On-demand STEM classes and activities for your child are a great option when you need an activity at any time of day. ActivityHero provides a wide variety of classes and activities in science, technology, coding, engineering, math, and more! Here are some of our favorite on-demand STEM activities.
From WALL-E, Baymax, to Transformers, robots have been some of our favorite movie characters. In this Open Class, Professor Atkeson from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University will walk us through the basics of robotics and then explore soft robots, which have soft cushiony bodies.
Do you know your kids can help scientists solve puzzles and design vaccines by playing games? Genetics, together with computer science, are two of the most promising fields for the future. Join this talk to learn the basics of genetics and explore the fun game designed by Stanford experts!
Have fun baking a dessert with your kids and learn some science at the same time with this DIY Solar Oven by Beau Coffron, in partnership with Home Depot. All you need is an old pizza box and a handful of tools and materials. In just a few easy steps, you’ll have created an innovative solar oven!
This On-Demand segment is part of our Playgineering and Fungineering series that uses the Engineer’s Process to create scenes with Technic and regular Legos and other materials through design, construction, robotics and play.
In this segment, in addition to highlighting key features that define turrets of castles, we provide step-by-step instructions for building turrets using 2×4 and 2×2 Lego bricks that are able to interlock-style attach to the walls of the castle that we build in different On-Demand segments in our series.
This on-demand activity includes a telescope kit and video instruction, where an expert astronomer and telescope builder will walk you through the process of assembling the telescope. Then, begin exploring the universe like Galileo did over 400 years ago and see the wonders of the winter sky!
These amazing STEM Kits include 3-5 STEM experiments and activities shipped right to your door. These include videos with pre-recorded STEM lessons to guide you through the activities. Each video lesson is taught by a California credentialed teacher that specializes in STEM Education.
Build a wind-powered car while learning about the scientific concepts behind the process! These printables will guide you through the steps of building a car, testing it out, and experimenting with it!
Don’t just muddle through the first weeks of school. Use these clever strategies from after-school teachers to help kids (and you) hit the ground running!
By Laura Quaglio
The first weeks of school loom with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Even though it’s a relief to return to the predictability of the school calendar, it’s tough not to dread the free-form anxiety that can accompany any type of change. Did you get the right binders? Will they have friends in their class? Will they like their teachers … will you? And how exactly did you manage to cram homework, after school activities (even their favorites), bathtime, and books into an evening with an earlier bedtime? Until the rhythm of the new school year is firmly established, you’ve got a recipe for general crankiness at home. It’s understandable. Expected, even. But does it have to be this way? Maybe a little. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make the switch more smoothly.
“Any time you start a new routine or transition to something new, it can bring up fear, anxiety, worry … whatever word you want to use,” says Michelle Wing, founder of the San Francisco studio It’s Yoga, Kids, located in the Presidio. “This happens for kids especially, but also for parents.”
After school program directors like Michelle have some unique insights into helping kids switch gears, adjust to newness, and cultivate a positive attitude. That’s why we asked her to offer some advice on using the ancient practices of yoga and mindfulness to help kids gear up for school, settle down at bedtime, and generally de-stress. We also talked to Emily McCullough, director at San Francisco Math Circle at CSME at SFSU, about her ideas for rekindling kids’ enthusiasm for learning and their excitement for the activities (after school and otherwise) that will make their coming year great.
Back-to-School Tip #1: Use Yoga to Settle Body and Mind
“Yoga engages your brain, your body, and your heart,” says Michelle. That’s why it’s particularly useful in helping people deal with strong emotions and stressful thoughts. Here are a few ways she suggests using it to ease the transition to back to school.
To settle down before bed: Aerobic exercise helps burn off excess energy when kids are having difficulty calming down and falling asleep. Michelle suggests Yoga Jacks (jumping from the Mountain Pose to the Star Pose quickly, like jumping jacks). Have kids do 10 at a time until they’re tired.
