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Universal Preschool's Math Expert: Peter Farrell

Peter Farrell our Math Expert

Peter Farrell earned a B.A. in Mathematics from Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya from 1988-1990. There, he met his wife Lucy. They have two young sons, Muna and Aidan.

Peter has been a math teacher in public and private schools on the West Coast, the East Coast, and even on the Equator. He currently teaches on the San Francisco Peninsula where he tutors homeschool students as well. His conviction is that every student can be great at math, with the correct approach. Some students learn better from hands-on projects, while others need lots of time to sit and think about a problem. He specializes in helping each student find the right approach for their own unique learning style.

In addition to teaching math, Peter enjoys playing the guitar and perfecting homemade pizza!

We asked Mr. Farrell to provide some easy and fun ideas that parents can use for introducing math to young children.

9 Fun Things You Can Do To Get Your Kid Interested In Math

By Peter Farrell

Kids love games. You will be surprised how easily they learn something many adults think is a chore simply by playing around with it. Math is a big puzzle, or a mosaic of shapes, lines and curves that lends itself to some really fun games and activities. Below are some suggestions I think you and your young children will enjoy. Try them, and as Diane Flynn Keith (the publisher of this website) wrote in her book, Carschooling -- if the games aren't fun, don't play! Most of these activities can be adapted for any age child.

Count everything. One rainy day my friend Dave jokingly told his kids they were going to go to the supermarket to count the potatoes. Later they got impatient and asked him when they were leaving for the store! If you're putting on shoes, eating peanuts, or passing telephone poles in the car, just find something to count and start in.

Keep a running total at the market. Store-schooling? Well, it's a place where you add, subtract, multiply, and compare numbers. You don't have to be precise to the penny, but round each price off to the half dollar and see how close your kids can get to the actual bill. They'll also get some sense of what things cost.

Play with fraction bars and other math manipulatives, even if your child is (supposedly) too young to use them properly. My preschool age sons line up all the fraction bars in one row -- and then lose them! (Be prepared to replace the sets before they're "ready" for them.) Regardless, you'll be surprised that they know how many thirds are in a whole.

Say shapes. One of my son's earliest board books was on shapes, and kids learn to recognize them as easily as they do colors. It's fun to point to an illustration in a book and ask, "What shape are his eyes?" It might even alleviate the boredom if it's the 15th time you've read that story that day! Muna still surprises me by pointing to something in a store and saying, "Triangle!" A fun shape-sorting game and book combination is " Nick Jr. Colors, Counting, Shapes!: 15 Shaped Books In A Sorting Box!"

Look for patterns everywhere. It's interesting to see something repeated over and over, like columns on a building, roofing tiles arranged in straight lines. I enjoy looking for the spirals you can find in pinecones, pineapples, and lots of flower heads like sunflowers.

Sing the times tables. As you know, if your kid has listened to Disney songs or other sing-along tapes, kids will sing anything, so why not make it something they'll need later? Multiplication Rock helped me remember my times tables, and for most people, adults included, there's no better way of memorizing than singing.

Don't stress over mistakes. My son used to get creative with the order of his numbers when counting, and some people even commented on the fact that here was a math teacher's kid leaving out seven and eight. Hey, he gets it right now. Below 10 years old, kids are in sponge mode, and you have to get them to use their natural ability to memorize things effortlessly to stock up on data they'll need to process later on.

Celebrate Pi Day. OK, March 14th (3-14) is already over, but every time you have a pie or a pizza, or when you're fixing a flat on your child's bike, you can bring up that "magic number." It's 3.1415926, and it represents the circumference divided by the diameter in every circle. Even math-averse folks are intrigued by magic numbers like pi.

Play Mystery Number. That's the game where you say, "I'm thinking of a number, and when I add 3 to it, I get 8. What's the number?" Believe it or not, this game is essentially solving algebraic equations. That example was x + 3 = 8. People who claim they can't do algebra can easily play a game as harmless as this!

Most of all have fun with numbers. It will help your children make a natural and non-stressful transition to math when they are developmentally ready for it. To get more terrific ideas for learning math with your little ones check out the book, "Family Math for Young Children" by Grace Coates, Jean Stenmark, & Brian Gothberg. You'll find some ingenious ideas for great math explorations that you can do right in your own home and neighborhood!

Note: Peter Farrell is available for math tutoring on the San Francisco Peninsula. You can contact Peter by email or visit his website.