A Plethora of Ideas for

Real-Life Math


by Kathi, Melanie,

Beth, Wendy, and Amy


(for all ages)



Here are just a few suggestions for real-life math.  But keep in mind that what you do and how you live will determine a lot of what is "real" for you!
~ My father had me figure out his bowling average for a whole year when I was in high school! Another idea could be a favorite ball player's batting average, or other stats for a sports team.
~ Balancing a checkbook - YOUR checkbook. Not only will this improve math skills, but will also teach some valuable lessons: how to do it, how much an income is realistically, where it all goes, how little is left for luxuries ~smile~, etc.
~ Grocery shopping - Again, valuable life lessons, but also how to find the best bargain, price per portion, unit pricing and so on. Have your child keep a price book so he/she can tell if a sale is a real bargain. (There are lots of webpages devoted to price books, do a search to find several. Another is http://www.organizedhome.com )  Eventually, you might even give your teen the shopping list and let them do the grocery shopping.
~ My fourth grader is constantly finding things she wants to buy, then figuring out how many weeks she'll need to save her allowance in order to buy it.
~ "Buying" a stock (or even really doing it, just one share now that they are so low in price!) and keeping track of how it does. Figuring out interest on a savings account or CD. How much would interest add to a car loan?
~ A job of some sort... mowing lawns, or shoveling driveways, babysitting or whatever, figuring out 10% for tithe, deciding what percentage goes in the bank, etc.
~ When Christmas is getting close...  how much will your teen have to spend on gifts? How many people to give gifts to? Average amount to be spent on each person? (My daughter and I are working on two baby quilts as Christmas gifts, and it's a wonderful exercise in math. Now that we have the patchwork done, we need to figure out how much fabric to use for the borders - we'll figure out how to cut that from a piece of fabric and how much we'll need to buy.)
~ Cooking/baking are also wonderful experiences for real-life math...  we've even made half a box of macaroni and cheese, requiring the dividing of all the ingredients, including that cheese powder.
Just some simple examples, but some could be stretched over a long period of time to be an ongoing lesson or project.
Joyfully in Christ,
~ joyfullykathi@yahoo.com





Barb has a great article called "What Is Real-Life Learning?" that's helped me a TON to  see and understand how much learning can take place in our home  without a "text."  Every time I
reread it I am just so encouraged.  Basically, any activity listed in Barb's article that includes using numbers would be math.  








~ Doubling or tripling  a recipe, or cutting one in halves, thirds, or fourths.  (These things challenge me.)

~ We did real math with a pillow that is over sized. We needed to make a pattern to fit that particular pillow. We've had to do that for curtains too.   Can't find a pattern just like we want, so we have to adjust it.
~ Many people use coupons when shopping. How much did you save with your coupons? Did your coupon encourage you to buy thing you don't normally buy? Did it encourage you to buy something you don't need? Could you have bought generic brand for less? Sometimes the generic brand really doesn't taste as good, is the price difference worth the taste difference?

~ Keep track of sales in stores to decide what would be the best buy.  How much does it cost to run from store to store to hit all those sales, would you save money in gas and wear and tear on your car if you just shop at one store?
~ Figure out what the cost of that shirt will be when it is 30% off regular price.  Or adding sales tax.

~ Shopping on a budget, setting up the budget and deciding how much meals will cost for the week. then stay within that budget. see how realistic were you in your original estimate.
~ How much fertilizer will you need to cover your lawn? How many square feet is your lawn? What will the price per sq. ft be?

~ What are your car's monthly costs? Gas, insurance, maintenance?  How many miles per gallon does your car get?
~ Put together a lemonade stand, how much do you need to charge per cup and still pay for the lemonade and supplies you used, plus make a little profit?
~ How much lumber will it take to make a deck, doghouse, or extra room on the house? Or how much fencing will we ned to fence in the dog, or the garden...

~ Draw up plans for a dream house, and furnish it.  How much will each cost?
~ For real little ones, you can figure out how to cut up your 2 apples to feed all 4 people you have for lunch. or how should we cut the pizza so every one gets an even number of pieces? Or if I cut the sandwich in 4 pieces, 1 piece = , 2 pieces = , 3 pieces = .


(To the above ideas from Beth, Lauri responded:   Beth your examples were WONDERFUL!! These are the very things many high school graduates can't do.  Not only can't they do these things, they can't necessarily figure out *how* to do them!  There is a desperate need for this type of education in schools, Praise God that my children receive this education by "osmosis" here at home!)





