"Why are you smiling?" asked my 7-year-old girl as she peered over my shoulder. I glanced up from my book - "Let's Play Math" by Denise Gaskins - but before I could answer her question, my daughter disappeared. A minute later, she returned with a piece of paper and a box of sparkly markers. "Can I play too?" I looked at the book on my lap and my smile widened. My daughter had noticed this image on the open page:
We spent the next hour playing with the Fibonacci sequence (using crackers) and making patterns out of Tangrams. That's what I love about "Let's Play Math"; This book not only gives parents ideas for making mathematics fun for children, but it also provides concrete examples that foster a family culture of enthusiasm around math. At our house, playing with math as a family is just part of life.
Before diving into the details of "Let's Play Math", I'd like to share a personal story. Let's turn back the clock about five years. I remember sitting at the dinner table discussing the possibility of homeschooling with my husband. "I'm already working with the twins on their addition facts," I bragged. My husband turned to our 2-year-old twin girls sitting in their highchairs. "What's 2 plus 3?" he asked. "Seven!" yelled out E. "Twenty!" her sister gleefully offered. Hubby raised an eyebrow in disapproval. I knew he was wondering if I could pull off this 'homeschooling thing'. I was beginning to question myself as well. I had a Masters degree in statistics and could solve partial differential equations in my sleep - why couldn't I get my toddlers to do basic addition?
It was around that time that I found Denise Gaskins's blog at letsplaymath.net . The blog was full of ideas for turning math into a game. This is where everything clicked for me. Instead of getting trapped in a "conveyor-belt mentality" where math education consists of worksheets and fact-memorization, I had to demonstrate the beauty and wonder of math to my children through fun hands-on exploration. That, in a nutshell, is what "Let's Play Math" is all about.
I have to be honest that once the concept of "playing math" clicked for me, implementation was easy. I already loved the subject myself, and I was raised in a family that enjoyed solving brain-teasers together after dinner. Once I adopted the "Let's Play Math" approach with my own children, we had a blast making up games and looking at the world like mathematicians. I became less concerned with how many facts my kids had mastered (they did eventually memorize their addition facts when they were developmentally ready), and focused more on teaching them to ask the right questions, make connections, and use critical thinking to solve problems.
I read the first version on the book "Let's Play Math" in 2012. I was already sold on the idea of making math fun, but found that the book gave me a plethora of wonderful ideas for activities to do with my young children. I recently read the latest version of the book (published 2016), which contains even more fantastic information, and still found myself smiling, nodding my head, and taking constant notes. (Disclosure: I received the book for free to review, but these opinions are completely my own)
Now maybe I've convinced you of the merits of the "Let's Play Math" mentality, but you're still thinking that it would be too difficult to get your kids to love math if you don't particularly enjoy the subject yourself. This is where the "Let's Play Math" book really shines. It is a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know to inspire your family to explore the amazing world of mathematics.
"Let's Play Math" begins by dispelling common math myths. It's empowering to throw out the "rules" that schools were constantly drilling into our brains - like "Answers are either right or wrong.", "Looking at someone else's answer is cheating.", "Show all your work and never take shortcuts." and others. When all those "rules" (myths) are dropped, you are free to start thinking like a mathematician and this book shows you just how to do that.
Denise Gaskins presents problems for parents to explore on their own before putting them into a lesson for children. One early example involves teaching the concept of 'the area of a rectangle' using a relational approach where instead of just giving the children the formula for area to memorize, the students explore the topic using hands-on manipulatives and thus develop an understanding of what 'area' really means and how the formula is derived (the activity is not exactly the same one pictured in the photo below, but the concept is similar). Even parents who have never been exposed to this way of thinking will get an "aha moment" as they follow the book's step-by-step instructions.
"Let's Play Math" has many examples of ways to play with math and solve problems. There are chapters on "Math You Can Play", "Math You Can Touch", and "Math That Makes You Think". My favorite chapter discusses how to use living books to learn about famous mathematicians and math problems. I already own and love many of the titles suggested, but also found some new ones that I'm looking forward to sharing with my kids during our special read-aloud time (we love taking out pencils and solving problems along with the stories we read). I also enjoyed the chapter about mathematics throughout history. It's been so much fun for my family to break away from thinking about math as a separate "school subject" and to integrate it into everything else we're learning about from science to history to music and art.
A truly comprehensive guide to mathematical education "Let's Play Math" provides a wide variety of tips for putting this way of teaching math into practice. The book also addresses issues that parents and educators might encounter ("What about testing?", "How to transition to High School math," and more).
I highly recommend this book to all parents. The "Let's Play Math" approach develops a culture of thinking and problem solving for which your entire family will benefit.
You can find more details and reviews on the "Let's Play Math" book at: https://tabletopacademy.net/playful-math-books/lets-play-math/
Denise Gaskins, the author of "Let's Play Math" has a new series of books called "Math You Can Play" which contain math games, organized by topic (great for reinforcing specific skills). Books covering math games for early learning and elementary students are currently available, with a book of math games for tougher topics expected this fall.
More information about the "Math You Can Play" series can be found at: https://tabletopacademy.net/playful-math-books/math-you-can-play/
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