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Have Fun Connecting Math to the Real World

Written by: Dr. Felecia Nace, Family and community Relations Office, New Jersey Department of Education

Since it is estimated that many future jobs will be in the medical, engineering, and other related fields, then making sure children show strength in mathematics skills is important.  However, this does not mean that we should pay less attention to reading and writing skills. Reading and writing skills, along with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), all need to be developed in order to create competitive students for future college and career choices.  One of the best ways families can help build skills in children is through meaningful learning, which is an opportunity to show children how they will use the knowledge and skills they learn in school in everyday life.
Here are some tips on how you can help your child make real-life connections to mathematics at different grade levels:

  • If children are learning to count, you can use safe items around the house and allow your child to count them out loud.  Counting Items with your child, like food, towels, or toys can help make a real-life connection to what they learn in school and make learning fun. Supermarkets are great places for children to show off their counting ability. It doesn’t have to stop there.  If children are learning addition, for example, then you can separate items in the house and ask your child to add them together.  Let your child move the items around as he/she adds them. The same principle can be applied to subtraction.  When your child is learning subtraction, allow your child to add the total amount of items and then ask your child to take away a specific number of items.  Finally, ask how many are left.

  • Children in middle school can make other real-life connections that are age/grade appropriate.  For example, while playing or watching a game of pool, this would be a good opportunity to talk to your child about how the game of pool requires the use of geometric angles.  Children will have fun figuring out which angles to use to shoot a ball into a certain pocket. Geometric shapes can also be found on buildings and houses.  Point out these shapes to children and the importance of why architects use geometric shapes to build and design buildings.  If your child is studying perimeter, which is the boundary around an area (like a fence that surrounds a house), point out examples of perimeters to your child. Ask your child why he/she believes perimeters are important in society?  Seeing clear examples and thinking about the reasons why we use math in real life may help your child to better remember mathematics facts.

  • For high school students, Math subjects such as Algebra and Trigonometry may seem like they do not connect to real life, but that is certainly not true.  Just take your child on a roller coaster ride and explain to him/her that without Algebra, trigonometry, calculus and physics, this thrill ride would not be possible.  High school students may believe that learning topics like probability will be of little use to them, but in fact, many important decisions that people make in life are based on the probability that those decisions will have a positive outcome.

Remember, not only do children need family support during their early years, but they also need strong continued support in the middle grades and throughout their high school years.  Ask your child’s teachers for more ways to make real-life connections to learning at home.  This strategy can help your child understand the value of the lessons they learn in school and may lead to increased interest in learning.