Math Monday::Play Math!

I’ll have to wait until this week’s Creative Math Club to finish off the Pentomino Math part of Math Monday, so in the meantime I’ll share the things we’ve found that have made math really fun for us.

Our journey towards not hating math has come slowly, over the past 4 years. I’m hoping that with these Math Monday posts, I can help speed up the process for other people. Because math can and should be really fun, engaging, experiential, and exciting! Once it became this for my daughter and I, even we could not keep from hating and avoiding it.

This list of things that helped us play around with math is especially for those kids (and parents!) who have serious issues with numbers. It’s for those people who find math boring, or painful, or inhumane.

Think of it as my ultimate nerdy and totally mathmatical gift buying list for those who love math or want to learn to love it. Just in time for Christmas!

The first ‘aha’ moment we had came while reading A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science. I can’t even tell you how much we love this book. For the first time, numbers became mysterious, magical, important, archetypal. We became philosopher mathmaticians while reading it, which suits us better than computational mathmaticians.

However, computation is a big part of math, so after being mathmaticaly inspired, we agreed to try out some computation stuff. Our favorite way to do this was through books that made math into games. If you or someone you love is mathphobic, put down the math curriculum schoolbooks immediately, and pick up some of these:

Family Math Book Series…experiencing math through games:
Pre K-K: Family Math for Young Children: Comparing (Equals Series))

Elementary school: Family Math (Equals Series)

Middle School: Family Math : The Middle School Years, Algebraic Reasoning and Number Sense

Lots of different kinds of Dice Math books

and here are other general math game books

Computer and video games that are so cool, you won’t know you’re doing math/science:

World of Goo

Crazy Machines 2

Boom Blox

Experiential Math:

Zometool 1

BEGINNER Pack: Rainbow (61 pieces) Goobi Magnetic Construction Set. Contains 35 mixed rainbow color bars, 18 spheres and 8 tripods.

at first I bought the beginner set, and then my kids caught the fever and wanted to build epic big structures, so I’d go with this one:

Goobi 202 Piece Master Magnet Construction Set Rainbow …my 5 year old is building away with these as I type. 😉

Rainbow Premiere Pentominoes

Plastic Pattern Blocks (Set of 250)

And finally, Kinesthetic Math…for people that like to move!:
Addition & Subtraction: Math Mat Challenge Game

Multiplication & Division: Learning Resources – Factor Frenzy

So that’s what we’re enjoying at our house–all the things that have helped us not be so afraid of math in our daily lives.


Happy Thanksgiving!

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Any traditions you’re following today?

This year is a little strange, because Hubby and Naturalist went to Idaho to be with Hubby’s family, while the rest of us stayed here to be with my family. I couldn’t stand to be away from my sisters new baby for long! As for traditions, it’s pretty simple. Lots of good food, all day long. Naps anytime you want one. Dessert any time you want it. Everything made with lots of butter and cream cheese. Ummmm, nerf gun battles have been known to erupt, as has Dinner Roll baseball. My older sister has 4 kids that my kids love to be with, so they play all day and usually have a sleep over and play all night too.

Whatever you do, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Math Monday::Pentominoes!

{as an aside, let’s just all pretend that I actually write and post these on Monday, it would help keep the whole ‘math monday’ alliteration theme going…and help me keep my dignity…}

A few weeks ago, our Creative Math club met together and did even more things with the square inch pieces of paper that Sonja and I had cut out for the Square Numbers Math activities. I went to town with my paper cutter one night and ended up with about a bazillion squares before I realized it.


When the kids arrived, they just sat around the table and played with the squares for a little while. Then I focused it a little more and asked them to choose 5 squares, and see what kind of pictures or shapes they could make. Some were really pretty!


And finally, after a few minutes of that, I told them we were going to play a game, but that first we needed game pieces made from 5 squares. Each piece needed to have 5 squares connected–no more, no less. There would be a total of 12 game peices per person. Their job was to put the 5 squares together to see if it was a game peice…each piece had a specific rule to follow in order to use it to play the game with, but, I wasn’t going to tell them what the pieces looked like, I would only tell them yes or no if it was a piece as they showed me their ideas.


