A Simple Dice Game for Adding and Subtracting

The dice game Yatzee is great for older children to work on sums. But what about younger children? Yahtze is just too complicated for those just starting out with math. I toyed with the idea of modifying Yahtzee for younger children but came up blank. But then I hit upon a simple two-dice game that my five-year-old has enjoyed.

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Skepticism about Learning Styles

How much should we tailor a child’s instruction to the child’s preferred learning “style”? I was surprised when someone I know from the field of education, Kevin Currie-Knight, suggested that learning styles aren’t too meaningful. Currie-Knight suggested a couple of starter articles: “Learning Styles as a Myth” from Yale’s Poorvu Center and “The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’” by Olga Khazan. (See also my podcasts with Currie-Knight.)

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How to Nurture Young Readers

Reading books opens a world of knowledge, inspiration, and moral guideposts. But learning to read is hard, and reading seldom offers the immediate and continual dopamine rewards that various sorts of screen time promise. What can parents do to help their children develop the cognitive skills to read as well as a love of reading?

Lindsay Journo and Cornelia Lockitch offer an excellent introduction to the topic in their newly released talk (actually recorded last year), “Nurturing the Reader in Every Child.”

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Magformers Promote Spacial Reasoning

My kid loves Magformers, plastic shapes with magnets embedded. He plays with them as toys; I appreciate them because they promote spacial reasoning. You can build squares into cubes, triangles into pyramids, and combined shapes into many complex 3D figures.

They are a bit expensive. I got lucky and bought multiple sets from a family off of CraigsList. One of the sets we got has specialized shapes for building dinosaurs. My son enjoys building the dinosaurs but I don’t consider those packs essential. (Magformers offers many other sorts of packs that can get quite expensive.) If I were going to buy sets new, I’d go with a basic starter pack plus perhaps a gear pack (paid links).

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Perler Beads Offer an Inexpensive Way to Visualize Large Numbers

As adults, digit placement is second nature: ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, etc. It’s easy to forget that the way we now use numbers was an important cultural invention. And it’s easy to forget how hard it was to learn digits as a child. One of my biggest surprises as a homeschooling dad of a kindergarten-age child has been seeing what a conceptual leap it is to grasp digit placement. It helps enormously for kids to see visually what we’re talking about.

Of course it’s easy to make groupings of ten coins or whatever. I’ve used wooden cube blocks to illustrate two-digit numbers. But doing ten stacks of ten, and then ten stacks of a hundred, can be a challenge. That’s where Perler beads and pegboards (paid links) come in. You can get a large set for around thirty bucks and then iron together sets of ten and a hundred. (Or you can save some effort and spend over a hundred bucks on Montessori “golden beads” (paid link) if you prefer. There’s also a lower-cost foam option (paid link).) You can also do art projects with the Perler beads if you’re so inclined.

Update, June 28, 2021: Although I do like the Perler beads for visualizing big numbers, practically speaking, I turned to the foam blocks for routine instruction. To my mind these are a must-have item for beginning math students. The beads are a little too small for counting; the blocks are just right. It occurred to me that you could also just buy a jumbo pack of wood blocks and glue them together into rows of ten and squares of a hundred. But the foam blocks come cheap and ready-made.

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A Pocket LED Microscope Is an Amazing Learning Tool

The Carson LED pocket microscope is, for the money (less than $14), the single-best science tool I’ve purchased (available on Amazon—paid link). After using a clunky old microscope with a mirror, the new microscope is a dream. I popped in a AA battery to power the light and immediately got great results. It “only” offers 120x magnification, but for kid use it’s perfect. Plus it’s cheap enough that I won’t worry about it getting broken, so it will be great for backyard and camping use.

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Brain Quest Workbooks Make Great Supplements

If you’re looking for ridiculously cheap supplementary materials for your home preK–6 curriculum, check out the Brain Quest workbooks. Honestly I don’t know how they sell these lengthy (some over 300 pages), full-color (and printed in the U.S.) workbooks so cheaply—obviously mass printings help. And my five-year-old enjoys working in them. If you use these at all, for the money, you can’t possibly go wrong.

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Fun with Magnets and Electricity

Magnetism and electricity are strange and amazing forces. How can one object act on another object at a distance without any apparent intermediary contact? If I blow a piece of paper, I act on the paper via the breeze I create. But magnets do surprising and nonintuitive things. Although young children are not ready for the full theoretical basis of electromagnetism (I’m not even ready for the full basis), with some basic supplies they can explore how magnets and electricity operate in the world.

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Franny K. Stein’s Warning to Overstressed Families

What happens when children and their parents overstress themselves with activities? Grandparents gave us a book that my child loved and that, once my wife explained the story (she’d read the book to our child), I had to read too. The book is from the Franny K. Stein series (which I’d never heard of); the title in question is The Fran with Four Brains (paid link). It’s about one stressed out little girl.

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A Spontaneous Lesson on Dimensions

I was working with my five-year-old in Dimensions math, and we came across an exercise that asks the students to circle all of the circles shown. Some of the shapes represent cylinders; one represents a football. Obviously the top and bottom of a cylinder are circles. But what about a football? This led to an interesting discussion about dimensions.

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