Is Your Child’s Playroom Math-Friendly?

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I remember when back in the 5th grade my parents put a huge map of the world on the wall of my room. That was the year I read lots and lots of adventure stories and looked for all the places mentioned in them on my map. That was also the year when I breezed through all my geography tests and won a local geography bee.

It seems common sense now that you can encourage your child’s interests through room decor. With all the maps of the world and the Solar system and various posters of dinosaurs, buildings, rockets, human bodies, etc on the market it seems you can cover all the usual and not-so-usual interests your child might develop between now and college. Decorating for learning has never been easier, right?

Except, of course, if you’d like to promote math learning. Somehow posting giant multiplication tables above Junior’s bed doesn’t sound all that appealing. The problem is not that math posters don’t exist. In fact, a quick Google search will give you over 28 million links. It’s just most math posters seem to fall into one of the two categories – either math-y jokes or posters full of equations to be memorized. This is beyond boring! Sort of like pasting spelling bee words all over the walls. There’s just no excitement, sense of exploration or opportunity for story-telling in this.

So what’s a concerned parent to do? Here are a few solutions:

1. Fractals Posters

There are plenty available online, just search for “fractal posters” or images of fractals. Fractals are not simply beautiful. They are mesmerizing. They invite observation and exploration. They are also some of the simplest mathematical constructs. If your child can draw straight-ish lines, she can create simple fractals.

2. Rube Goldberg Machines and Marble Runs

These can be either posters or, better yet, real contraptions. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be particularly inventive or mechanically gifted to come up with one. As long as you can buy and assemble a game of Mouse Trap, you’re good to go. Marble runs of all sizes and configurations will work too and can be a wonderful DIY 3D art installation.

What your child learns in this case is the idea of functions and combination of functions. She learns to see regularity and predictability of input and output.

3. Mirrors

Mirrors are not just for dress-up. After all, mirrors teach important math concept of symmetry. However, a mirror on the wall is a bit limited in its educational possibilities. Instead, opt for smaller hand-held size mirrors. Tape a couple of them together to form a mirror book. You can use it as a prop in lots of various pretend games and as a background for all these imaginary landscapes children love to build. Along the way your child will observe symmetry, angles and might even discover multiplication.

4. Paint Chips

These are great for creating art that illustrates concepts of gradients. If you have paint chips with little square cut-outs in the middle, you can lay them over different color paint chips in a grid pattern illustrating the idea of combinations.

5. Paper solids

A while ago we wrote about making some not-so-basic geometric solids out of paper plates and paper cups. Even for someone like myself, who has two left thumbs, this is an easy project that comes out picture-perfect. So why not decorate your child’s room with the results?

I’ve just re-decorated my son’s room (which mostly consisted of repainting the walls and re-arranging the furniture). So now the room looks nice, if a bit bland. Writing this post makes me want to get to work decorating it right away! I’d love to hear your math-friendly decor ideas and take a look at your projects.

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