Posted by Ellen on 11/20/2014

I had someone ask me again about ways to make math less scary for kids of all ages. I find that kids get most overwhelmed when they lack a solid foundation; in other words, getting kids to understand and have number sense is my first suggestion. Obviously, this is much easier when kids are younger, but even 8, 9, 10 year old kids benefit greatly from breaking down numbers and playing with them.
Making math more into a game is a great way to build basics, but without the stress! One fun activity that you can do with your kids is to find some flat rocks and allow your kids to paint different numbers on them, one number per rock. Vary the number range based on your child's age (maybe 1-5 for younger children and 1-9 for older kids). If you don't have rocks, allow your child to pull 3, 4 or 5 playing cards from a deck of cards. If you don't have cards, use scraps of paper. The point is, kids see rocks/cards/scraps of paper as "game" pieces and all of a sudden, math is fun instead of stressful.
Ask him different questions about the numbers on the rocks/cards/papers and give him a chance to manipulate them to answer the questions, and more importantly, justify his reasoning.
Sample questions include:
"What happens when you add the number on this rock (e.g. 4) to the number on this rock (e.g. 3)?" "Now, what do you notice when you add the number on this rock (e.g. 3 -- the 2nd rock from the first question) to this number (e.g. 4 -- the 1st rock from the first question)" -- the idea here is that your child will begin to see the Commutative Property of Addition, which states a +b = b + a. You child will have to explain WHY 4 + 3 = 3 + 4. Have him try multiple additions combinations to prove to you (and him) that this property always works.
"What is the largest number you can make with these three rocks (e.g., 7, 8, 3)?" Assume your child chooses to manipulate the rocks to make the number 738. Ask, "Great! Why is 738 better than 378?" Then push further and ask about the place values of each of the digits in a 3-digit number. Try to tease out that the number in the first place represents hundreds and the larger the number in the hundreds place, the larger the number overall. "So, would it be better to have an 8 in the hundreds place, or 3 in the hundreds place? Why?" "What is the value of the 2nd digit {tens}?" "What is the value of the third digit {ones}? Obviously, you want your child to get to 873, but be sure to praise and question each step along the way.
Ask your child to come up with her own questions about the rock numbers and let her "quiz" you. See what questions and discussions arise, and go from there.
Good luck and happy math exploring!