Math + Arts & Crafts = Learning + Fun!

We’re working on basic math facts right now, and as any parent of a grade-schooler knows, this part — as with most things that require rote memorization — isn’t much fun. It’s essential, though, for them to have the basics drilled into their heads until they come as naturally as walking, because these are the tools they will use when they’re doing more advanced math later on.

The basics right now are the “number bonds” (as the Singapore Math curriculum calls them) up to ten. That means that they’re working on all the ways to add two numbers to make any sum up to and including 10. I especially like the “number bonds” concept because it encompasses subtraction and the beginnings of algebraic thinking using single-digit numbers, without much more work on the part of the student.

My younger readers (or those with older kids) may already know this, but for those of us who attended grade school in the stone age, it’s a new way of thinking. Here’s the old way: addition facts (1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3, etc.) now, subtraction next year, word problems after we’d memorized the number facts, and algebra much later on.

The new way is to learn number bonds or number families, and the whole & part operations related to a number family all at once: for example, we worked on 5s today. 5 has three number bonds, one for each set of addends: 0 + 5, 1 + 4, and 2 + 3. For each “family”, they wrote down the addition and subtraction facts, plus some missing number problems — this is the algebraic thinking that will serve them well in years to come — e.g. 2 plus what equals 5?

There are also “number stories”, where pictures and words are used to help the kids grasp the idea of part and whole — a concept as important as the number facts themselves. The picture might show a group of 6 animals with various distinguishing characteristics: standing vs. lying down, different colors, babies vs. adult, and so on. The student is to come up with as many different “stories” as they can about the picture, such as “Three dogs are sitting and four are standing up. How many dogs are there altogether?” This reinforces the part-and-whole thinking that gives meaning to the addition and subtraction facts they are memorizing at the same time: 3 (sitting) + 4 (standing) = 7 (all of the dogs). For a subtraction-based story: of the seven dogs, four are standing up; how many are sitting (translation: 7 – 4 = __ )? This is sure to take some of the pain out of deciphering word problems later on too!

At the end of the day, though, they still have to memorize those basic number facts, and repetition is the way to get there. Nothing says the repetition has to be bland worksheet after worksheet, though, so I have been on the hunt for ways to make these drills fun. Ihit on some real winners yesterday, activities from The School Bell’s Number Family area. On the Worksheet Packet page, the “T-Bar & Puzzle” worksheets were a big hit! After writing all of the addition facts in the T-Bar section, they got to color, cut, and paste the puzzle pieces… and then write the numbers again underneath each completed block. The Number Family Booklets are also turning out to be fun — I’ve skipped the circle mat and counters, and just let them draw little X’s or spots instead of writing the numbers in each half of the circle on the booklet pages.

I hope these resources help, and please share anything you’ve found to make this math memorization process more fun!

You can leave comments by clicking here, leave a trackback at or subscibe to the RSS Comments Feed for this post.