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How to Get Your Kid to Stop Saying Math is Hard: 4 Estimation Activities

My own “math phobia” started around seventh grade, where my introduction to algebra was clouded by a teacher who reinforced the idea that math was tough for girls. I thought I couldn’t get it, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.Psychology Today blogger Dara Chadwick

Do your kids have math phobia? Have you heard them complain “math is hard”? You can use our cool math games to help your child develop math confidence, but what else can you do?

The Power of Estimation
Supported by research, estimation is one powerful tool that teaches learners to trust their gut. What’s a quick way to practice estimation? Fun estimation activities of course!

If your children are taking a long time to reason through these activities and questions, they’re probably counting. Because children associate math with exact answers, they may be reluctant to estimate. Encourage them to guess!

“How many coins in the change bag?”
What you need:
• Several (4-10) sandwich-sized ziplock bags filled with coins
• Quart, gallon and snack-sized ziplock bags

Guess and Check Estimation Activity:
1. Ask your learner to guess how many coins are in the first bag. Is it 10? 20? 200?
2. Write that down, maybe in a chart like this:
Estimation chart for math activities 3. Have your kid count the coins in the first bag.
4. Compare the guess and actual numbers. Was the guess too big or too small?
5. Repeat the process with the rest of the bags until your child is in the ballpark!

Guess and check works well for repeated processes, such as approximating the number of coins in each bag. Other opportunities to guess and check include estimating how many macaronis fit into each family members’ hands, the number of paintings in one room of a museum, or the number of pens in a jar.

Pencils and Such!

Benchmarking Estimation Activity:
Encourage your learner to use benchmarking, another estimation strategy, when there’s a known sample he or she can use to extrapolate to something much larger or smaller.

For example, fill one of each with coins: quart-sized, gallon-sized, and snack-sized ziplock bags.
1. Ask your child to count the number of coins in the quart-sized bag.
2. Use that number as the benchmark to estimate how many coins are in a bigger (gallon-sized) ziplock bag
3. Estimate how many are in a smaller (snack-sized) ziplock bag.
4. For an extra challenge, ask your learner to talk you through the thought process of estimating the number of coins that would fit into a giant trash bag!

Opportunities for benchmarking abound outdoors too. Your learner can estimate the number of branches on trees, number of flowers in flower beds, number of bricks that make up the walls and number of windows in a skyscraper.

Flower bed at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

After your kid has worked through both guess and check as well as benchmarking estimation strategies, ask him or her the following questions:
What strategy did he or she enjoy more and why?
When would estimation be useful in real life situations?
What kinds of problems might he or she want to solve?

Interestingly, researchers have found that students who used a benchmark had more accurate representation of standard units and estimates of length.

Fun Math Questions For Practicing Estimation

“How much time?” is a fun math question. Ask your child to estimate how long (in minutes or seconds) an ant or a snail will take to get from one crack in the sidewalk to the next. Your child can also estimate the time it takes for an airplane to fly out of sight.

For activities that take more time, such as the drive to Grandma’s house, ask your kid to estimate how much time the activity will take in minutes or in terms of his or her favorite TV show. (When I was a little girl, the drive to my Grandma’s house – San Antonio, TX to Los Angeles, CA – was 40 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons!)

“Is this enough?” can apply any time you want to share things, such as food. When I was growing up, my mom often asked me questions such as, “With two guests, how much food am I going to have to make?”

Ask your child, “How many raviolis will cover your salad plate? Your dinner plate? Fill your soup bowl? If you’re really hungry, what dish do you want your ravioli in?”

We’ve included estimation in our fractions game, Motion Math. The game asks learners to estimate where fractions fall on the number line, helping them develop an intuitive understanding of fraction size. To be successful, kids can estimate – they only have to be close enough. The game helps players learn to recognize that 1/2 = 0.5 = 50% = the image below!

Motion Math HD fraction estimation game

What are other ways to express one-third?

Estimation can turn almost anything you do as a family into a fun math activity. By improving your kid’s estimation skills, you can help him or her develop math confidence and stop saying math is hard. Have a specific concept your child is struggling with? Send us an email – we’re happy to write a blog post about it or use it for our upcoming games!

3 Responses to “How to Get Your Kid to Stop Saying Math is Hard: 4 Estimation Activities”

  1. My son struggles with estimation. He gets so frustrated that there is not an exact, correct answer. These are all wonderful games to do at home. We are preparing for second grade and I know this will be in the upcoming goals. We just did a time estimation today(without even trying to! lol) I told him it would only take two seconds to brush his hair. Wanting to prove me wrong, he said it would take longer, about 35. So, we counted the seconds and he was absolutely thrilled he was closer to the actual 44 seconds it took. Thanks for the great ideas on this blog!

  2. Cheri, thanks for your comment – we’re so glad to hear that you’ve turned a daily activity into an opportunity for estimation for your son. I hope he eventually understands that the process of estimating to develop a gut sense of numbers is the goal. 🙂

    Let us know which of these activities your family likes the most!

  3. […] Estimation Activities […]

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