Does anyone have a nice list of "no effort" activities that parents can employ to promote numeracy? I am primarily interested in K-8 activities.


Often parents ask me about what 'math activities' they can be doing at home. I could supply many in-depth math lessons that will never be taught but I would much rather give them a short list of things that they can incorporate in to activities that they are already doing.

  • Every time you go out to eat at a restaurant: Your child should be calculating tip. 10%, 20% are easy computations 18.5% requires some more thinking...

  • When you are driving in the car: Your child could be looking for equations in license plates. Something like this. Or factoring! License plates are a good way to cultivate our factoring skills. Please keep your eyes on the road when checking your child's computations...

  • When you go to the grocery store you can ask your child to estimate the number items and the cost. This is somehow a skill that every adult has managed to develop but children rarely know the cost. After showing the child the receipt a few times and asking him/her to figure out how much the family spends on ice cream... We should see an improvement in their ability to crunch numbers and estimate.

  • When you play monopoly (or any game that requires some math), your child should be doing at least some of the banking (or whatever the part of the game requires the math...).

I am looking for more activities that shouldn't really feel like a 'math activity' and should feel more like daily life: your kid is talking way too much on a long road trip? Why aren't they factoring large numbers in their head?

The activities I am looking for

  • Should promote numeracy
  • Should require no manipulatives or planning (This is what I mean by "no effort")
  • Should be an activity that a middle class family may do once a month: Go out to eat, Drive in a car, collect groceries, etc. (This is also what I mean by "no effort")
  • Have a type of built in differentiation: we should be able to format the activity for a 3rd grader (What is 10% of the cost of the meal?) or an 8th grader (How much can we spend on desert and still have the meal be under $100 after applying an 18% tip?).
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Maybe starting from ditching the word "activity". It is just normal daily life. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Sep 19, 2018 at 18:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RustyCore agreed. Maybe even make that point to the parents. You don't have any "activities" per say (like doing your multiplication tables), but there are opportunities abound to use math in your daily life! Such as ...[refer to answers below]. This will hopefully bridge the gap people seem to have that math is somehow separate from everything else. $\endgroup$
    – BruceWayne
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ I think list you have already is great. I would add doing sales tax to the list. $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Sep 19, 2018 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ How about, doing math homework. As students exist in the real world and need to do homework, this seems relevant. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2018 at 11:06

3 Answers 3


I would recommend activities that can be done at least once a day (instead of once a month).

  • When setting the dinner table (especially when guests are present), request the child to help get the dishes and cutlery, asking "How many dishes will we need? How many forks will we need?" If each guest is to be given, say, three pieces of dessert, then how many pieces would need to be brought out?
  • When performing a time-dependent activity (for example, when food in a pot on a stove will be ready to eat in, say, 15 minutes), ask the child to read the current time on a clock, then ask the child to predict the time the activity will finish. (Digital clocks for the younger children; analog clocks for the older ones.)
  • When an event is to happen in a few days, ask the child to read the current date on a calendar, then ask questions such as "How many days is that event from today? If that event was postponed for a week, what date would the new schedule be?"
  • If a child is reading a book, then ask what page he or she is currently reading, then how many pages there are in total in the book, then how many more pages are to be read to finish the book.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Awesome! Thanks. More answers like this one please! No need to limit ourselves to Daily/Weekly/Monthly. The criteria I am looking for may be rephrased as something like this: The family finds themselves here often enough that we can use this to get into the habit of mathematical thinking. $\endgroup$
    – Mason
    Sep 19, 2018 at 14:16

Grade appropriate elementary number theory:

  • Counting even and odd license plates to see if parity is equally distributed.

  • Same for the residue mod 3. using the sum of digits algorithm.

  • Factoring numbers you stumble on.

  • Play buzz: count "i 2 3 4 5 6 buzz 8 ..." with "buzz" for multiples of 7 and numbers containing 7. Then do it with numbers other than 7, or with two at a time with a different word for each. I recall "skinimerink" for 3, so 21 was buzz-skinimerink.

Invent more for yourself.

  • $\begingroup$ Related: Fizz buzz $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Sep 19, 2018 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche Yes, of course. Thanks for the link. But I was playing buzz-skinimerink with 3 and 7 about 70 years ago. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2018 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Namaste It takes effort to play these games, but none to set them up. Nor is there a particular goal or outcome you're looking for. So I don't see them as "lessons". $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2019 at 15:33

Play good games as a family. I have a list (more shape and logic - oriented, than numeracy).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is good. Most people think that math is only about numbers, and its nice to have activities that don't focus on numbers. Also, games are fun whereas chores are sometimes not. $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Sep 25, 2018 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate your answer. Doesn't quite fit my idea of "no effort." Parent would have to get the game. But I do definitely promote math/mathesque games in my school (and hopefully these games spill over into the home). One that isn't on your list but I think should be is: WuZiQi. Paper and pencil is sufficient to play. $\endgroup$
    – Mason
    Sep 26, 2018 at 20:03

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