There are so many ways to have fun learning math without the kids thinking we are even learning. My friend Beth at Classical Conversations at Home wrote a great blog post called Five Fun Ways to Practice Math, and since I read this post a week ago, I have been constantly thinking of other ideas. I’m going to write a series of posts about fun ways we practice math. Today, we’ll start with fun ways to practice math while shopping.
Let’s face it. Sometimes we need to run errands with our children, especially going to a store. When we aren’t pressed for time, I love to include learning in our trips. Stores are full of math. While some of these ideas don’t scream “fun”, they are much more interesting for the kids than just having to walk through the store with nothing to do.
Here are some of the fun ways we practice math while shopping:
Read the price of an item or the quantity. This only takes a second to ask a child what the price of an item is or see if they can figure out how many granola bars are in a box. If you frequent places like Costco, you even get a chance to read large numbers like 276 paper plates or 4,000 paper towels. At Costco, we often have a good laugh over some of the large quantities or look for something with the largest quantity or highest price.
Choose which item is a better deal. Comparing unit prices and prices between brands helps teach number sense. My kids like to figure out what’s the best deal. For younger children, just figuring out if 7 or 9 is smaller is a great skill.
Estimate how much something will cost. This might be skip counting the 5 jars of spaghetti sauce to figure out how much it will cost or even estimating the entire store’s total because you only have a certain amount of money in your wallet. A bonus to the whole store estimation is that it teaches concentration in order to keep the running total in your head throughout the store. We make it a game to see how close to the exact total we can get. (By the way, I’m not crazy enough to try to keep a running total with an overflowing shopping cart and 4 children with me. This is more of an activity for a smaller trip to the store or only having 1 child with me.)
Figure out the change. When a total is rung up, I ask the kids how much money we will get back if we pay with a $20 or some other amount. This is a quick mental math practice. A number of years ago, we used to never use actual money, just debit or credit cards. Then one day, I realized that my children had no concept of what money even was or how we purchased something at a store. About that same time, we took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and made the transition to cash purchasing. If you normally use debit or credit, you might want to consider sometimes intentionally using paper money so that you can teach your children about money.
Let the kids actually purchase something (with their own money or yours). They have to estimate the total to figure out if they have enough, know what to hand the cashier, and make sure they receive the correct change. An extra-special fun way to do this is to give your child a bag of change and stop somewhere where they can buy something they would think of as a treat. I gave each of my children a bag of change, and we stopped at a dollar store. For the 4 year old, his bag only had the correct amount of money, but he still needed to count it out. For the older children, I just threw a couple of handfuls of change in their bags without even counting it.
I hope this will help you include math practice next time you are at the store. When we live a lifestyle of learning, we can learn so much without it feeling like “school”. How do you practice math at the store?