Another of her favorites is Mountain Climbers (hands on floor and “running” by alternating knees to chest). Michelle follows these mini aerobic sessions with some peaceful reading time before lights-out.
To relieve stress: Breathing-based exercises are a good fit here. First, spend some time in the Astronaut Pose (lay on floor with legs up the wall and hands on belly, noticing the belly rise and fall with each breath). Just 5 minutes or so may be enough to help them relax.
Also teach kids the Lion’s Breath. This means taking a big, huge inhalation while making the eyes really big, then exhaling fiercely while sticking out the tongue to the chin (resembling a panting dog). Repeat 3 times.
To wake up in the morning: To wake up in the morning: Before getting out of bed, parents can try Body Drumming, in which they tap every part of the child’s body, from the toes to the top of the head, to wake up the body and mind.
Next, they can take a Giant Breath, laying on the back with arms extended overhead, stretching the body from fingers to toes, as though you’re trying to touch opposite walls. Wiggle the fingers and toes, then roll to the side and place the feet on the floor to stand up. Then go brush those teeth!
Back-to-School Tip #2: Rekindle Kids’ Excitement for School
Emily McCullough, director at San Francisco Math Circle at CSME at SFSU says that the best way to prepare kids to “get back in the game” of learning is to engage their emotions. “Get them excited about the social aspects of learning,” she suggests. When school is in session, they’ll be able to reconnect with friends they didn’t see much in summer, and they can return to fall sports or after school programs that didn’t make it into their summer plans. “Getting kids excited about attending fun after school programs will likely make the back-to-school transition easier,” she says. Ask them what they’re looking forward to in the coming months – or what new activities they hope to try in autumn.
Also reminisce about academic successes from their previous grades. “Remind your students of the fun they had working hard and being challenged,” says Emily. Did they have a History Day project they were proud of? Maybe they created a fun music video about the water cycle for their science class. Think, too, about the upcoming school subjects that might pique their interest. If they love spatial activities like building or drawing, for instance, an upcoming year of geometry may be something to look forward to.
Back-to-School Tip #3: Start Hitting the Books — Informally
To get kids’ intellectual juices flowing, pay a visit to the library or bookstore. “Check out the books on math games and puzzles,” suggests Emily. Or books with fun and innovative approaches to whatever subjects they enjoy.
Don’t worry too much about workbooks or textbook review right now, she adds. “The procedural fluency and conceptual understanding will naturally come back with practice, and they will get plenty of that when they return to school,” explains Emily. “It’s excitement and interest that we need to cultivate.”
Back-to-School Tip #4: Look into Enrichment Programs
If your student can’t get enough of math or enjoys playing with numbers, puzzles, and patterns in their free time, they might enjoy a program like the “math outreach and enrichment program” offered at San Francisco Math Circle. “We provide rich mathematical content in an engaging context, as well as much encouragement,” says Emily. “The students must bring the rest — energy, interest, and an openness to try new things.”
She adds that an enrichment program might be a great fit for students who once enjoyed a particular subject but now seem bored or frustrated by it. Maybe they aren’t challenged enough at school, or perhaps they had a negative experience in that subject with a particular teacher. You may be able to reignite your student’s love of an “old favorite” subject matter through after school enrichment.
Education has long been a popular setting in mainstream media, both for inspiration and for entertainment. It has introduced us to famous teachers (Mr. Kotter, Mrs. Frizzle), famous schools (Ridgemont High, Rushmore, Wayside School, Hogwarts), and famous school-centric stories and shows (Wonder, South Park, Saved by the Bell). In each case, we watch with excitement, empathy, or humor, based on our own set of school experiences. And sometimes we get to relish the experience of seeing school (and the learning process) in a whole new light.
Here, we have gathered a list of titles for families who want some academic role models or lessons for their children, as well as a couple selections that simply offer a little scholastic comic relief. Reflecting a broad mix of real-life and fictional stories, the listings here prove that there are many different ways to learn and many different ways to teach.
