How do we foster a love for learning? When we teach children to read, we share colorful picture books filled with exciting stories. In science, we do lively and engaging hands-on experiments, using fun props such as soda bottles and bouncing balls.

Yet how do we teach math? Often, intimidating numbers and symbols cover the board. Kids break out in a sweat trying to memorize formulas and multiplication tables. Is this encouraging a love for the process of solving problems and seeking solutions?

Making Math Fun

Fortunately, math doesn't have to be this way. It can be made engaging, entertaining, and even exciting! We need to refocus our efforts and emphasize relevance and understanding, rather than number crunching.

To accomplish these things, I believe in integrating math with language and art. Words and images are the keys to communicating mathematical reasoning and insight. These tools can connect math with a world of things — real and imaginary — that matter to kids and have the power to make math intuitive, clear, and meaningful. It is through these connections that math can become a familiar, friendly, and fun part of life.

Real-Life Math

Numbers and equations are far more interesting when they represent real-life specifics. For example, the problem "What is 3 x 4?" can be posed as "If there are 3 pods with 4 whales in each, how many whales are there all together?" As kids begin to visualize whales swimming through the ocean, the math becomes much more specific and rich.

Vivid examples also help to connect math with other subject areas. Here, science comes into play, and the word pod can lead to a discussion of similar words such as gaggle and flock. Math trivia, such as the weight of a blue whale (190 tons), can make the experience even more memorable. You can also make art and writing connections. Young students might draw and color an ocean scene while older kids try poetry.

I've always found it very odd,
That whales and peas
can share a pod!
For one is tiny, sweet, and green,
The other huge and sometimes mean.
I guess it simply goes to show,
In life you really never know!


Spring Math Riddles

Share the "mind-stretching" Spring Math Riddles Reproducible (PDF) to encourage children to take an open approach to problem solving. With each riddle, they must look at numbers and number patterns in new ways. Once kids understand how the riddles work, invite them to try their hand at writing their own to exchange and solve together.

Answers to the Spring Math Riddles

Raining Cats and Frogs:
When possible, add numbers that have easy sums. The umbrellas can be matched so there are 10 dots in each pair, or 20 dots all together. 10 + 10 = 20

Shell Game:
First, add up all the eggs, including the middle one that hasn't hatched. There are 3 rows of 3 eggs, or 9 eggs all together. Now subtract the middle egg to get 8 baby chicks. 9 - 1 = 8