Walk through the doors of the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City and you’ll quickly realize that learning about numbers can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, some kids don’t see it that way: “Something happens around middle school where those who are good at math and science suddenly become ‘math nerds’ and ‘science geeks,’ ” says Cindy Lawrence, co-founder and executive director of the museum, called MoMath. “It’s our goal to change the perception of mathematics.”
MoMath, which opened in December 2012 as the first U.S. museum dedicated to mathematics, has more than 30 hands-on exhibits, including everything from the popular Square-Wheeled Trike (which is exactly what it sounds like, and it works!) to a Tracks of Galileo ball-racing game. The colorful, interactive experience children get at the museum helps to change the perception of math by educating kids outside the classroom in a fun environment. “Children may not always grasp the complex concepts behind all the exhibits, but they know they’ve come to a place called ‘math,’ and they want to come back again and again,” Lawrence says, “By giving children a positive connection to the subject, we’re changing their perspective.”
Another way MoMath is changing the conversation about math is by encouraging parents to integrate math into everyday life. “Reinforcing your child’s math skills is as easy as searching for shapes around the neighborhood or finding math role models that kids can look up to,” Lawrence says. (MoMath recently brought in an NBA analyst to show kids that math is used in every field of work.) Here, Lawrence and MoMath co-founder and president Glen Whitney offer five math-related activities to try as a family:
Shape and Pattern Search (ages 3+)
Wherever you are, ask kids what shapes or patterns they see. Do they see a pentagon or square? Is there a pattern in the mosaic tiling, and if so what? As they get older, you can look for more complex shapes and patterns. This activity teach basic geometry skills.
The Crystal Gazer (ages 3+)
Pretend you have a crystal ball and can predict what will happen! Whether you’re reading a story or watching events unfold around you, have your child guess what’s about to happen—and then watch to whether the prediction comes true. This activity boosts problem-solving skills, which will help kids excel in math.
Fit for Fun (ages 3+)
Create an outline of a shape using tangrams and have your figure out what shapes will fit inside that one. Once you’ve made a shape with the pieces, trace the outline and give it to someone else to fill in. This will help kids learn about spatial relationships.
The Price Is Right (ages 7+)
When shopping at the grocery store, read the price of each item and ask your child to help you keep track of what the total will be to the nearest dollar. Compare your guess with the final tally at checkout! This will help kids work on mental math as well as reasoning skills.
Hit the Target (ages 7+)
For this game, you’ll need a deck of cards. Each card has a numeric value: Ace is one, 2 through 10 stand for their own values, Jack is 11, Queen is 12, and King is 13. To begin, deal out four cards face up for everyone to see their values. Once everyone has seen the cards, turn up two more cards and figure out the sum of those two. This will become your goal number. By using the values of the original four cards, each player works to come up with a way to get to the goal number by using addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponents, etc. The first person to grab the goal cards and explain the equation they used to get the goal number wins a point, and you’ll repeat the process for the next round until all the cards in the deck have been used. This teaches mental math.
For more math ideas and information about the Math Museum, visit momath.org.