Great Books with a Schoolroom Setting
The Year of Miss Agnes
Schoolteachers don’t usually last very long at this one-room schoolhouse in Alaska. Miss Agnes is different. Not only does she stick around for a year, she also makes learning relatable and enjoyable to the citizens of the remote village.
Adventures in vocabulary are in play in this story. A boy creates a new word for an ordinary object, and his creation catches on, much to the chagrin of his teacher and parents!
Strong community and deep friendships form in this fantasy novel. Love of words and learning propel the heroine to become an invaluable resource within her community.
This creative app taps into the user’s imagination and enthusiasm in true 21st century fashion. Videos, photos, drawings, and inventive challenges combine to inspire learning.
Kids’ Movies with Inspiring Academic Role Models
Akeelah and the Bee
A girl’s journey to a big spelling bee is supported by her community. At times she struggles to embrace her own intelligence and worth.
This documentary follows several competitors for the National Spelling Bee. Hard work, family, and big dreams are part of the equation that helps get these kids on the big stage.
On the Way to School
Most Americans have a simple way to get to school; a short walk, bike ride, or trip in a car or bus will get us there. For other kids around the world, it’s not easy, or comfortable, but it’s worth it because they desperately want an education.
The Miracle Worker
The story of Helen Keller and her teacher is beyond inspiring. Helen has no understanding of language or of interacting normally with family members. Through ingenuity, perseverance and patience, teacher Annie Sullivan opens up the world of words and language to her student. Annie is a testament to all teachers’ hard work. A must-see.
Determination and hard work are the life lessons strongly represented by the main character in this fine film. With the help of a kindly teacher, teammates and friends, the underdog Rudy fulfills his life’s dream. Definitely best for tweens and older, due to language, a death and sports violence.
Little House on the Prairie
The one-room schoolhouse in this beloved series is not the only location where education takes place. Pioneer children living on a farm learn a variety of practical tasks and life skills every day. History and geography are natural discussion topics when watching as a family.
Exhibiting a strong level of curiosity, the crew of Mythbusters sets out in each episode to prove an idea, sometimes an urban legend, sometimes an idiom like “a bull in a china shop.” There are often explosions, items being thrown into walls, or things launched skyward, all in the name of science and discovery.
More Mature TV and Movies About Academics
These titles have more mature themes and language, so they’re recommended for older teen audiences.
The mission at this school is to inspire and encourage teens at risk of dropping out. Celebrity mentors and teachers have their work cut out for them. Be aware: Strong language and personal circumstances mean this is best for teens and older.
Dead Poets Society
This classic is an inspiring coming-of-age story that celebrates creativity and a free spirit. There are mature themes and activities, so this is best for older tweens and teens.
Good Will Hunting
Ages 14+ (rated R)
This Academy Award winner demonstrates that academics can open doors for people from all classes (e.g., a working-class Boston youth), but you have to believe in yourself and want to walk through those new doors.
An idealistic high school teacher discovers the way to connect with her students is to help find their similarities. Her emphasis on really listening to her students is notable. The hip-hop soundtrack will appeal to teen viewers.
Stand and Deliver
Sacrifice and hard work are front-and-center in this inspiring movie. It is based on the story of a real math teacher who went to extreme lengths to teach his kids math, and eventually AP Calculus. The students struggle with life issues outside of school, but while in school they become driven and engaged. Real-life scenes can be rough, and the language is questionable at times, but relevant to the movie.
To Sir, With Love
This classic is another inspired teacher tale. Real-life issues such as class and race are addressed, while the teacher works hard to connect with and discipline his students so that they are ready and able to learn.
Want homework help? Solid study skills? Better test scores? Here, experts offer insights to help you find the right academic programs for your kids.
