Learning to love math

Picture books can teach kids to love reading, but they can also help kids love math.

Most parents have discovered books at the Ashland Public Library that teach counting. But there's a whole world of books that can help kids grasp adding, subtracting, fractions, multiplication and division.

My kids, ages 4 and 6, give five stars to "Math-terpieces: The Art of Problem Solving" by Greg Tang. This beautiful book, shelved in the nonfiction area in the children's department at 510 under the Dewey Decimal System, features masterpieces such as Claude Monet's "White Water Lilies," Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory."

The Monet pages have groups of one, two, three, four, five and six water lilies. A child puts pennies on the groups to equal eight water lilies. For example, put pennies on the groups of five and three and you have eight.

My 4-year-old was able to put pennies on the different groups of objects in the book to get the right sums. If she chose the wrong groups, all she had to do was count the objects to see that her answer was not right and then she could try again.

When we were done playing the math games, she used the book to make her own "Starry Night" picture with yellow crayons and blue watercolor paints.

My 6-year-old son and I made up a competition using "Math-terpieces." The rule was that one person would go first and put pennies on the groups. The person would try to cover up as many groups as possible to "block" the second person, who could only put his or her pennies on groups without pennies. We alternated back and forth for who got to go first.

He blocked me when we had to put pennies on groups of eyes to equal 10 eyes. He covered up the groups of one, two, three and four eyes. With only groups of five and two eyes left, I couldn't make 10.

"Adding and Subtracting Book 1," shelved at 513.211, has lots of math games that involve counting, adding and subtracting. One fun game involves using 10 pennies to buy brightly colored shoes at a store that range in cost from one to nine pennies. Young kids can use their money to buy one pair, while older kids can use adding to buy multiple pairs.

"The Penny Pot" by Stuart Murphy, found at 513.2, teaches about sharing as the children in the story leave their spare pennies in a pot so that Jessie can get her face painted at the school fair. Kids can learn about quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies as Jessie adds the donated pennies to her 39 cents and waits to for the total to reach 50 cents.

"Give Me Half!" by Stuart Murphy teaches kids about halves and wholes as a brother and sister squabble over pizza, a can of juice and cupcakes. The book, located at 513.26, is suitable even for preschoolers.

"Fraction Action" by Loreen Leedy, shelved under the same number, gets into halves, thirds, quarters and other fractions. Miss Prime explains fractions to the animals in her class, who imagine things like half a muffin and a quarter of a graham cracker. Kids can think up their own examples to play along with the class.

My son returned again and again to "Mathmusements" by Raymond Blum, found at 793.74. Use a calculator and the weight chart on page 33 to multiply and find out your weight on different planets. Copy the sets of numbers on page 9 and 10 onto index cards. Then use them to perform a magic trick using addition that allows you to guess someone else's secret number. Follow the directions on page 72 and use a ruler to draw straight lines in a pattern that will create an optical illusion of curving lines.

For older kids who've grown past picture books, try "Whodunit Math Puzzles" by Bill Wise, shelved at 793.74. The book is filled with short stories about 12-year-old junior detective Cal Q. Leiter, who uses math to help Midville Police Chief Arthur Smart solve cases.

Can you figure out "The Case of the Missing Country Club Funds"? Why does Cal think something's fishy about the golf association treasurer reporting that 1/4 of the funds went for lawn mowing equipment, 1/5 was for course supplies, 1/20 was for pro shop clothes, 1/18 went for restaurant supplies and 3/10 was for employee salaries?

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