~ How about making change!?  I can't tell you how many people I have come across who would not be able to count out your change to you if their computer went down!   ~ Wendy





Something we just started with our 11-year-old daughter is we got her a bunch of chickens and she is keeping track of the expenses vs. (future) income   She is thrilled whereas some children would not be very excited about chickens. It's about finding the delight of your child's heart and connecting it to the things they need to learn.    ~ Heidi




Amy shared: 

~ Estimating could easily top the list of "important everyday math skills."  About how much money do you have to shop with?  About how much will three of these cost?  Will I have enough left over for that pie, or should I plan on making one myself from what I have at home?  About how many apples will that take?  We need new bookshelves...how long should they be?  How many supports will we need?  What about mollies or screws for hanging them?  How many feet of lumber will we need, and how can we plan so that we waste the least amount of wood when we cut it?   How big is that garden area, and how much compost will we need to make to cover it over the winter?  And don't forget miles per gallon...  how do you figure that, and why does it matter?  Maybe you can come up with a house project such as painting your daughter's room, or putting up a wallpaper border, or making a comforter.  That would give lots of real-life practice with estimating, multiplying, dividing, etc.  And it has a real-life motive, not just "do it for math class."
~ The example of unit cost (cost per ounce, pound, or whatever) is another excellent example.  I've taught my sons and daughter to check the unit price at the store, not just to grab the biggest box (or the smallest box) or the bulk foods.  However, the boys still need more work on estimating the unit cost for themselves, for those lovely times when one size product is marked "per ounce" and another size of the same product is marked "per pound" or "per quart" or even "per EACH" (now, how helpful is THAT, I ask you?!  LOL). How many loads of laundry can I do with this box of soap?  So what's the cost per load?
~ Budgeting is another important math (and critical thinking) area, too!  With your daughter, write a list of bills, offerings, savings, etc. due each month (and for us, we need to know WHEN they are due, as well, since we don't have regular pay-days).  A balance of $500 in the checking account does not necessarily mean we can go out for pizza...  Is that money already spoken for/accounted for?  Of course, this will lead into good discussions of choices, stewardship, blessing of others, savings both long-term and short-term, even interest and investments and loans and the evils of abused credit....oh, sorry, talking about myself here!  ;-)  But I'd start with the bare bones of daily/monthly money planning, sharing WHY you make the choices you make, and (in my case again) the consequences of poor past choices (gulp). 
(Click here to see the "Finance Record" I made up for Carlianne.  She started using it a year ago (at age 15) and still faithfully keeps it up.  After every shopping outing, she can be found diligently entering all her figures ~ and balancing!)  And all of this "life learning" will "count" under Consumer Math, or General Mathematics, or...     ~Amy in WA sabeckel@earthlink.net





This weekend my daughter made a cake for church and cupcakes.  She had to measure everything and double the  recipe as it was a double batch.  I taught her about fractions.  Yippee!!!!!!!!  ~ Cindy O.





And one last thought from Amy to close this discussion of "real-life" learning with...


 "The "real world" is full of adults who cannot make change without a machine telling them the exact amount to give back, who cannot balance their checkbook, who think that "the more they spend, the more they save," (as the ads tell us) and so on. I wouldn't worry too much about what the so-called "real world" does!  LOL






Here is a little bonus...


How to

Count Back Change

to a Customer


One mom said: "I can't count how many times I have gone in a store during a storm or other "computer down time" and the checkers can't even count out the change without their computers or calculators!"  Exactly!! And that's yet another great "math function" to know! In fact, you don't even have to know to subtract in your head, you just need to know the operation! ~ which really is only counting UP! ~ by one's, five's, ten's and then quarters. (In case you don't know, all you do is start with the amount of purchase... Let's say the thing cost $2.32 cents, and they gave you $10. OK, you just say "32" and then count pennies saying "33, 34, 35" at which point you've hit a five, so then you skip-count, pulling out a nickel saying "40," then skip count by 10, pulling out a dime, to 50, then two more quarters take you up to three dollars. Then pull out one dollar ~ $4 ~ another dollar ~ $5. And then finally a $5 bill takes you up to $10! So you just start with the amount of the purchase and count your way UP until you get to the amount paid. I enjoy this SO much that when people pay us in cash at our book table, I actually INSIST on doing this, saying "This is just SO cool! Let me give you your change properly!" I'm sure they think I'm weird, but so what else is new?!?!?! ;-D

;-) Barb