3 Tools to Promote Mathematical Thinking


rulers for measuring

One of the best ways to engage young children in math is to make it hands-on.  Here are three hands-on tools that can give kindergartners opportunities to do some great mathematical thinking in the context of…them.

Bathroom Scale:  The bathroom scale is a fun math “tool” to have in the house because it gives kids immediate feedback and, the best part is, it’s all about them!  Unlike a lot of adults who may not like standing on a bathroom scale, kids find it fascinating.  

There are two kinds of bathroom scales: a digital scale and one where the numbers are visible on and off the scale.  The digital scale is the best scale to use for this activity as the other scale usually only shows decade numbers or multiples of 20 making it pretty abstract for young kids.  Since the digital scale usually shows decimals, you may want younger kids to ignore the number after the decimal point.  (It’s okay to say that the number after the decimal point tells us know how close we are to adding on one more pound…but let them
know that for now you’re going to ignore it.)  

Have your child step on the scale and read the number.  Offer help, if needed.  Don’t worry about your child not knowing how to read the numbers.  That will come with time and experience.  But it’s important that you say them out loud so they can begin to see how the words are connected to the symbols.

Ask her what the number would be if she weighed one more/less pound.  Then have her find something that you know weighs at least a pound and have her get back on the scale holding it.  Ask her if the number will be greater or less than what she weighed when she didn’t have the object. Ask if she can find something that would make the number go even higher.  Then have her press just her hands on the scale.  Is the number greater or less than standing on the scale?  Why does she think that happened?

Tape measures and rulers:  Kids should grow up being as comfortable with using a ruler or tape measure as they are using a pencil.  After all, a ruler is simply a tool we use when we need to solve a linear measurement problem.  But since opportunities to use rulers or tape measures in the context of everyday life don’t happen that often, here are some fun ways to introduce them to these cool tools.  

Tell them you’re going to measure how far they can jump.  Show them the tape measure, preferably one that does not have metal edges, and teach them how to use it.  Since young kids will often start measuring an object beginning at the ‘1’ mark on the ruler, you’ll need to show them how to measure starting at the end of the tape measure.  Then, find a good place for them to begin jumping making sure the “start line” is clearly marked.  Masking tape works well for this.

Kids love to keep track of how far they can jump and like to see if they can beat their record.  If needed, help them read the numbers on the tape measure.   Ask questions such as How many more inches did you jump this time?  

To take this to the next level, see if they can find objects around the house that measure about as far as they can jump.  Or have them measure the length of their foot or arm.  You can also introduce them to measuring with a ruler and find objects that measure about six inches, etc.  

Calendar:  The calendar packs a powerful punch when it comes to teachable math moments.  Not only will kids be learning counting, the months of the year and the days of the week, you’ll also be reinforcing the
ccalendar, kids will begin to understand time and how long until something happens.  And, aside from the mathematical learning benefits, using the calendar has positive emotional benefits, as well.  When kids know what to expect, they feel more relaxed and in control.

I recommend getting a 12-month calendar and hanging it in a prominent location low enough for your kids to be able to “read” it.  With the help of your child, fill in the important weekly events such as gymnastics class Mondays at 9:30 a.m., Wednesdays soccer practice at 3:30 p.m. and grandma and grandpa visiting Saturday
at 11:00 a.m.    Each morning, discuss the daily happenings and tie in some math.  How many more days until grandma comes to visit?  How many days are in September?  As your kids get older, have them fill in their own weekly events.  This helps kids learn how to set up and be in charge of their own lives, another added benefit.

Kids Money & Math

Karyn is co-founder of Math Unity LLC, an educational company specializing in elementary mathematics. She has a BA in Child Development, a Masters of Arts in Education with a Specialization in Elementary Mathematics and a multiple subjects teaching credential. Her passion is designing real-world lessons that resonate with kids and their interests. Karyn is the creator of Nifty Numbers, Math Medley, Gellin' with Geometry and Play and Take Family Math Night kits. These kits were designed to build strong family-school partnerships and get parents involved in fun and engaging math activities with their children. To find out more, visit www.FamilyMathNight.com