In my family, we love telling math riddles to each other. Sometimes we do this at the dinner table. Towards the end of a meal I’ll say,“ I have a new riddle to solve, anyone up for it?” And my kids jump at it. (Road trips are a great time for this too.) Most kids love trying to solve riddles. These math based stories are the kinds of things we have to solve in life on a routine basis. It just sounds more fun to kids when you call it a riddle. I’ll make up a story using realistic settings and issues they can relate to, which shows them that math really is a part of everyday life. A riddle or story might go something like this:
You’re planning a sleep over with 4 friends (plus yourself) and I’ve made a dozen and a half cookies and you want each friend, and yourself, to get an equal number of cookies. How many cookies will you each get? And are there any left over?
Scale your story problems to the appropriate math concepts for your child’s age and base them on what they are learning in school at the time. If they are just learning to count to 10, keep your stories focused on different ways to get to 10.
I am one number bigger than 5 and one number smaller than 7. Who am I?
I have 10 pencils and two friends. Each of my friends gets the same number of pencils. How many does each friend get?
Both of my boys will work on the problem in their heads or sometimes run and get paper and a pencil. I tell them to let me know when they’re ready to share their answers and ask them not to blurt out the answer if they’ve solved it before the other one. I let each one tell me what he thinks the answer is and ask him to explain how he arrived at the answer out loud. I don’t tell them if their answer is right until each of them has had a chance to share how he arrived at his answer.
Interestingly enough, and more often than not, they each do the computation a little bit differently than the other to get to an answer. I always comment that it’s so cool to hear how they solved the problem and to see how differently they approached figuring it out. If they both got the right answer but solved it very differently, it’s a great way to underscore that often times there are many ways to solve a problem. If one doesn’t get it right, I have the other walk through how he solved the problem again. Sometimes I step in to help, but I usually try to let them help each other out as much as possible (one teaches the other). If you start doing this when they are very young, it’s a great way to break down sibling competition and show them how good it is to work together.
Today, my guys are very comfortable in situations where one might get the answer right and the other one doesn’t. But, it wasn’t always that way and it takes time to build up confidence and collaboration. We keep this activity very low key. It’s supposed to be fun, not a test, so don’t push your kids to solve riddles if they don’t want to. And, my kids always get to offer up challenges too, so the fun goes both ways. My oldest son has totally stumped me with logic and visual math problems many times! It’s awesome. I love it.
For more ways to build math and math based storytelling into your daily routine, check out our Learning Toolkit blogs by Bedtime Math's Laura Overdeck, it’s a great resource for math based stories and puzzles you can share with your kids.