We had already started them on some light arithmetic, and I decided it wouldn't be bad to bring in some real-world consumer mathematics. So I started Sales Paper Math Days. Each day that we received a sales paper in the mail from the local grocery store, I sat down with my younger "math students" and we started looking at ads. One would inevitably point at the apples, and quickly ask if he could have one. "No right now," I would answer, "but can you tell me the price of one pound of apples? What about two pounds? Four pounds?" And so on.
After going through the whole sales paper, I would give each of them a shopping list, and ask for the total price. Obviously, each list is tailored to the child's age, but I always try to include things like "Two of this item," or "Three pounds of that item."
Though I can't claim to have produced savvy shoppers yet, and I still wouldn't trust them to pick out my groceries, they at least have a rough familiarity with going prices. They also see the usefulness (if they're being honest) of arithmetic. And I no longer have to worry about them forking over $78 for a dozen eggs!
Activities (based on age)
1) Just read the sales paper for number recognition.
2) Ask easy arithmetic problems that arise while reading the sales paper (for example, "If one box costs this much, how much will two boxes cost?").
3) Give a shopping list to the child, and have them calculate the total bill. Make sure and include multiple items like "Two of this item" or "Three pounds of that item."
4) Discuss the price per unit for different units (like dollars per pound, or cents per ounce). If the ad allows, have the child compare prices on similar items, and see which item is truly cheaper.
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Brian and Melanie Fulton both earned doctoral degrees in mathematics at Virginia Tech. They formerly taught math at the university level, and now run a hobby farm while accuracy-checking collegiate mathematics texts. They homeschool their four children, frequently employing the aid of chicken, dairy goat, cat, and dog tutors.