8 Ways to Make Math More Fun

I always feel pulled in two different directions in February.

One on hand, the Fun Mom in me wants to live large. She wants to shake up the daily routine, toss out the boring old schoolbooks, and spend February setting the kids’ enthusiasm afire with fascinating hands-on projects from Pinterest.

Make math more fun

But on the other hand, the Responsible Mom in me would really like to get the math book done by the end of May. (And she’s not so sure she can pull off that watermelon clipper ship.)

Fortunately, you can be the Fun Mom and still make progress in the math book with these eight ways to shake up your math routine.

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Make math personal

Word problems can be very dull.

Johnny had 14 coconuts and Sally had 17…

Yawn. But word problems come to life when they’re about people your child actually knows. Just cross out the names on the worksheets and pencil in your friends and family members.

It’s even more fun if you put people from different contexts into the same word problem. Why not have your child’s best friend split the pizza with your grumpy next-door neighbor? Or have Aunt Mary divide the marbles with your family pet? Just a little silliness can make word problems a lot more fun—and help prevent word problem panic, too.

Add some suspense

You know how hard it is to put down a good mystery novel? Reading the math textbook becomes much more interesting when there’s little mysteries to solve, too. Use small sticky notes to cover parts of the examples in your child’s math book. My daughter loves figuring out what’s under the sticky note—then taking it off and seeing whether she’s right! (Bonus: she pays much closer attention, too.)

Tear up the worksheet

Literally. Tear up the worksheet (or cut it with scissors if you’re civilized like that) so that each problem is on its own piece of paper. Toss the pieces in a bowl. Then, have your child pull out one slip of paper at a time and solve the problem on it. This keeps long worksheets from feeling overwhelming. And, if your child likes puzzles, he can take all the slips and try to put them together at the end.

Ready, set, go

Some kids hate time pressure, but others thrive on it. If your child tends to dawdle through drill pages, set a timer and challenge your child to finish the page before the timer goes off. To give my kids a feeling of success, I try to set the timer for at least a minute longer than I think they’ll need. Then, if they beat the clock, I write their time at the top of the page to celebrate. (Ok, it’s not a very exciting celebration, but it seems to make them happy!) This works best for pages of simple calculations (like addition facts) that can be completed in less than 5 minutes—not complex problems where you want to encourage your kids to slow down and think.

Get moving

With so little time to run around outside in winter, we all get a little stir crazy. Movement makes oral drill more fun, and gives your kids a chance to get some energy out, too. Have them bounce on a mini trampoline while you call out addition facts or have them do jumping jacks in rhythm to the multiplication table. Anything that can be recited rhythmically is especially good for this.

Hands-on measurement

Kids love to use real measuring tools. My son and daughter always look forward to measurement chapters in their textbooks, because they know they’ll get to weigh things on the kitchen scale, slosh water around with measuring cups, and pull out the meterstick and measuring tape. Your measuring lessons don’t have to be anything fancy. Just demonstrate how to use the tools and then make up little challenges:

  • Can you find something that’s about 30 inches long?
  • Which container will hold the most water?
  • How much do you think this stack of books will weigh?

Make it a game

If your child (or you!) needs a break from worksheets, try making the math content into a game instead. Games not only make it fun to practice math, but they also allow you to monitor your child’s progress and correct any mistakes immediately. As a starting place, check out this list of math games from my website. The classic card game War can also be adapted to practice everything from simple addition to fractions.

Read some math

Another way to add some fun to your math time is to read related math picture books. There are some wonderful lists of living math books online, but I’ve found it’s often easiest to simply type the subject I’m looking for into my library’s online catalog and see what they have.

Be warned—there are a lot of boring math picture books out there! If a book feels too much like a textbook, it’s probably not worth reading. Many of my favorites are from the MathStart series, because they combine solid math content with an actual plot.

Changing up your math routine doesn’t have to mean burning all the workbooks or tap-dancing your way through fractions. With just these few tweaks, you can be your Fun Mom self in February—and pat your Responsible Mom self on the back at the same time.

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  • Noel says:

    Thank you for these helpful tips!

    One question: I love the way dividing fractions is explained in your “Add some suspense” section above. What book is that?

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Kate Snow says:

      Hi Noel, That’s from Singapore Math’s Primary Mathematics book (US edition, 5A). It’s a great program, especially for those trick middle-grades topics like fractions, decimals, and percents. If you’d like to learn more about the curriculum, you can check out my full review here: kateshomeschoolmath.com/singapore-math-buying-guide/

      • Noel says:

        Thank you, Kate! I will check out your full review.

  • Evita says:

    I REALLY love and appreciate these great ideas! I do have a question though. We use Saxon for math which, although worksheet heavy, is great for me because I’m horrid at math. Saxon provides the script I need to make it understandable for me AND my boys. BUT, we subscribe to a more Charlotte Mason/short lesson philosophy which works so good for my super active boys. Yet Saxon is agonizingly looooong…even when we’re going at a good clip AND cutting out the review all but one day of the week. I feel like our afternoons are spent ENTIRELY on math and I hate that. At this rate, it will SUCH a struggle to finish my oldest sons book by May as we’re only HALF way through. Ugh. Any suggestions?? ?

    • Kate Snow says:

      Hi Evita, Saxon is a classic text that’s worked well for many homeschoolers, but it’s not my favorite for all the reasons you mention. Math in the elementary years definitely doesn’t need to take hours. If you like a heavily-scripted teacher’s manual with hands-on, active lessons, you might want to take a look at RightStart Math. I have a full review on my blog (http://kateshomeschoolmath.com/rightstart-math-review/) as well as reviews of other programs if you’re thinking about making a switch.

