As a teacher, I'm often asked about the types of things parents can do at home to help their children become better at math and improve their problem solving skills. Parents will tell me that they don't have a lot of time between working and shuffling their children off to those extra curricular activities like swimming, soccer, baseball etc. So what do I tell them? Take advantage of every opportunity that's available including time spent in the car. The key thing to remember is that you want to ensure that children remain positive about math, therefore you will need to skip the pencil and paper computations. Computations are easily done on the calculator. Children today need to become problem solvers! Here's a list of ideas that will improve mathematical thinking skills while you're on those road trips.
Be the first one to add up the digits in the license plate for any car ahead of you or any car that passes you.
Try making the largest number from a license plate by rearranging the order.
Have children tell you which numbers in the license plate are odd and even or which ones are prime.
Multiply the first two numbers in the license plate or the last two numbers.
Skip count with the first number (or last). For instance, if the first number in a license plate is 4, see how far you can count by 4's - 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 etc.
Estimation and prediction are essential skills in math. Have children try to predict what the most popular color of car will be during the first 20 minutes of your road trip. Have them count and compare their answers. Have children predict how many trucks they will see. Tell them how many miles your trip is and have them predict the time, you'll need to use speed limits to assist. Ask them to predict how long the light stays a certain color. Predict how many gas stations you'll pass, predict what the cost of the gas will be.
Brainstorming helps assist the problem solving process and is also a skill that will assist children throughout their academic and working careers. Each time you see a speed limit, brainstorm all the possibilities that the number can be reached. For example, if the speed limit sign is 60, state all the ways that 60 can be reached: 6 x 10, 40 + 20, 100 - 40, 120 divided by 2. Make sure you remind your children to use all four operations (add, subtract, multiply and divide). Each time you see a car that's a certain color, brainstorm all the items that are that color. For example, yellow: banana, lemon, sun, dandelion, bee etc. An extension of this activity is to brainstorm all the words that you can think of that begin with the same letter as the color of the car. With yellow, they need to think of every word they can that begins with the letter 'y'.
Data and statistics occurs early in school these days, as early as kindergarten. Teaching tally charts is necessary for this in the car activity. Keep a tally of the color of trucks and cars and the colors they are. Make a chart and put a tally mark under each color, use c for car and t for truck. At the end of the trip, analyze your data using questions like: What's the most popular color for trucks? cars? Why might that be? What is the least color seen? What seems to be the second favorite color? Activities like these are similar to the classroom activities and help to strengthen skills in data management and analysis.
There are 12 months in the year, each time you get in the car, take the first 5 minutes to review the facts based on that particular month. If it's July, that's the 7th month. Have your children skip count by sevens and do some quick drill on the 7 times tables. When the month changes, so does the math fact.
If you have other ideas for car math, please post them to our forum or send me an email.