Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: Games for Math

Games for Math opens up with the following anecdote: the author sets up two rows of 5 pennies in front of Julie. One row, she declares is hers, the other belongs to Julie. She asks Julie, who is in Kindergarten, to count the pennies. She can and does. She asks her if they each have the same number of pennies. She declares they do. Now, the author mixes things up: she takes her row of pennies and spreads them out. She then asks Julie if they still have the same number. Nope, Julie explains, now the author has more. The author puts another penny in her row, and proceeds to line them up so they take up the same space. Again, she asks Julie if they have the same amount. Julie can count she has 5 pennies and the author has 6, but that still doesn't stop her from answering that they have the same number.

Julie, as we can tell, is confusing the amount of space objects take up with how many there are. This, according to the author, is actually a normal phase children go through. At some point, Julie will get it, but for now, her understanding of the world is fundamentally flawed.

I found all of this incredibly fascinating. What a powerful example of how children aren't just little adults. In other words, the way I see the world may be totally different than our 7 year old, who's still figuring these concepts out.

And that's where Games for Math comes in. It's an unassuming book, published in the 80's with hand drawn illustrations. Definitely easy to pass by. Yet, it's incredibly powerful. Not only does it teach parents about the mindset difference between them and their kids, but it gives games - fun ones, actually - to help bridge the gap. I was expecting the games to consist of thinly veiled drilling exercises, and that's definitely not the case. In fact, memorization really takes a back seat in the book. Just play the games, and the memorization will take care of itself. I especially appreciated that there are games to help teach the concepts that one might assume were obvious to a kid (like the game that involves putting away groceries to teach the abstract concept of grouping).

Some of the games presented require some prep time, others can be done on the fly. They require the kind of items that you already have lying around - paper clips, coins, a deck of cards, etc.

Perhaps the most important value part of the book is the mindset it puts the parent in. If you've got gray time, you've got time to practice some math. And best of all, it can be fun.

Games for Math covers K through 3rd grade. Parents with younger or older kids may want to read it for inspiration. I'm definitely glad I found the book before summer, which seems like the perfect time to put these lessons to use.

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