With Advent almost here, our children’s excitement levels rising even faster than our energy bills and shops turning on their Christmas playlists, there’s no getting away from the fact that Christmas is rapidly approaching. So I thought it would be timely to share some ideas for Christmas maths activities which might just exploit the children’s natural excitement and give some of our maths a topical context. I also recognise that it’s the time of year when the best laid plans go awry – overrunning Christmas production rehearsals, staff laid low by seasonal viruses and bad weather preventing outdoor activities can all mean that even the best prepared of teachers need to reach for a ‘pick up and run’ activity, so let’s make sure that these have some meaningful mathematical content.
Good sources of Christmas maths activities
For straightforward maths activities categorised into different topic areas try Math Drills Christmas Maths Worksheets; Kidzone has Christmas themed maths pages sorted by age group and Primary Resources Seasonal Activities include lots of maths ideas. For younger children, there are lots of ideas at Making Learning Fun. For a bit more challenge, Maths Salamanders have some Christmas themed challenges to help develop reasoning and problems solving skills. The same site has Christmas themed games and other activities including Christmas co-ordinate pictures. Mathwire has several seasonal investigations and other activities. I like the Mathsticks Christmas activities too. Some of these are free but Mathsticks also produce a whole booklet of Christmas activities each year for about £4 which are well worth investing in.
Work on measures always lends itself to practical activities and Christmas offers a wealth of opportunities. Children can compare the lengths of stockings, parcels or candy canes or measure them using standard or non-standard measures. Christmas cooking brings opportunities for weighing, as does working out the postage costs for parcels. Play games where children have to estimate and measure time, perhaps timing how long different children will take to wrap different parcels. Capacity can be explored when making up drinks for the Christmas party or leaving glasses of milk for Santa’s reindeer. For younger children, this Kindergarten blog has some nice ideas.
It’s usually fairly straightforward to find uses for data handling skills. Make tally or bar charts to record favourite Christmas films or songs or food. Construct a Venn or Carroll diagram to show who likes sprouts, Christmas pudding, both or neither. Track the temperature on a cold day using a line graph. Investigate the types of programmes on television on Christmas day and record the results in a pie chart.
Lots of Christmas themed word problems can be found online including these and these. However, why not challenge children to make up their own word problems to match calculations that you give them and then they can use these to challenge each other. This makes a good quick homework activity at this time of year too.
Calendars and Countdowns
Nrich have an online advent calendar each year with a different mathematical challenge behind each number. I’m sure this year’s will be available soon, but in the meantime, here is the 2012 version. For a different way of counting down to Christmas, this blog has instructions for making a calendar made from Santa’s beard which will get shorter each day as bits are chopped off. The instructions are in Italian but the picture is fairly self explanatory! If your children want to make calendars for 2014, this site has printable templates to make dodecahedron calendars from nets.
Christmas is a good time to play games to practise and reinforce skills and there are lots available online like this Gingerbread Dice game, or this Santa’s Beard game. There are games for practising doubling or games for practising all four operations. For younger children these games are clear and attractive. Or for games that involve a little more strategy and problem solving try these. Gordons Christmas Maths has some nice interactive activities for younger children or if tablets are available, this Christmas themed dot-to-dot app might be useful.
As well as the investigations and challenges at Math Salamanders and Mathwire already mentioned, there are some Christmas themed puzzles here and here. Nrich also have several challenges with a Christmas theme. If the pace slows down a little at the end of term (and I recognise that this doesn’t happen as much as it used to in today’s pressurised classroom environment), it’s great to let children have a little more time to work on puzzles and challenges.
All these ideas (and several more) can be found on my new Christmas Maths pinterest board.
Young children are often fascinated by comparing and ordering the sizes of things. Perhaps it appeals to their innate sense of justice to determine whose apple is bigger and their equally well developed competitiveness to see who is taller. Early Years teachers build on this by providing lots of opportunities to compare and order things and begin to use non-standard measures to quantify. How many grapes balance an apple? How many cubes high is the toy garage? How many cups of tea can be poured from the teapot? At this stage, it’s important too to give children lots of opportunity to experience and use the language associated with comparison: more, less, fewer, higher, lower, taller, shorter, heavier, lighter etc. I’ve put together a few ideas for activities which support developing comparison language and you can download the document from the link at the bottom of this post.
As children move on in their understanding of measures, we move to using standard units of measure. Children often struggle with estimating length, mass or capacity using standard units and they need lots of practical opportunities to measure familiar things using these units. Wherever possible, opportunities should be found outside of the maths lesson for these activities, perhaps as part of topic work, for instance, to give them a meaningful context. Children can weigh out ingredients for their chocolate snack in technology or find the capacity of a liquid before an evaporation experiment in science, or measure how far they can jump in P.E. Another activity that can support children in becoming more familiar with units of measure is to give regular opportunities for estimating, and use these as opportunities to develop the skill of working out an unknown measure by comparing it with a known one. Estimation 180 is a great source of visuals to support this (I blogged about this site here.)
Another common difficulty for children is remembering just how many grams in a kilogram, centimetres in a metre, millilitres in a litre etc. One activity that can support this is by including counting in measures in daily counting activities, alongside counting in whole numbers, decimals and fractions etc. So, for instance, when children are counting in hundreds, also count in steps of 100 grams. I find a counting stick useful for this. Develop skills progressively. So for instance, you might count up first of all from 0 to 1 kg in steps of 100g, moving backwards and forwards along the counting stick. As children become more familiar with this, use different starting points so that they become familiar with what happens after 1 kg. At this point you have a choice of ways to count: 1100g, 1kg and 100g, 1.1 kg or 11/10 kg, and I’d suggest you use all of these ways alongside each other so that children start to also understand the equivalence of these. Doing this will also help enormously when children begin to convert units of measure.
Children often find reading scales challenging too. Again, there is no substitute for practical experience, and if you are able to have analogue scales, measuring jugs, tape measures etc. continually available in your classroom, this can be helpful in making it easier to pick up on opportunities for measurement that arise in other subject areas – a trip to hunt through the maths cupboard will probably make you less likely to do this! The Measuring Scales ITP and Measuring Cylinder ITP can also both be helpful for focused opportunities to practise measuring scales skills. Again, counting can also be useful in supporting reading scales. Most scales are in intervals of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000 etc. so regular opportunities to practise counting in these steps will help children to use these skills when reading scales.
One of the main problems with children working with measures, I suspect, is that we move far too quickly to working with abstract measures or with diagrams rather than working practically. I’ve been guilty of this myself – practical work involves finding equipment, it can be messy (particularly when working on capacity). But practical work can also be lots of fun and really help children connect their learning to real life situations, so I’d encourage you to do as much as possible.
There are other ideas and resources for teaching measures on my Measures Pinterest board.