    • Katie says:

      I feel your Saxon pain for all the same reasons!! It really works and is so gentle, but loooong. They should half each book bc we NEVER finish even during our really consistent years. I’m hesitant to jump ship because it is working, but it makes me want to cry. Fear keeps me under the Saxon spell. ?

    • Sheryl says:

      Saxon is loooong. We have the kids only do the odd or even problems for every section in a normal lesson, except for the new material practice. They complete a lesson typically in one hour. We are using Intermediate 4 & Intermediate 5.

  • Evita says:

    Thank you for the quick response! Hope you don’t mind, but I have one more question. Do you think RightStart would be a good match for my current 3rd grader as well as my 1st grader? Both of them did Saxon last year, too. At this point, I have to sit with both of them individually since Saxon is very dependent on the teacher (which is fine). But we literally spend about 45 – 1 hr with my 1st grader and 1+ hours with my 3rd grader every single day. I guess I’m just wondering if that’s normal for most any math curriculum since I did read something to that effect on your review of MathStart just now. Also, if I were to switch curriculums, do you think it wise to do so at this point in the year? Or should I just finish out Saxon to the best of my ability and start fresh in the Fall? Thanks! And sorry…I guess I had more than one more question, didn’t I?

    • Katie says:

      Following…. My 6th grader does it on her own well enough for me, but I am working with my 4th and 2nd grader and my Kindergartener on the days he can’t be put off. #badmom Math eats up our day and makes me loathe it all the more. The other problem of switching is not knowing exactly what level to begin with in another program?

      • Kate Snow says:

        Yes, it can be hard to know what level to switch to in a different program. Most have placement tests that will give you a good starting place, but usually you still have to make a judgment call. If your child seems to be in-between levels, I recommend you go for the easier level–but then give yourself permission to skip anything that your child has already mastered. You might not use the whole book, but you’ll ensure that your child isn’t missing any essential foundations for the next level.

    • Rebecca says:

      I do Saxon Math with my second grader, but I pick and choose from each lesson. We skip alot of the Math Meeting part because it is so boring for her. I choose 2 things from the Math meeting on a rotation (so she still gets pattern review, skip counting, and counting money, but doesn’t have to do it every day). I do the new concept part of the lesson with her–I’ve been very surprised how hands on the activities are. And I have her do only 1 of the 2 worksheets. If there is flashcard practice, we say the math facts while bouncing a ball back and forth instead of using the cards.
      When a written assessment comes up, I take an extra day for just the test. This keeps our lesson to about 20 minutes-perfect for Charlotte Mason, yet it is the good Saxon method.
      I don’t feel bad about not making the daily temperature bar graph because we keep Charlotte Mason Nature Journals.

      • Kate Snow says:

        Great tips, Rebecca! A consistent, focused 20 minutes of math is perfect for a second grader. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of making sure the curriculum is your servant and not your master. After all, no matter how good a curriculum is, it’s been written to try to meet the needs of as many children as possible–but not necessarily the one real child in front of us.

    • Kristina says:

      Maybe you could go through the table of contents in both books and see if they cover the same things. Then check off what was learned in Saxon in the Right Start Math book. Just a thought 🙂

    • Kate Snow says:

      So many good questions here, Evita! I’ll actually be writing a whole post on switching curricula before too long, but let me try to give you a couple quick answers for now.

      As far as time goes, I’m a big fan of focused, short lessons. I generally recommend 15-20 minutes per day for 1st graders, and then increasing by 5 minutes or so per grade level in the elementary years, so that a 5th grader is working for 35-45 minutes on math each day.

      But, this only works if the child is actively engaged, learning, and thinking for the entire time. It doesn’t count time spent sharpening pencils, looking out the window, etc. And, it also depends a lot on the child. Some children just need more time to think things through and process information, and so they may need longer no matter how well they pay attention.

      You’ll probably find it easier to switch curriculum at the beginning of new school year. But if you ever get to the point that you just can’t bear your current program, it might be worth your sanity to just go for it now. Either way can work fine.

  • Evita says:

    Thx for the ideas ,Rebecca! Those are helpful for sure. And Katie, I’m glad to know I have at least one other Saxon sista out there. I often feel like crying myself many days! The happiest part of my day is when Math is finally done…sad, but true.

  • Oh these are fantastic ideas! I remember hating math as a child and having such a hard time focusing on it. However, I do recall loving timed worksheets, to beat the clock, so that one is definitely tried and true. I also love the idea of cutting worksheets into individual problems. What a great idea to make it less overwhelming!!

  • Lucia C says:

    Thank you for giving me ideas of how to tfeach Math better.
    I can’t wait to try them. Any ideas for higher grades like Primary 4 to 6?
    Or even older?

  • Alan says:

    Once upon a time, a king lost a game of chess to an ordinary farmer. The king asked the farmer to choose his reward. The farmer asked double the grains of wheat every square of chess. In other words 1 grain of wheat for the first square of the chess board, 2 grains for the second square, 4 grains for the third square, 8 grains for the fourth and so on and so forth for all the 64 squares. The king was very happy for being let off rather lightly and readily granted the wish. Things were fine until the first few squares. After 16th square things kind of became out of control. This is the most famous example on how you can use chess in teaching math. Unique thing about chess is that it develops both sides of the brain. Researchers analyzed this back in 2010 and found that more advanced players use the right side of their brain to recognize patterns in the game and their left side to analyze and make the most logical move. Regardless of the child’s age, chess develops concentration, increases patience and positively affects the intellectual and emotional development of the child. The rules of chess are very simple and children can learn them already from around the age of three. Not everyone can or wants to become a professional chess player but everyone can use chess for learning. For this purpous I can recommend a book (net-bossorg/chess-puzzles-for-kids-by-maksim-aksanov) with bunch of great exercises, which will help you and your kids to be better in this 🙂

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