Teaching Math Through Daily Routines and Real-Life Moments

No school.  On that March day, many of us received the text message or email that let us know that school would be closed for awhile (now much longer than originally predicted).  Some (or most) of us probably felt some anxiety about how we would help our kids to continue to learn. I know that even as a credentialed teacher I felt very overwhelmed by the prospect of fully taking over the education of my kindergartener, Tate, and the therapy schedule of my preschooler with special needs, Coral.

Over the past few weeks, I have tried to find a teaching rhythm and a schedule for my kids.  What I have discovered is something that I actually always knew: The best learning moments are the ones that are built into our daily routine and allow for exploration of the everyday in a new way.

While Tate is at home, I have tried to create math learning opportunities in our everyday routine.  Due to Coral’s unique needs, it is very hard for me to find time to sit down for an extended period of time and work with him on a specific skill and/or worksheet.  However, math learning opportunities are all around us throughout the day. Those are the moments I try to capture.  

I love math.  I love thinking about math.  I love finding math in the world around me.  And I love teaching math. My goal is to share my passion for math with Tate and the kids I tutor.  By finding math in the everyday world, I hope that Tate and all students are engaged in their math learning and make connections that build a strong foundation of math understanding.

I have compiled a list (by topic/Common Core Standard) of some of the math activities I try to build into our daily routines.  Each topic has a short introduction, includes some key vocabulary and includes some activities with examples of how I implement this with Tate. Some sections include an extension at the end for older kids or kids who would like more challenge.

It is important to note how your child learns best.  If your child does better with information in a visual manner, it could be helpful to keep a small whiteboard on your table to write down any of the vocabulary you are talking about during an informal activity.

Remember to try to have fun!  It may feel awkward at first to have math talks with your child, but over time you will probably feel more comfortable.  If you have any questions about the activities and/or would like any additional support for your child, please do not hesitate to contact us.


I decided to list geometry first because it is often the math topic to be taught last during the school year, which means that this year many students will have minimal (if any) exposure to important geometry concepts and skills.  In elementary school, it is important for students to learn about the characteristics of different shapes and to be able to describe similarities and differences between both 2D and 3D shapes.


two-dimensional shapes, flat shapes, rectangle, square, rhombus, parallelogram, trapezoid, quadrilateral, triangle, circle, vertices (corners), congruent sides (equal length), parallel

Three-dimensional shapes, solid shapes, cone, cylinder, sphere, prism, edge, face, vertices


Shapes Scavenger Hunt: Draw different shapes (2D and 3D) on a piece of paper.  Have your child write the names of real-life objects he finds that match those shapes.

Shapes Talk: When your child has an object that is a certain shape, talk about the characteristics of the shape- what you notice about that shape.  Try to encourage your child to use the vocabulary by modeling its use yourself. For example, if Tate has a rectangular piece of paper, I may say, “I notice that your rectangular paper has 4 sides.  What do you notice about the sides, Tate?” I may encourage Tate to see that it has two pairs of congruent or equal sides.

Shapes Similarities and Differences: As an extension of the “Shapes Talk,” I may ask Tate to share similarities and differences between two real-life shapes he is working with.  If he has a rectangle and a square, I may say, “What do you notice is the same about your rectangle and square?  What is different?”

Shapes Art: Ask your child to create a drawing from certain shapes (ex. two triangles, 1 rectangle and 1 square).  Your child could also try to create new shapes from certain shapes, or see what shape is created when two shapes are put together.


Perimeter: Have your child measure the distance around an object to find the perimeter.  Talk about what he notices.

Area: Find a smaller rectangle and see how many will fit inside a larger rectangle to discuss area.

Measurement & Data

Comparing lengths both informally (using vocabulary like longer, shorter, wider, etc) and formally (through actual measurements) are important developmental skills.  It is important for students to have an opportunity to compare the length of objects and to explore different ways to measure. In relation to collecting data, students often enjoy collecting survey information and organizing that information in different ways.

Measurement Vocabulary: length, weight, more, less, longer, shorter, heavier, lighter, ruler, inches, feet, yards, centimeters, meters, pounds, tons, grams

Data Vocabulary: survey question, data, chart, tally marks, bar graph, picture graph, line graph

Measurement Activities

Collect and categorize objects by length or weight: Have your child find several different objects and group them by those that are similar in length. Use different words to describe the comparative lengths of the objects (longer, shorter, etc).  Then, pick an object and see which category your child places it in.

Do the same activity but have your child group the objects by relative weight.  To make this easier, create three categories (very light- like a piece of paper, medium- like a full water bottle, and heavy- something your child can just lift).

Measure lengths using a different object: Have your child measure different objects, like a piece of paper using another object.  For example, I may ask Tate to figure out how many of a certain Lego piece fit across a piece of paper.  He can then record his work on a simple chart I have created. After he has measured several objects using the Lego piece, he can compare the lengths.  As an extension, he can figure out how many more Lego pieces were needed to measure some objects compared to others.

-Measure lengths using a ruler with inches and centimeters: After practicing with a ruler, let your child measure the length of different objects in inches and centimeters.  Have her record the data in a chart. Discuss the measurements. What does your child notice about how the inches and centimeters compare?

Data Activities

-Ask a question that can be answered without other people: What is the weather like today?  How many minutes of TV did I watch today?  How long did I play outside? There are countless possibilities for questions.

Ask your child what the possible choices are for the question..  As needed, provide a chart where she can record the data by choice.  For the weather question, this may be sunny, rainy, cloudy, or windy.  Ask her how she wants to record the daily data; will she use tally marks, pictures, or something else? After all of the data is collected, talk about what you notice.  The discussion about the data provides an excellent opportunity for kids to use the data vocabulary and to develop number sense of comparative values. Some questions to ask are: Which category has the most?  Which has the least? How many more days were (sunny) than (rainy)? 

