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This Week From Bedtime Math: Lawn Chair Larry

Sometimes an idea can really take off in an unexpected way. Find out how many balloons is too many balloons in today's math challenge.
on July 09, 2013

What is Bedtime Math? A message from Laura: Bedtime Math is a pretty simple idea: We all know we should read to our kids at night, but what about math? My husband and I have done fun, mischief-loaded math problems with our kids at night for years, and when at age 2 our third child started hollering for his own math problem, we realized we were onto something:  In a world where so many people say, "Ewww, math!" we had created a household culture where kids don't just tolerate math, they actually seek it out. Now we email parents a fun, lively math problem every day to do with their kids – and every week, we'll be posting a new problem right here on Scholastic Parents!

People have always wanted to take flight, but some really do it by the seat of their pants.  31 years ago this week, a guy named Larry Walters decided to build his own homemade flying machine -- by tying 45 giant helium weather balloons to a regular old lawn chair.  He hoped to float about 30 feet above his backyard, then pop the balloons one by one to come back down (yes, this is a true story). Well, his flying machine worked too well.  Larry shot 15,000 feet up into the air, clinging to the chair for dear life (he didn't think to attach a seat belt).  He eventually floated over Los Angeles International Airport, came down enough to get tangled in a power line, and earned himself the nickname Lawn Chair Larry.  While it all ended well, it was truly one of those don't-try-this-at-home stunts. Instead, try challenging your children with these fun math problems:

Wee ones (counting on fingers): Lawn Chair Larry brought along some food, drinks, and other items for his flight. If you bring 3 sandwiches, 2 water bottles, and a pair of binoculars, how many items are you packing for your trip?
Little kids: If Larry could have used 25 fewer balloons to float to the right height, how many balloons would he have needed?  Bonus: If you and you lawn chair weigh 1/5 as much as Larry's load, how many balloons would you have needed to fly to the same height?
Big kids:  If an airplane flying at 32,000 feet had spotted Larry, how many feet would it have had to come down to reach him?  Bonus: If the first balloon he popped brought him down to 11,500 feet, how many feet did he come down?

Wee ones: 6 items for the trip.
Little kids: 20 balloons.  Bonus: 9 balloons (assuming that balloon lift is linear with weight).
Big kids: 17,000 feet.  Bonus: 3,500 feet.

About this blog

In the Learning Toolkit blog, get quick and easy tips on how to support your child’s learning at home. From arts and crafts activities to conducting science experiments, we offer simple and fun ways to support your learner’s development at every age and stage.

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