By Laura Quaglio
You’re diligent about driving your kids to soccer practice and piano lessons. But now that midterm grades are drifting in, you might be wondering if it’s time to consider adding academic enrichment to that list of after school activities. Not surprisingly, the educators we interviewed for this article offer a simple answer: Yes! But their reasons — and the added perks of after school academic classes, tutoring sessions, and camps — might help you decide to make the leap this year.
For starters, kids everywhere can benefit from being immersed in a supportive environment where they will have their individual needs addressed and met. Just look at how much colleges “sell” their small student-teacher ratios, and you’ll see how appealing it might be for your child to be one of, say, 10 students, instead of 30 or more kids vying for a teacher’s attention.
Also, as parents, we know that practice equals progress. It’s why we invest in soccer camp and piano lessons. And though our kids “could” practice penalty shots and major scales on their own at home, or we “could” do that with them, chances are it’s not going to happen. And if it does, it may not be pretty.
The big difference between choosing an academic enrichment program (instead of enrolling kids in sports or the arts) is that many of us don’t know where to begin or what questions to ask. Because we know how vital our kids’ minds are, we’re afraid to foray into this area at all. Before we can sell our kids on the idea, we need to have confidence in our decision.
For some expert guidance, we turned to three experts for their insights into the different types of academic classes, camps, and tutors available to kids:
Darrell Dela Cruz, the education coordinator of Communication Academy in Cupertino, California, whose goal is to help students develop confidence in their communication skills, which can help them be more confident and successful in all aspects of their lives
Abby Hunt, director of brand and communications at Wyzant, the nation’s largest online market site for finding tutors and coaches for learners of all ages
Winnie Wong, PhD, founder and director of instruction at EDNova Academy, in San Mateo, California, which aims to inspire, guide, and nurture the next generation STEM leaders and empower students with knowledge so they can choose who they want to be
Before we get to the questions you might want to ask of any academic program, let’s take a quick look at some of the main differences between tutors, camps, and classes.
Tutors, Classes, and Camps: Some Key Points
Each of these types of academic enrichment offers its own unique benefits. “If you need help in a very specific subject, you’re not always going to find a tutor right down the street,” says Hunt. The same is true of local classes or camps. That’s why Wyzant offers connections to 80,000 tutors, many of whom are willing to offer online lessons and support. Tutoring also provides a highly customized approach, allowing each child to receive the full attention of one instructor.
On the other hand, taking academic classes in a small-group setting teaches kids to work together cooperatively, to communicate as a group, and to listen to different viewpoints and ideas from different students. Classes result in steady improvement over time. “To cultivate a good habit, you have to take time,” says Dr. Wong. Classes also allow students to learn about a particular subject matter and then build upon that knowledge steadily.
Camps, though, will immerse kids in a topic, giving them a very strong foundation of knowledge, says Dela Cruz. “Kids are preparing, practicing, presenting, and receiving feedback, all within a short period of time,” he says. This provides them with tangible results quickly — and leads to the formation of strong bonds between the kids and their instructors and fellow students, since they spend so much time together for several consecutive days.
Classes generally result in steadier improvement, and kids will retain the concepts for longer because they continue to practice over time. One suggestion? If your kids take a camp and enjoy it, consider enrolling them in weekly classes or at least following up with another camp, which can serve as a refresher course so they won’t lose what they have gained.
Questions to Ask Instructors and Program Directors
When you’ve narrowed down what type of program you’d like to try, consider asking some or all of these questions to help you find a location that’s a good fit for your family.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Many after school educators share a common frustration about the school system: that it causes kids to focus on failure. “Failing is not the opposite of success,” says Dr. Wong. “It’s the way to success. If you don’t fail, you won’t learn anything and be able to improve.” Her approach is to instill a sense of curiosity into her students and give them the tools to glean information about any subject from the internet and experts in the field.
Other locations may focus on “teaching to the test” — helping kids pass or improve in a particular standardized test or in a certain topic such as a Common Core subject. If you’re looking for your child to make quantitative improvements in test scores, that may be the right avenue for you.