This is a technique I discovered works really well with visual spatial, right brain thinkers. Rather than tell them the rule, or explain how something works, I just give them the free reign to experience it for themselves and then tell me the rule or how it works. The rule for the game pieces is simply the definition for pentominoes…shapes that are formed by joining a series of 5 squares attached edge to edge (not edge to corner!). Or, another way of putting it: A pentomino is a polyomino composed of five (Greek πέντε / pente) congruent squares, connected orthogonally.

So, the kids would arrange 5 squares, then ask me if it was a game piece. Out of these 3 examples, only the two on the ends are pentominoes, because the middle one joins the squares at the corners.


If you’ve ever played Tetris, then you’ll recognize the pentomino shapes…even though Tetris only uses four block shapes.

Slowly they honed their skills, and it didn’t take long for them to figure out the characteristics of the pentomino shapes.

Picnik collage

Once they all had their 12 pieces glued to a sheet of construction paper, they cut them out and then I brought out my most favorite thing in the world….the laminator. It’s hard to express how much love I have for this thing, I’m totally addicted to laminating things. The kids were also totally addicted to watching their pentominoes go in with a thin sheet of plastic over them, and come out laminated and sturdy.


Now, they had their game pieces ready…but we’d run out of time. So, we’ll make the game boards next week and use the pentominoes in a very mathmatical and fun way. And then next math monday I’ll explain what games we played with them. In the meantime, here’s an Online Pentomino Gameand another online Pentomino Game.

To finish up our Math Club, we played Blokus, which is a family favorite in our household, and one that uses pentominoes and other shapes to create a simple and addicting game. This has been in heavy rotation around here for the past year, solid.


So, here’s a quick note about pentominoes, and why I love them. They are totally mathmatical, but totally non computational. Meaning, you don’t have to sit around with a calculator or worksheet. Pentominoes are meant to be played with, flipped around, discovered, explored, and used in a very hands on way. If you have a mathphobic kid, or are mathphobic yourself, I highly recommend getting a hold of some Pentominoes games and puzzles for a while. Math is fun! Just play with them! If you can’t resist a more ‘schooly’ way of dealing with them, there are lots of school standard type Fiction and Non Fiction books about Pentominoes.

More about Pentominoes here

Wikipedia article about pentominoes here.

Blokus game if you only have 2 players.

and then I just now saw this Blokus 3D Game, which looks pretty cool!

Baby, Baby!

Some new developments have happened here at Child’s Play! Like, really really new…

Baby L.

This is Baby L., my sister’s newest addition to the clan. He’s soft and smells like what delicious tastes like. As you can see, he’s just about the cutest thing on the planet.

He came around a month early, so has some issues to work out which means a little more hospital time than usual. For my sister and I, this means more time to party. We have a long tradition between us, starting when she was around for 3 out of my 4 births. That tradition is….get rowdy in the hospital! It can be a stressful place, with all the nurses coming in and out monitoring everyone, and a new baby to try to nurse, and all the new mama hormones wreaking havoc with emotions. And for my sister and I, when the going gets tough, we get silly.

This is the first time the roles were switched, and I was the one helping while she was the one having the baby…I have to say, I like it this way. I get all of the love and fun with none of the worry or pain.

Yesterday we hung out while Baby L. spent some time under the sun lamps trying to get his bilirubin levels down to a not critical stage (stress!). My sister wanted to stretch her legs a bit, so left me in charge of watching over him while she went down to get a salad and some milk from the cafeteria. This is what she came back with:

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That would be two slices of cake, two sodas, and two bags of chips. We also had a Choco Taco and Dove bar in the freezer. Because heaven help the nursing mom who doesn’t have enough carbs in her life.

It reminded me of the time Jamie stayed overnight with me after Sassy was born. When the nurses would come deliver my food, they would have a little container of really really good ice cream with it. I mean, really good! At around 2 in the morning, about 12 hours after popping another human being out of my hootie hoo and without really walking much since then, I decided I wanted to find their ice cream stash. Jamie and I figured it had to be near the nurses station somewhere.

