Homeschooling Series: Here is the second of four blog posts about Math Manipulatives! We believe it is possible to reach beyond basic manipulatives to create a rigorous, homeschooling environment. For access to our previous post on Number Sense (Understanding Numbers), please click here!
Operations and Using Numbers

When including Operations in a Math curriculum, children are usually encouraged to play games and show how they can “use” numbers! Obviously, this works well for most learners. We all love Math Games! Who doesn’t? Manipulatives (counters, dice, timers, etc.) help to complete these activities or games and can be used to help increase confidence.

Examples of Operations activities include, but are not limited to, fact-families, finding missing numbers, and skip counting. Suprisingly, though, these activities rarely include real-world application:

Interestingly, these activities look great, right? Without question these activities are fun and engaging. Manipulatives are supporting to help children understand numbers, and everything seems useful! You might even be asking yourself…

Here is the identified problem:

In a typical learning environment, “task-completion” overshadows practical application. Even though Operations activities are highly interactive, children often forget the information. Operations activities require prior skills (skip counting requires number sense, for example), and therefore lean towards rote memorization even if the activities look like they are fun!

As previously stated in our last post, Focus Online LLC would never classify any Math activities as inappropriate, pointless or harmful. Today’s question looks at a common problem after the manipulatives and activity have been put away, though: “Regardless of age, could a child remember number operations in a faster, and more applicable, way?”.

As a solution, we suggest breaking Math activities into 2 parts:

Part A: Complete the activity/game/exercise
Part B
  • Identify when and where the activity/game/exercise might be used, regardless of the activity
  • During that day, attempt a real-world application of the operation

For example:

  • Skip-counting is useful for paying cash at a store, owning a business, or buying supplies for an office job. You might suggest, “Let’s go to the store so you can pay!”
  • Fact Families can be used to determine how to place a couch into a room (The wall is 10 feet long, the couch is 6 feet long, therefore I have 4 feet to spare) or working as a builder. In addition, you might decide to roll your curriculum into geography, mapping and design!

Oftentimes, real-world links are made when teh connection is obvious, or when a lesson plan and activity call for it. Using connections consistently imbeds an understanding of purpose, as well as increases the value of learning for a child. At Focus Online LLC, we believe in making connections as often as possible, and also in a variety of ways. In fact, we go beyond real-world connections to help students create purposeful connections with previously read text and personal experiences.

Here is a fun and practical Math Game using playing cards with a surprise at the end! (Follow us on Instagram for more games):

As a homeschooling parent, how do YOU think this Operations game could tie into the real world?