And different tutors — even those referred by the same service – will each have their own unique approach to sharing their knowledge, offering support, and measuring success and improvements.
Be sure you find a location and instructor whose teaching philosophy matches your parenting philosophy and academic goals. Think of it this way: If you want a good key lime pie, you’ll be happier going to a bakery that specializes in it than you would if you visited a cupcake bakery and explained your recipe for pie.
When will I see an improvement in grades and test scores?
According to Hunt, research showed that students generally see one grade improvement in the class (in grades K through 12) for 8 hours of tutoring. That means four 2-hour sessions or eight 1-hour sessions — whatever combination. And that was across all subjects. However, keep an eye out for other less-quantifiable improvements, too.
“Kids will develop their own curiosity. They will be challenged and frustrated, but they will learn how to resolve that in their own way with a lot of support. And they’ll want to learn more. Although good grades are important to maintain, it is not our main focus. We aim to assist in cultivating a learner who sees pass grades. We want our students to appreciate and value the process of learning. We believe knowledge is power. Good grade is a natural by product of proactive learning. If they cultivate their curiosity and build a strong foundation for learning, the grade will come in.”
Many establishments actually promise to raise standardized test scores or report-card grades by the session’s end. If you don’t see an improvement in any way after a few weeks, ask the instructor why. If they don’t have a response that satisfies you, consider seeking a new instructor who is a better fit.
How large are class sizes?
“The main benefit of a tutor is that one-to-one interaction with an expert,” says Hunt. Some tutors, though, might offer small-group instruction at a reduced rate. And sometimes tutoring is offered online.
Many academic classes and camps welcome slightly larger numbers, but they usually keep groups small enough for kids to enjoy the perks of both private instruction and group communication. For instance, at both EDNova Academy and Communication Academy, class sizes typically max out at 12 kids.
These student-teacher ratios mean that instructors can “learn how students think,” says Dr. Wong. Some kids will rush to finish a task and overlook important details. Others won’t take risks so they don’t challenge their limits. She tries to identify kids’ strengths and weaknesses, then help each child get their weaknesses “out of the way.” This is much easier for an instructor to do if they have a smaller number of kids in their class. Think about what you want your child to get out of the instruction and just how much one-on-one is really necessary — or whether they’ll do just fine in a bigger group.
How will you communicate with parents and schools?
“We like to talk to parents about what they’re looking for,” says Dela Cruz. For instance, if a child is in a public speaking or debate class, the parent might want the child to work on being louder or speaking more clearly. Then the instructor will keep that in mind when working with that child.
“A tutor should be communicating with the parent to create a curriculum,” says Hunt. This should be based upon what the goals are and how the child learns, whether it’s a hands-on approach, reading a text, watching videos, or a combination. Parents, too, should communicate with the instructor, she says. “Where do you think the child needs help first? If you’re not sure, ask their teachers at school. The more coordination between the teacher and parent and tutor, the better the experience will be.”
What takes place in a session, class, or camp?
For EDNova Academy students, education is project-based. For instance, for nine or 10 weeks, kids might focus on 3D printing. Not only will kids learn how to make something using this technology, they’ll immerse themselves in the subject. They will research the history of 3D printing and why it has become popular. They’ll learn what it is used for and brainstorm possible uses for it in the future. “They will learn they can print a 3D kidney or a 3D chocolate,” she says. “That kind of thing really sparks their interest in learning. They say, Let me find out more!”
Also be sure you understand the overall time commitment. The classes at Communication Academy are usually held once a week for 8, 10, or 12 weeks, while camps run Monday through Friday in two 3-hour sessions (one a.m. and one p.m.), with kids being able to opt for one or the other or to stay for both. At EDNova Academy, kids spend 3 hours per week with their after school instructor (divided into two sessions).
