Super Supplements for Math

Because every math program approaches the subject in different ways, working with more than one program  help build math muscles. Plus, it is true that variety is the spice of life, and there are some wonderfully spicy math supplements out there! For these reasons, as time allows, I like to have my children use math supplements to their ordinary curricula.

Fridays are the day my elementary students usually do something different in the math department. Also, on days they finish their regular arithmetic work extra early, I might ask them to choose something from the thinking skill or math supplement line.

Here are some of my favorite math add-ons:

1. Cuisenaire rods

I've already written about how much I like Miquon Math.  Cuisenaire rods, wooden or plastic rods based on a centimeter unit, are integral to Miquon, and other books have been written based on this tool, but their versatility makes them useful with any program. Cuisenaire rods can illustrate addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and place value. I pull out the rods often when I think they will help a young child picture a math concept which is not making sense. Tim crafted a set of additional 10 rods, 100 flats, and  1000 cubes to use for place value purposes.

 Cuisenaire rods were always one of the first math manipulatives my toddlers played with. As soon as they were old enough to not put everything in their mouths, I'd let the little guys go with these. One fun activity it to drop them in a clean milk jug, and then shake them to make them come out. Granddaughter Annie has been known to do the same while visiting here, too.

Playing with math manipulatives, whatever kind you use in your house, is a great way to keep your littles happy while their siblings are doing math, and I think it often gives them an intuitive sense of how numbers work. After spending a few years messing with Cuisenaire rods, the transition to adding and subtracting with them is a breeze. They effortlessly know that two red (2's) make a purple (4). Other favorite manipulatives in our house for the younger crowd have been a bucket balance with gram-based plastic unit weights, wooden pattern blocks, and counting bears which come in Papa, Mama, and Baby sizes.

2. Hands On Equations:

This is a delightful program to introduce children to algebra as early as 2nd or 3rd grade. Andrew, our oldest, loved it, and so so does Ben, our youngest. Using a laminated paper balance and simple pawns (game pieces), children solve progressively more difficult problems, learning tricks like adding a negative pawn (-X) to both sides to cancel out an X. This is definitely a supplement and not a stand-alone program, but it gives a nice framework for later work which we reference when the kids begin true algebra.

 Ben works with Hands On Equations, or "Baby Algebra" as we call it. The pawns represent X. Later, white pawns will be added to represent -X and green dice for negative numbers. Ben had started with the equation: 4X + 5 = X + 17. Using the pawns and dice on the balance, he has simplified it to 3X = 12, from which he can easily solve to find X = 4.  Finally he'll check his answer with the original equation.

Paul reads about Fred in the fractions book
3. Life of Fred Series: This one is newer to me, but we have certainly been enjoying it for the past several years. The Fred series is the clever creation of Dr. Stanley Schmidt. Though there are now new elementary books out, I've had my children begin with Life of Fred: Fractions in 5th grade. Zany stories about Fred, a very young genius who has all kinds of adventures, keep students wanting to move along quickly, though they will have to solve plenty of math problems on the way. Children who prefer stories to arithmetic will revel in this series. Very different, and most excellent.   

4. Keys to ... Series
Key Curriculum Press publishes inexpensive series on fractions, decimals, percents, measurements, and even algebra and geometry. Often we've used these workbooks for someone who needed a bit of extra practice on one of these topics.

5. Math Puzzles
Finally, don't forget that math games and puzzles make a terrific break from your usual program. Look for Sudoku and Ken-ken puzzles in newspapers, puzzle books, online, etc. Many of my children love Sudoku, and a few were known to work on puzzles during college classes. Sudoku is fine, but Ken-ken is my puzzle of choice.  (Several years ago I wrote about logic and thinking skills resources in this post.

6. The Math Mom: If you can't get enough of math, check out The Math Mom's website or subscribe to her entertaining weekly newsletter.
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