Maths on the go

The summer holidays are nearly upon us and for kids that means six weeks away from the classroom, homework and tests. And of course, that’s no bad thing, but just because school’s out for summer doesn’t mean your kids’ education needs to grind to a halt.

With the possibility of long car journeys ahead, or the inevitable delays waiting for planes or trains, why not grab the moment and sneak in some fun but educational games.

Steve Humble, aka Dr Maths, is the man behind many of Green Board Games’ maths related books and puzzles, and also teaches trainee maths teachers at Newcastle University. He believes that it’s important parents try to keep the learning process going when kids are out of school, and that maths particularly lends itself to learning on the go.

“It’s a great opportunity to show kids that maths is all around them,” he says, “and not just something that they have to learn at school. Numbers, patterns, shapes, they’re all there outside of the classroom and in the real world.”

So as well as packing one of Dr Maths’ books, or the fantastic BrainBox maths game, what else can you do to while away those long journeys?

One simple game, not unlike the numbers round in the Channel 4 programme Countdown, is to spot a number with at least four digits – it could be a flight number, a shop sign saying when a firm was established, that kind of thing – and then try and use the individual numbers to make a target value.

Targets with lots of factors like 24 and 32 are good ones to start with. So, for instance, the challenge could be to use 2651, the numbers on the side of a train, to make exactly 36, with a bonus point if you use all four numbers.

Another game Steve suggests is to see how many different shapes you can spot. Squares, circles and rectangles are easy, but what about more obscure shapes like pentagons, or even all the different types of triangles such as equilateral, isosceles and scalene*. Set a time limit and the person to spot the most is the winner.

Basic counting games can also help the time fly. In the car, everyone (best not to include the driver!) picks a colour and then records how many cars of that colour they see over a ten minute period. This also touches on issues of probability, with those looking for yellow cars, for instance, unlikely to be as successful as those spotting silver or red ones.

You can also play this game in the departure lounge, spotting people with different coloured coats, wearing glasses, on the phone etc. And if the kids are really into it, they could even illustrate the results with a simple graph or pie chart.

This is, of course, a variation on pub cricket, a game for the back roads which wend their way through the countryside, when you score runs each time there are ‘legs’ on a pub sign, and are out when there are none. So the White Hart would net you four and the Dog and Duck six, although it was never clear what you scored if you happened to drive past the Beehive…

So there you have it – a few ways to keep their brains switched on during their summer off. Have fun!

* To save you a Google search, an equilateral triangle has three equal sides, an isosceles has two and a scalene none.