Vacation Math

Usually when my family goes on vacation, I pack lots of games and activities. I often think I’ll use this “downtime” to slip in some math or something else equally “educationally important.” So I bring card games, board games, art supplies, and whatever else I can think of. All with the goal of  enrichment. There’s room in the car, why not fill it?

This year, though, I decided to chill out. For my sake. For the kids’s sake. Mostly for my sake. I kept it simple. I packed only three games – Checkers, Chess, and Clue. I didn’t bring workbooks, not even the kind that don’t seem like workbooks . I didn’t lug a bag full of carefully curated library books. I told the kids to choose their own books. I didn’t even haul the collection of random LEGO pieces with us this time! I didn’t think through every possible scenario (what if it rains the entire time? what if they are bored with the same book? what if they get tired of Clue?) as I usually do. I just packed some stuff, and we left.

And you know what? We had a great vacation. Mathy moments aside (and there were mathy moments, because as we all know, math is everywhere), the kids were content to putter around and make do. Without the clutter of the stuff I usually bring, we settled into a relatively easy contentment with whatever came along.

Though I didn’t plan anything in particular, our vacation still managed to get mathy in many ways. Here’s how:

  1. We played a lot of mini-golf. This was old-school mini-golf. The kind where you have to hit the ball through a barn door or under a massive bunny rabbit. There were corners to hit around and wooden rails off which to ricochet. What’s so mathy about that? Angles, folks, angles. Just like in wall ball, we saw the effects of angles of reflection. Sometimes we were even skilled enough to use them to our advantage! There was also a lot of addition and number comparison going on as we kept meticulous score. The 8-year-old usually wins, because even though the 4-year-old is very skilled, he starts losing his composure around the 10th hole.
  2. We played a lot of skee-ball. I hate that in order to exit the mini-golf area, we have to walk through the arcade game area. But there is a bank of skee-ball games there, and I do love skee-ball! Now the kids love skee-ball, too. Their hand-eye coordination is pretty good, so they were competing against each other to add up the most points. There was time for the 8-year-old to consider which pockets to shoot for to earn the most points. The 4-year-old still won every time.
  3. We played more than a lot of Clue. Clue was the hands-down favorite board game of the entire week. Initially, I brought Clue because the kids love it (who can resist all those game pieces?!), but I really didn’t consider it’s math value. If anything, I saw the game as letter recognition practice, because the 4-year-old doesn’t know how to read yet. In order to play he has to spend a lot of time matching letters between his cards and his game sheet. Patience is required. As we played (over and over again), I happily realized that the game sheet in clue is really a logic grid. As you cross off people, places, and things for each player, you are making deductions, inferences, and conclusions. I can’t say that the kids always based their accusations on airtight logic, but they are learning.
  4. We read a lot. I brought one Dr. Seuss book for bedtime reading. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The 4-year-old made it mathy. I didn’t even plan that. The kid would stop my reading while he counted legs and humps and fingers on all the Seuss-y creatures we read about. We counted legs by twos. We counted humps by ones. We discussed counting fingers and how many we expected all together versus how many should be on each hand. It turns out you can preview the concept of number bonds by making a silly game out of imagining 3 fingers on one hand and 7 on the other…still have 10 all together!
  5. We biked a lot. What? How is that mathy? Circles, circumferences, and gears, that’s how. The bicycling got mathy when the 4-year-old wanted to try out a 20″ bike with gears and hand brakes, versus his 16″ bike with pedal brakes. He was thrilled when he felt the difference in power between the two bikes. On the larger bike with gears, he was able to keep up with the rest of the family with less work. Why?? (Okay, he didn’t really wonder why, but I told him anyway.) I pointed out that because the wheels were bigger, for every pedal stroke he took, the bike traveled farther. I pointed out that by changing the gears, he changed the gear ratio (the number of teeth on one gear compared to the number of teeth on the other gear) thereby making the pedals easier or harder to push. I didn’t say much else beyond that, but I am hopeful that because he loves riding his bike, he will be ready and willing to learn more about gear ratios in the near future.

So, without planning it at all, our vacation was mathy. No preparation really necessary. And packing for the return home was super easy!

(Mathematically…if you’re a parent who doesn’t see mathy moments in these daily activities, it’s okay. Of the activities I listed above, only my explanation of bike gears and ratios required prior knowledge. Everything else was happening regardless of my noticing it. The kids were learning by doing, whether or not they (or I) was aware of it.)

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