The best way to learn about the curriculum — per day or per session — is to go over it with the instructor. Will your child be able to raise their standardized test scores by a certain number of points after 10 weeks? Does the school expect your child to attend on a long-term basis, as they would if they were, say, taking voice lessons? Will the instructor also be doing breakout sessions in unrelated areas (such as a volleyball break during coding camp)? You and your family need to find the best fit for your time frame and end goals.
Will there be homework?
Some programs require about 30 minutes of homework per week, just to reinforce principles. Others may require some prep work, as in practicing a speech to deliver for the next class. Still others require no homework at all. For instance, kids attend Dr. Wong’s program for an hour-and-a-half twice a week, so she only gives them extra work if they request it.
Either way, Dr. Wong recommends talking to your kids about what they are learning and letting them teach you. Kids love to share what insights they have gained and surprising facts they learned, especially if these are things that their parents don’t already know! Plus, teaching will help your kids reinforce what they learned – but that can be our little secret.
What qualifications do your instructors have?
Meet with your child’s intended instructor before signing up for a course, class, workshop, or camp. Dr. Wong advises seeking a program whose owner, founder, and/or director is passionate about what they do and has significant experience in the subject matter. “I do math and science and engineering and technology because I’m a domain expert in these,” she says. “I don’t teach subjects that I don’t know.”
It’s also helpful to sit in on a class and listen to the teacher’s method of instruction. A person may have a master’s degree in a subject but not be great at conveying what they know to others – particularly young people.
Also, try to assess the person’s actual degree of expertise. “Just because someone took a few classes doesn’t mean they’re an expert,” adds Hunt. “Some people want a certified teacher. But I also think grad students are really good.”
Another tip from Hunt: “If possible, get a background check. Most tutors elect to have them, and any of our students can ask any of our tutors to get one.”
Does your program offer any other perks?
Will kids make connections in their field of interest, for example, or will they be able to compete in, say, a debate? Just as some martial arts schools go to competitions, so do some academies for math, debate, or writing, to name a few. Because of Dr. Wong’s university connections, some of her students have been able to visit expos and workshops at University of California, Berkeley. Consider which extras would be most beneficial and appealing to your child when looking for an academic program for them. But don’t get sidetracked by this. Remember your primary goals are just that: primary.
Can I attend an open house?
Once you’ve narrowed the field to a few potential candidates, the best way to choose an academic program is to pay a visit in person. Many academic programs invite families to tour their facilities, sit in on a class, meet the instructors, and gain other insights into the program. Some even hold formal “open houses” each year. This can help parents and kids get an idea of whether their child might fit well with the program and other students. (It’s also great practice for attending college open houses in the future.) If you do get to attend such an event, talk with parents and current students, as well as the staff. Find out why other families like the location, and ask which instructors they favor and why. (But keep in mind that your child’s experience may be different, even with the same educator.) If there’s not an upcoming open house at a program you’re considering, ask the director if they can set up a similar visit for you and your kids.
How can I help enhance what my child is learning?
Always remember that you are and will always be a key player in your child’s education. Trust your gut about what’s right for your child when choosing a program— and when choosing to opt out of one and try another. And above all: Be your child’s biggest proponent and cheerleader.
“I recommend not always explaining what kids did wrong,” says Dela Cruz. Schools are notorious for sending home papers marked up with what is incorrect. So children hear enough of that already. “The kids worked hard on this, they see those red marks, and they feel they have failed,” he says. What can parents do? “Look at what your child did right and tell them that first,” he advises. Then look at what they need to improve on, and treat it as that: the next logical step toward their next success.
Have a child whose homework mantra is “I hate math”? This mom’s been there — and formulated some smart solutions that you can use to put the “fun” in the fundamentals of math.
By Rachel Stamper
If your child’s daily after school mantra is “I hate math” or “I just don’t get it,” you may be facing an uphill battle. When kids are struggling in a particular subject, they may close down and it can be tough to convince them that they can succeed. We had this experience with our older son and the subject of math. When he was in elementary school, he was routinely brought to tears by his math homework. We tried to help him, but soon realized it wasn’t enough. We had to change up our approach to math in general.
