Fun Math Tricks with Everyday Objects

Luckily, there are many fun math tricks, math games and puzzles that you and your children can experiment with and create together using simple household supplies such as toothpicks or cotton swabs.

Here are a couple of ideas that you can use to create high-level thinking games and math activities that you and your children can work on together. Depending on the age of your children you may need to modify these activities, but these math ideas will help you get started.

With very young children, using cotton swabs as manipulatives is great for counting. You can gather 10 or 20 swabs and count them out together, then lay them on or glue them to a sheet of colored paper and write the number that corresponds to the number of swabs (see picture). Next you can count and lay them out by twos and fives.

Get older children started with geometric shapes. Use the swabs or toothpicks to make a right angle (90 degrees), an acute angle (less than 90 degrees), an obtuse angle (greater than 90 degrees), a triangle, a square, rectangles, pentagon, hexagon and an octagon. You can also teach them how to make 3-D geometric shapes. Using mini-marshmallows or gumdrops as the corner pieces you can form a number of simple and complicated 3-D geometric shapes (see picture).

Math activities come to life when you make hands-on shapes that you can create and discuss. Talk to your child about how an octagon has eight sides; what sea creature has eight legs? The octopus. If you relate math terms with real-life examples, your children will understand their relevance. Another example is the pentagon. It has five sides; if you use five sticks, you can make a house-shaped building similar to the Pentagon building in Washington, DC. Locate an old math book you may having laying around or stop by your library for some more math terms to share with your children.

There are some fun puzzles to try with toothpicks that are sure to get you all thinking. Your children won't realize all of the problem-solving skills that they will be using, they will just think of the fun they are having. Start out simple-ask your child to make a triangle, then a hexagon. Now ask them if they can make 2 triangles that join using only 5 sticks (see picture). Try this: count out 5 sticks and put them on the table in one pile, then count out 4 more sticks and put them in another pile on the table. Ask your child, "How many sticks do you have?" They will answer 9. Challenge them to make TEN out of these nine sticks without breaking any sticks. The key is to get them to think beyond the numerals (see picture).

There are many other shapes and words that you can ask your child to make with the sticks. Explore new words, shapes, and patterns. Jot your ideas down and then follow through and try them out. Your children will be excited about sharing their new findings with family and friends. Math and problem solving strategies are so much fun to experiment with. When you share these ideas and interests with your children they will be inspired to share with others.