monopoly. You set up the board, pass out the money, choose which trinket each player will be, and then. . .roll the dice, let’s go! But wait a minute. Before the player can actually move, he has to answer a simple math review question. If he gets it right, he completes his turn. If he gets it wrong, his has to pass.

This game can be played with many kids at different levels. You just present a question appropriate to their skills. The real plus to this option is that you can use so many different games. Any board game with dice and advancing squares will work.

Vicky Velpanoid from Venus
I actually like flash cards. For one thing, they take “writing” out of the process, which for many children is a major drag on their ability to complete anything.  But secondly, flash cards visually cement information in their head.  If your child can get to the point where they see 3+2 and automatically think 5,,,instead of actually stopping and doing the addition, this is a real boost for the productivity level in doing math. So while I believe in flash cards, I also know that they are visual…and thus, for a non-visual learner, may require much repetition to really “take hold”.

Years ago I created a game called Vicky Velpanoid from Venus. (If you have my How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and On To Learning book, you are well aware of Vicky and her ability to make flash cards fun.) In this game, a very strange looking creature we’ve named Vicky has a rocket and is out of fuel. She longs to return home to her fellow Velpanoids, but must refill her fuel pods before she may do so. Now the flash cards begin. For each five cards the child answers correctly, Vicky now has a full pod, which is indicated by the child coloring in one of the pods in the drawing. Once she has all the pods full, the game is over and the child may now send Vicki back home. For some kids this is a matter of folding the paper into an airplane and setting it sailing. For others, it is to crumple it with great enthusiasm and launch it into the trash can.  Your call.

If a child isn’t motivated by space creatures and the like, just create something that does have appeal for them. Perhaps each five cards will represent a hurdle that their horse must jump over to complete the course. Perhaps it’s a football team that with each pod moves ten more yards down the field. You get the idea. Make it silly. Make it fun. And needed repetition will be easy.

Play some Regular Math Games
There are plenty of games out there that are math based, or at least require counting and adding skills. I’ve included links to see them on Amazon if they pique your interest.
Dino Math Tracks
Auntie Pasta’s Fraction Game
Uno – the main math component is in adding the score at the end. Still, very fun game

What are some ways that YOU break up math time?
Are there fun little things that motivate your Sizzler?
What are some of YOUR favorite games? — Ones you’ve made up, or ones you’ve purchased.
Share whatever has worked, whether sweet + simple, or on the complex side.
Everyone’s looking for one more idea they can try.

See you tomorrow for MATH WEEK – Day Five (our final day on math) in Sizzleland.


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