When managing children with learning problems, the focus is often on reading. Difficulty learning to read and/or poor reading comprehension are typically the main concern of both teachers and parents. But many children struggle with math. I remember the first time a parent remarked to me that she noticed big improvements in her daughter’s math skills after the child had been receiving vision therapy for a month or so. I wasn’t looking for that to happen, and I certainly wasn’t directing the therapy towards improving her math skills. So I began to think about it. Vision and math are both all about time, space and direction.
For example, picture a number line, from -10 to +10. The space between each number is the same; in one direction the numbers increase, just like addition, and in the other direction the numbers decrease, just like in subtraction. If you count the numbers in order, it will take twice as long to get to from 0 to 10 as it would to get from -5 to 0. Take a piece of graph paper and draw a square 10 boxes high and 10 boxes wide. How many little boxes fit inside that space? How can you cut that box in half to make 2 triangles? Now turn the graph paper over and draw 2 dots 20 boxes apart. Imagine a train traveling between the dots (which now represent cities). The first train travels at 1 box per second, and the second train travels at 5 boxes per second. Which train do you want to be on?
Thanks to Drs. Kellye Knueppel and Brenda Montecalvo for their wonderful workshop at COVD’s annual meeting about vision therapy techniques that can improve math skills. One of my “takeaways” from their presentation was a list of activities that parents can be doing at home to try to have fun and improve their childrens’ math skills. And your children won’t even know that they’re doing math!
- Count while dribbling a basketball. How long does it take to get to 10? Bend over and dribble the basketball much closer to the ground. Now how long does it take to count to 10? Use a different ball, vary the speed, say the alphabet instead of counting.
- Make chocolate chip cookies for a big party! Find a recipe and double it. Then let your child use measuring cups to measure all the ingredients. You might want to only let them use the half cup; how many half cups are there in 3 ½ cups? You don’t have to make cookies. Get a 5 pound bag of rice and measure the rice and pour it into different containers. One cup of rice looks very different when poured into a short fat glass than a skinny tall glass.
- Play Yahtzee and Uno. Then play Candyland and Sorry and Trouble. All these games use number concepts, likes and differences, distances and directions.
- Measure objects with string. Measure all the children in the house, then measure a chair, a book, the height of the kitchen counter, a box of macaroni and cheese, the TV screen. Then look at an object across the room. Can you predict how much string you will need, more than the macaroni and cheese? Less than my best friend? Same idea, use a tape measure to measure the circumference of various objects.
- Measure distances with steps. How many steps does it take to walk from the TV to the kitchen? What if I take giant steps or baby steps? Or ballerina pirouette steps? Can you predict how many baby steps it will take to walk from one tree to another?
- Open the sports section of the newspaper. It doesn’t matter if it is baseball, football, hockey, or basketball season, there will be statistics. How many games has your favorite team played? What if this team was playing in a different division, would they still be in first place? Look at the football scores, how can a football team have 24 points? Try to find a track and field or swimming event. Then you can explain how a faster time (a smaller number) is a better performance.
- Plan a trip to the grocery store. Make a shopping list, cut some coupons. Weigh apples and bananas and calculate the price. Compare boxes of cereal and their weights. If the price is 4 for $1.50, how much does one cost?
This is just a few of the possibilities. Can you think of other home-based activities to teach children math skills and have fun at the same time?