The Worth of a Challenge

If you give a child a fish, you feed him for a day.
If you teach a child to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
But if you teach a child to learn, you feed him for a lifetime
and he doesn't have to just eat fish.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Math Centers Made Simple

Something I learned about my children (and really this is true about other kids in this age group), is that they do not like sitting idle and to be truthful they just don't like being told to sit still in general.  With that in mind, it can be challenging to get through those math facts or learning concepts.
      I knew that my kids needed a)motivation b)room for wiggle. I create short fun centers that will keep their attention and then I give them time and space to do them and not always at their desk.

       Before we take off and see the centers, I just want to say a few words about supplies and manipulatives. I think a lot of people(and I have been guilty of this too) sometimes fall under the impression that children need lots of pricey manipulatives from the teacher store or from online stores to learn and that is just not true. Several years ago, I came into possession of a book called Treasure Boxes by Jaine Kopp(Feb 2002) and in the book it really does a great job of helping make math and science "treasures" from ordinary objects. She talks about how to make the collections and some wonderful ways to use them. Her point was that you can collect just about anything and make a collection and use it for learning. Some of her ideas were cancelled stamps, rocks, bread ties, milk caps, bottle caps, shells, and buttons. Can you imagine how fun it would be to see even the smallest of children collect up these treasures and then begin learning early math by showing different ways to sort and express the collection? So anytime you see someone using pricey items for math that are outside your budget, just see the vision of using these little treasures instead.

Now onto the centers.....

Snowman math: this one is really simple and the printable comes from Making Learning Fun. Just fill the boxes and put the right hat on. Then write the math sentence.

Patterns: I am using my printables that came with my saxon math, but you can create your own patterns and then label them accordingly with AB AAB ABB  and AABB  and so on. I am using linking cubes, but you really can create this using your own materials. Are you thinking of using milk caps? Just color circles in a patterns that can be recreated using the materials you have on hand.

Make that number: I am using several printables from confessions of a homeschooler. I use the flip chart with the blocks on it to be the link and have the child create that number and find the matching "number symbol" not real complex, but good for those learning to recognize numbers and quantities as they relate

Pom Pom sorting: What kid doesn't love pom poms? I just dump them into a tray and use little tongs and tell my child to sort them into the right cup. Some questions you can ask are

  • What colors are left?
  • How many are left? 
  • How many in each cup?

To take it a step further you could have your child graph each category.

Ye old math worksheet....made more interesting: I give one color of cubes for the top number and another for the bottom and ask that they make the math sentence using the cubes. I have found the answers come very quickly and removes the feeling of "advanced counting" that can often be present in early addition.

Shapes: I am using printables from here and have the child pick a shape from the shape cards and make the puzzle. Simple as that and yet teaches some very basic and important concepts.

Shapes using geoboards: I just use those same shape cards and put out the geoboards and usually it goes like clockwork from there. I love this because it creates awareness of space that something takes up and is a precursor to learning other more advanced ideas. Don't have these boards? Don't worry, you can find them to print online or you could even just use some simple yarn on a paper grid to create this same concept(remember the concept is way more important than the stuff that gets them there)

Pattern Blocks: I am using a preprinted worksheet, but you can easily create this by laying out the shapes in advance and tracing the outer shape of the picture. The idea is for the child to fill the space and see that there can be more than one right answer. Then ask "how many shapes did you use?" You can take another step and have them graph the pieces they used in each picture. Don't have pattern blocks? You can also find ones online you can print onto colored cardstock that will hold up just fine for the center.

So the general idea is to have just a few pieces and a few concepts(or even just one) and let the child "uncover" the learning rather than having a time slot and trying to cover the curriculum. I also give some time to explore at each center as well. This explore time might sound like a waste, but really it is in this time, they are asking new questions and getting new ideas. Don't forget, while many might use a few tables and chairs for their centers, you can use a variety of areas and settings.

  •  set them up around a small table and have them progress around it. 
  •  use bean bag chairs and clip boards
  •  use carpet samples around the room to designate space 


  1. You are such an awesome mom, Sarah! I love those geoboards. My kids would beg me for them if I let them see them!

  2. do you want some? I have seven and I only really need three....let me know and i will send you some( I even have a pink one!)

  3. Here from the hip homeschool hop! Thanks for the good ideas :) I am a new HS mom and it is still such a struggle for me. I love how you post pics.