After some research and experimentation, we found that incorporating math into our everyday activities was the best method to reinforce skills and get our son excited about math. Over the course of a few weeks, we found opportunities to practice math in real-world ways — in playing games, making recipes, and participating in other fun activities. This built our son’s confidence while honing his math skills and, within a few weeks, there were no more tears and much better grades. By the time our son hit the more complex course work of middle school and, later, high school, he was more open to math in general.. Here are some of our best ideas to try at your home.
Family game night is a fun and subtle way to reinforce math skills while spending quality time with your child. Some of the best math games are those that your child will not realize are math games. Here are three of our favorites, which are available online and in retail stores.
Set. This card game for ages 6 and up can be played on a small surface and teaches pattern recognition and logic that are core to mastering math skills. Players make sets of cards with patterns and colors. On the surface it won’t seem like a math game, which is why it’s perfect to reinforce skills. When you can no longer make sets, you can ask your children to explain why there are no more sets to make. This is more of a math thinking game than a math computation game.
Sumoku. This tabletop game is perfect for kids in elementary school through middle school, and it’s played with numbered tiles that come in a totally portable cone-shaped vinyl bag. This fun and fast game reinforces both addition and multiplication. You can choose from five levels of game play, from easier to more challenging.
Monopoly. The classic game of real estate property ownership — for kids 8 years and up — is a perennial favorite in most homes and, if you play the original version, you can help your child reinforce a number of math skills, specifically those related to money. The more recent version that comes with a credit card is not helpful since it does the math for your kids — not good!. Have your child act as banker or let your kids take turns if you have more than one child. (There’s also a Junior version for kids as young as 5.)
2. Download Some Appealing Math Games and Apps to Get Kids to Like Math
Let’s face it, our kids are all about their devices, whether it’s a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. So it’s natural to use your child’s favorite tech to get them crunching numbers. Here are some free and low-cost resources that we’ve used with success:
CoolMath-Games.com. This website serves as a treasure trove of free, interesting games that your kids will love to play for hours at a time. Alongside it consider CoolMath4Kids.com, a site with fun and easy-to-grasp tips and tricks for addition, multiplication, fractions, and more, as well as CoolMath.com, which includes pre-algebra, algebra, and pre-calculus options.
Math vs Zombies. The lite version of this fun app is free and the full product costs just a few dollars. The plot: You are a scientist who uses math to save the world from zombies … while building addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills. Your kids will know they’re doing math, but they won’t want to stop for a moment.
DreamBox. This high-quality product is used in schools across the country but is also available affordably for use at home. It auto-adjusts in difficulty as your child grasps concepts. It is pricier — and comes with a monthly fee — but it’s well-reviewed and proven to work. Plus, there’s a 14-day free trial, so there’s no risk.
3. Try Hands-On Math Crafts and Activities
Your child treasures face time with you, so find a time to engage in math activities without actively teaching or instructing. Some examples include cooking together to review measurements and fractions. Work on craft projects like counted cross-stitch, which requires counting threads and grids. Sewing projects can include measuring fabric and considering proportions. Building with Lego blocks can reinforce spatial concepts. Origami teaches geometry and proportions. The ideas are endless, and most any hands-on activity can use some sort of math.
4. Take Math on the Road
To help reinforce how math helps everyday life, demonstrate rather than lecture. Take your kids along to the grocery store and have them keep a running tally of purchases — then let them figure out how much your coupons will save. Set a budget for holiday shopping or a birthday party and have your child check flyers for sales. If you have a coupon for a percentage off, let your child calculate how it impacts cost. When planning family road trips, put your kids to work to calculate mileage between locations. For bonus points, show them how to estimate gas consumption and cost … then compare actual fuel consumed to their projections.