So, we bundled Sassy up and put her in the hospital bassinet that you can wheel around while I peeled myself from the bed into vertical. We crept out of the hospital room and slowly made our way down the hall, pushing Sassy in front of us, looking in to each room that wasn’t for patients. The quieter we tried to be, the harder we giggled. At long last, success! We found a large freezer full of ice cream. Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla…all the ice cream we could eat. We piled tubs and tubs of it into Sassy’s bassinet, so it held more pounds of ice cream than it did baby. Then we slowly made our way back down the hall. We had almost made it back when a voice from behind us said, “What are you girls doing?!” My night nurse. Busted! It only made us giggle harder. She walked over to check on Sassy, picked up the blanket and asked…”is that….ice cream?” Why yes, yes it was. She laughed at us and sent us on our way, saying she wished more new moms would get up and walk around sooner after delivery. I suggested she tell them there was all you could eat ice cream in the freezer.

We’re hoping Baby L. gets to go home today, which would put an end to our hospital fun but start a whole new life with her little boy. And everyone’s excited about that!

What passion driven learning looks like in our house.

The concept of ‘interest led’ or ‘passion driven’ learning is so counterculture to how education is run in public schools, many people don’t understand what it realistically looks like as a form of educating. So, I thought I would share what it looks like in our house, and what a powerful tool it is in our unschooling life.

Here’s a small example:

When Naturalist and I went to NYC, we visited the Museum of Natural History.



Museums, which should be a Disneyland for learning, too often are despised by kids and thought of as ‘boring’. I’ve learned (the hard way) how to visit museums with my kids….but here’s how it goes (and here’s the first and best step to finding out an interest or passion in kids!). I give them a museum map and highlighter, and have them highlight all the places and rooms they want to visit while there. We do not go to every nook and cranny, and skip entire exibits altogether.

Naturalist highlighted her interests, and then I let her lead me around to each of them (btw, map reading and following is a big chunk of curriculum in any grade…). She played tour guide as we went along, hour by hour. First hour, second hour, by the third hour I noticed a theme…birds. Everywhere we went it was all about birds. Birds of North America. Birds of South America. Ancient Birds. Birds of Antarctica. Birds of the rainforests….birds birds birds.

I wasn’t big into all the bird stuff, so spent my time trying to fit in with the locals.

At the end of the 4th hour, I finally spoke up.

“Hey, do you know there’s a term for nerdy bird love like this?” I asked.

“No, what is it?” she wondered.

“It’s a field of study called ‘Ornithology’, you might look into it!”

She could have stayed there another 4 hours, but I was getting bored, hungry, and cranky, so we started for the exit. We made a quick detour into the huuuuuge gift shop, where Naturalist headed straight for this:

The ornithology section.

Since then, I rarely see her without a bird book near by. She checks out bird bibles at the library so she can cross reference birds with their habitats, flight patterns, and range of migration.

Her dyslexia still makes reading difficult, but nothing is going to stop her from learning what she’s passionate about. She’s set a goal to learn a new bird every other day, complete with it’s scientific name and other relevant facts. She’s also looking in to volunteering in the bird departments at the Zoo and Science Museum in Denver.

In school, this study into Ornithology wouldn’t be encouraged because nothing about it prepares her for the state testing or the SAT. There are few things she’s learning now that will help her pass a standardized test. I find it so shortsighted that so much of our public education is geared towards test taking and not geared enough towards life learning.

As my boyfriend, John Muir, says, “Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.” Her interest and passion for birds has so far taught her about geography, ecology, latin, research, reading, and a thousand other things that I can’t quantify.

It works this way for each of the kids: Sassy is obsessed with outer space. Golfer is obsessed with military aircraft and US Presidents. While their interests are specific, the deeper they delve into them, the more they learn about everything else. It’s a fun process to be a part of!

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Wordless Wednesday::Imagine.


Hey Guess What?!

Snow! A foot of it!


And while Hubby and the older kids were out front shoveling the walkways and driveway, Sassy and I were in back living it up! We made snow angels, threw snow around, and then made a snowman. Or, snowwoman I should say.

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Sassy kept eating the carrots off the poor snowwoman’s face.

Golfer was thisclose to throwing a snowball at me, until I threatened no more snuggling if he did. So he didn’t. Instead he threw it at Hubby who got it right in his ear…did you know a frozen eardrum can lead to nausea and dry heaving?! I didn’t either! But now I know!

The weather is clearing up, and it has warmed up rather quickly. It all may be gone tomorrow…maybe all that shoveling wasn’t really necessary after all…