Hands-On Math Activities For The Hands-On Learner

My youngest son is a tricky learner – especially when it comes to math.

He can do complex, multi-step math problems in his head. No calculator. No paper. He just looks up and thinks for a moment, and then shouts out the answer, “36!”

I am grateful for this advantage. It means he can easily manage the everyday math we encounter, despite his learning differences.

As he gets older however, and the math gets more complex, he is finding it hard to keep up.

Hands-On Math Activities For The Hands-On Learner Not The Former Things, Shawna Wingert

Math is an interesting construct for a child with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Learning the operations, understanding place value, and reading the word problems all present obstacles that make it appear as though he is not capable of higher level mathematics. But nothing could be further from the truth.

He is able to understand and compute at a far higher level than I ever was – but he struggles with retaining the basic building blocks like the difference between multiplication and division and where the thousandths place is in a large number.

This year, in an effort to prepare him more fully for higher level math, I am supplementing his math curriculum with hands-on math activities. My goal is to help him practice in a way that makes the most sense for his learning style and natural abilities.

Friday Fun-days: 52 weeks of Easy For Mom Activities

For our Friday Fun-Day activity this week, we focused on place value.

Now, please hear me when I say, we have been working on place value for five years now. I have no illusions that this one activity will magically make the learning stick. But, I am confident that presenting it in a way that works best for him will get us a bit closer to the mastery he needs.

What You Need For This Activity:

Colorful paper

A Large Marker

Poker Chips or Small Bean Bags

Hands-On Math Activities For The Hands-On Learner Not The Former Things, Shawna Wingert

Hands-On Math: Place Value

Step 1: Using my son’s math book as a guide, I wrote several numbers, one number on each sheet of colorful paper, to create various place value exercises.

Step 2: I arranged only three numbers on the floor.

Step 3: I then asked my son to identify the tens place by walking over and placing a poker chip on the number in that place.

Step 4: We practiced like this for a while, mixing up the numbers. Eventually, I added more numbers to create more and more place values.

Step 5: When my son grew bored, and I was not able to find our small bean bags to toss, I asked him to see if he could toss the poker chips and have them land on the correct number in the correct place. This kept his attention and allowed us to practice a bit more.

Hands-On Math Activities For The Hands-On Learner Not The Former Things, Shawna Wingert

Hands-On Math Activities For The Hands-On Learner

This activity worked surprising well. In addition to using the poker chips, there are a few more hands-on exercises I plan to complete with him over the next few days to help with retention.

Place Value Jump: Using sidewalk chalk, I write out the numbers, up to the millionths place, and then ask him to jump to the number in the hundredths place, etc.

Window Writing: I write the numbers on our windows in blue. He then circles the place values I call out in green. (Something about writing on the windows makes everything more fun for this kid.)

Dice Game: Using up to five dice, we roll them one at a time, writing out the end result of all five. I then ask him to circle the correct place value, or, if writing is not going well, he can tap the die that is in the correct place.

Hands-On Math Activities For The Hands-On Learner Not The Former Things, Shawna Wingert

I am confident that, as we continue to practice in ways that are appropriate and more natural for my son, he will ultimately master this material. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with making math practice and review a little more fun!

Happy Friday,


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