Beyond the Classroom: Making Math Fun

Socks (Photo: Nick Page)

“I forgot my socks upstairs, I wonder how long it would take you to run upstairs, and get them” my dad inquired as I remained glued to the TV, watching the Jetson’s flying car pull into the terminal. “I don’t think you can do it in less than 45 seconds.” he continued. My ears perked up and within moments dad was barking out the seconds while I scrambled to make it faster than the last time he cajoled me into hustling to get him something, and engage in math without calling it such.

In this moment, and many others like it, we engaged in discussions that fostered a love for math. Through activities like this, I developed a real knack for estimating measurement, because I repeatedly practiced using footsteps or walking strides. Skills like those drew me to math as a subject area and I use them to this day.

While my dad’s approach may not work for you, it is essential that we bring mathematical joy to our children’s lives. First, inventory how you already make math fun, and creatively build on these successes. Second, engage in conversations with others about how they make math meaningful. Finally, look for open ended math questions and games that spark you and your family.

A set of dominoes, a pair of dice, and a deck of cards can go a long way because among other goals, they support subitizing, a fancy word for being able to identify a small group of objects without counting.

Cooking can also be a useful math arena. When following recipes you reinforce more than just fractional relationships. For example, you are doing algebra when you turn a subtraction problem into a missing addend “we have 1 ½ cups of flour and we need 4 total, how much more do I need?”

Frame math activities as competitions to improve yourself. Practice builds an understanding of concepts because rich discussions ensue, along with break-out games. For example, when my dad had me racing to get his socks, we invariably ended up playing some sort of shooting game. Again, distance had to be agreed upon. Fractions and percentages were assessed and in the process I developed a curiosity about number relationships – fractions, decimals, and percents. Other games that build important concepts were rate situations, like drawing a star, dribbling a basketball, and running around the perimeter of our property.

Key to all of these activities is that you show that math involves being challenged and being unsure. It is not only useful but essential for you to say “Hmmm, I don’t know, let me see.” or “this is kind of difficult” and then for your children to see you persevere. Also, it’s great for them to see you choose to put aside a problem and return to it later. I’m not saying you need to fake it but do what you can so that they see you productively challenged and work through it.

Be honest about where you feel weak as a learner but frame it in terms of a growth mindset.

Demonstrate intrigue as you discuss what works or does not work and your child will engage his curiosity, and you will inspire each other to enjoy learning.

Kevin Miller is a full-time tutor based in Tarrytown. You can reach him at  or

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About the Author: Kevin Miller