Extension: Find a way to present the data graphically. This could be with a picture graph, a bar graph, a line graph or in another unique way.

Create a survey question: This is a great way to connect with family and friends via phone call or video conference.  What is your favorite pet? What type of exercise do you do right now? What TV show would you want to be in?  The sky is the limit!

Follow the same procedure listed above :)!

Number Sense and Operations

Helping students to understand numbers and how they relate and compare to each other is a key foundation to developing long-term math understanding.  A solid number sense helps students when they begin to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. I have separated this section into three different sections

Making Ten

It is so important for elementary aged kids to develop a strong understanding of ways to make ten.  Making ten refers to a student’s ability to combine numbers to make a sum of ten (1+9, 2+8, etc).

Ask questions throughout the day to help your child think about “how many more” are needed to make ten. 

Ex. I will give Tate six crackers for a snack and say, “How many more do you need to make ten?”  As kids begin to learn about the different combinations to make ten, it can be helpful to have a tens frame handy.  A tens frame is just a rectangle that is divided into two rows of five squares. Kids can put their food into the tens frame to see how many more are needed.

Play the game “Hi-Ho Cherry O”. Someone just gave Tate this game for his birthday, and it’s perfect for reinforcing making ten. The idea is for each player to get the ten cherries off of the tree and into the basket. As we play, I ask Tate different questions, like “You now have three cherries in your basket. How many cherries are still on your tree?” There is a built in visual with the tree and cherries, if a child needs extra help.

Play “Make Ten Go Fish”. This is a game I have used for years during tutoring sessions. I make several partners of two cards to make ten (A and 9, 2 and 8, etc). Then, I deal each person about 4 cards. The goal is to match two cards to make ten, creating as many pairs as possible over the course of the game. For example, if Tate has a 3 but no 7, he would ask me for a 7.  

Extension: Challenge your child to make 100 or 1,000 with two friendly numbers.  See if your child can apply the ways to make 10 to make 20 (12 + 8, 11 + 9, etc).

Mental Math

Giving students opportunities to practice adding and subtracting mentally is a critical skill.  Mental math can encourage students to become fluent with decomposing numbers into tens and ones to make addition and subtraction easier.

-Ask about 1 more, 1 less, 10 more and 10 less: With Tate, I often try to encourage him to think about 1 more, 1 less, 10 more and 10 less with everyday items.  For example, if he has 8 chips, I may give him 1 more and ask, “How many chips do you have when I give you 1 more?”  If he eats a chip, I ask, “You had 8 chips and ate one. How many do you have now?” We also do this with larger numbers, sometimes related to page numbers in books.

-Represent numbers as the tens place and the ones place: Helping your child to fluently decompose and compose numbers by their ones and tens is foundational to strong number sense.  With Tate, I regularly try to give him the opportunity to decompose and compose numbers. For example, if we are talking about the number 25, I will say, “You have $25.  That’s $20 and $5 more.” If I can provide a visual in the moment, I do. But if I can’t I still try to talk about the number 25 as 20 and 5 (20 + 5). 

Skip Count Together

Whenever possible, I try to skip count with Tate. Skip counting is such an important skill for kids to develop, as it will become a foundation for repeated addition (multiplication). Some ideas to try when skip counting include:

-Skip count by 5s or 10s past 100 (forwards and backwards)

-Skip count by 10s by starting at a different number (4, 14, 24, 34 etc.)

-Skip count by 5s by starting at a number other than 5 (ex. Start at 25 or 40)

-After a child demonstrates fluency with 5 and 10, try skip counting by 2.  Use pairs of objects to help make the skip counting more concrete.

-Other common numbers to try to skip count by include 3 and 4.

Word Problems & Algebraic Thinking

Instead of giving Tate a worksheet of word problems, I try to give him word problems throughout the day by framing situations that come up with the language of a math word problem.

-Adding or subtracting items

Ex. Tate picks out 4 puffs. I put 5 more in front of him. I say, “You have 4 puffs. Now you have 5 more. How many do you have altogether?”

I try to use the language of the word problems to help Tate build familiarity with the vocabulary. Some key words often used for addition are: Sum, altogether, in all, more, increase

Some key words often used for subtraction are: Difference, how many more, how many are left, takes away, decreases, uses

Providing the concrete items and the language are two important aspects of doing these real-life problems. I also keep a small whiteboard on our table. Sometimes I will encourage Tate to write a number sentence that matches the situation. For the above example, this might look like: 4 + 5 = 9.

Hopefully, this gives you a place to start when working with your child on math skills in everyday routines and daily life.  During this stressful and uncertain time, let’s make math fun, meaningful and engaging for kids. Let’s also take a little bit of stress off of ourselves as parents to recognize that we are doing the best we can.  Math learning does not have to be formal and rigid. It can be fluent and flexible, embedded in our daily routines.

4 thoughts on “Teaching Math Through Daily Routines and Real-Life Moments”

  1. These activities are wonderful. I love how you encourage and model the use of vocabulary. I love how you connect mathematical ideas and real world. The activities are short and easy to implement. Well done, love it!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Maryann! I appreciate your positive feedback. It means a lot coming from the math teaching mentor extraordinaire!!

  2. I love these ideas!!! I’m definitely going to try and implement this with my kids throughout our day. We are working on geometry and measurement in our house, Nico will love using Legos to measure and graphing results.


    1. Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing. I hope they enjoy some of the activities. Tate LOVED doing the measurement with Legos.

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