5. Inject Math into Their Interests
Math can make the most sense when it relates to your child’s hobbies. Is your child into model rockets? Watch October Sky to see how rocketry and math are interrelated. Is your child all about Minecraft? Ask them to how big the fortress they built in the game would be in real life. Is your son or daughter all about sports? Watch a ball game and calculate statistics, yardage, etc. Again, the possibilities are endless.
Math is everywhere in our lives every day. If you can demonstrate (rather than instruct) how people use and need numbers, you can help establish a life-long love and acceptance of math. This adds up to tear-free homework in the short-run… and expanded academic and career opportunities in the long-run.
Multiply the Fun with Math-Based After School Classes and Activities
Trained instructors who love and use math are particularly adept at teaching kids and teens why numbers should be a source of wonder — not fear and loathing. You can find math and STEM classes that overtly help kids build skills, or look for a class in another subject that uses math, such as art, science, and kids’ engineering courses.
March 14th is the perfect time to break out all things pie…or pi. You see, 3.14 is both pi and March 14. Even if math isn’t your strong subject, you can still celebrate this infinite number and add a little bit of extra fun into an otherwise ordinary day.
Here are a few ideas to get you started. Remember, you don’t have to do all of them to make your family feel extra special. I’m a big fan of taking something silly or different and finding easy ways to celebrate. Let’s get started!
Eat All the Pie
While you can certainly pick up a pie from your favorite store or bakery to enjoy for dessert, you can also get your child involved in making one from scratch. While I don’t make my own pie dough very often (holla for store bought crusts!), I do try to make my own filling. My 4 year old son loves helping Mama in the kitchen and pies are one of his specialities. When he is helping me make filling, he is learning how we use math to measure. He is also working on his excellent stirring skills.
Depending on what you are in the mood for, you can make this easy apple pie recipe or this chocolate meringue pie recipe. My little man loved making the meringue, but if that freaks you out or if you are running low on time, just pour some cooked chocolate pudding into the pie crust and add some whipped cream to the top once it has cooled. You will be a superstar and I will personally award you with the Mother Of the Year award.
And your Pi Day celebration does not just have to include dessert pie. Bake an egg casserole in a pie pan for breakfast pie, or make a shepherd’s pie for dinner. Listen, if you can put it in a pie pan, do it. It adds to the excitement and your kids will love watching you get creative in the kitchen.
Get out your finger paints or watercolors and show your children what the pi symbol looks like. My preschooler loved learning this new symbol; it was fun for him to paint, sculpt with playdoh, and draw. Try glueing dry beans or craft pompoms to a piece of paper in the shape of the pi symbol. For extra credit, glue the pompoms at the bottom of a foil pie tin.
Quantify the Numbers
While I wasn’t going to give my preschooler a full lesson on the quantity of pi and how it works, I did involve some fun activities that revolved around pi. First, I told him that pi had to do with circles. We took a walk and tried to point out and find as many circles on our walk as we could. Give this a try, and see if you can find more than 10, more than 20, or more than 30 circles on your walk or adventure.
Next, explain that the numbers in pi are 3, 1 and 4. Then, try to find clusters of things that have 3, 1 and 4 things in them. Four grapes on his plate at lunch, one cardinal on the bird feeder outside, three kids playing at the library. It is a fun game that you can play together throughout the day. Plus, it is great practice on quantifying numbers, which is a math readiness skill that he will use in elementary school.
Finally, with all this talk of circles, this might be a good time to introduce the Venn Diagram to your child. Try two intersecting circles and give your child an age and skill appropriate task. For us, we counted how many superhero toys in his books wore red, wore blue, and wore red/blue. I didn’t know if this would go over well or not, but it was a hit! We ended up doing more diagrams that involved color combinations of superheroes; it kept us busy for quite awhile before Daddy came home for the evening.
No matter how you decide to bring a little Pi(e) into your life this month, I think you will find yourself with a new family tradition on your hands.