How parents can encourage everyday maths skills in the kitchen

|7 min read

Editor’s Note:

This is an updated version of a blog post published on 12 August, 2020.

Seeing how maths is used in real life is important for building learners’ mathematical understanding. Parents can help children strengthen their maths skills at home by using everyday maths in the kitchen.

Mathematics is a huge part of our daily lives. It’s so integrated into our everyday tasks that we don’t even realise how often we do simple calculations.

But consider this — how frequently do you check how much time you have left before a meeting? Or double or halve a recipe? Or compare the costs of one product to another?

One simple yet effective way parents can help their children develop mathematical understanding is by bringing maths into everyday situations, like cooking and baking.

To make it easier for parents, we’ve rounded up some everyday maths activities to try at home with your children to help reinforce their connection with maths and answer the question:

How do you use maths in everyday life?

Maths activity for children aged 5–6: building number sense

Building a solid foundation and understanding of number is a vital first step towards deeper mathematical understanding. This everyday maths activity for children aged 5–6 helps develop their number sense and lets children practice using mathematical terms.

Questions to help learners build number sense

When prepping lunch or a snack, try counting out the different types of food with your child. When you lay the table, try counting out the different items you set out. Ask your child questions like:

  • How many grapes are there?
  • How many tomatoes are there?
  • How many plates are there?

Practice using the terms ‘more than’, ‘fewer than’ and ‘as many as’ by asking:

  • Are there more grapes than tomatoes?
  • Are there fewer tomatoes than grapes?
  • Are there as many plates as family members eating?

Remember to practice each sentence:

There are more grapes than tomatoes.
There are fewer tomatoes than grapes.
There are as many plates as family members eating.

Top tip: When counting, make sure that you count one number for one item. This is called one-to-one correspondence, and it helps build your child’s foundation of counting and number.

Maths activity for children aged 6–7: developing a sense of time

Cooking with your child is an excellent opportunity to practice telling the time and build their understanding of time durations. Try this everyday maths activity with children aged 6–7 to develop their sense of time and apply their skills.

Questions to help learners develop sense of time

As your child helps you prepare a meal, ask these questions in the following scenarios:

  • When you start preparing the food, ask, “what time is it now?
  • When you’ve finished prep, ask, “how long did it take to prepare the food?
  • When you’re putting the food in the oven, tell your child the amount of time the food will need to cook, then ask, “at what time will the food need to come out?
  • When you’re finished cooking the meal, ask your child, “which took longer: the time it took to prepare the food, or the time it took to cook the food?

In this everyday maths exercise, your child will need to tell the time, work backwards and forwards in time, compare time durations, and make connections as they reflect on their learning.

Top tip: You can practice using positioning terms with your child by discussing the order of the actions you took. Can they remember what you did to prepare the food? Use words like ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’.

Maths activity for children aged 7–8: understanding fractions using food

Does dealing with fractions make you anxious? Don’t worry — while fractions may feel intimidating at first glance, they’re much easier to understand when you give them context. One way to do this is by using concrete representations, like food.

For example, 38 might be difficult to picture because it’s an abstract concept. But cutting a cake into 8 slices, and giving 3 of those slices to friends? That makes sense because now it has context and meaning.

The next time you make a cake or casserole, try this everyday maths activity with children aged 7–8 to give them a relatable way to think about fractions.

Questions to help learners connect with fractions using food

First, cook or bake something in a round, rectangular or square tin. Then:

  • Help your child cut the food into halves and ask, “how do you know you’ve cut it into halves?
  • Next ask, “can you make quarters?

In this activity, children will first need to understand that they’ve cut the food into 2 equal parts, so each part is 1 half. Then they’ll practice equivalent fractions by cutting each half in half again to make quarters.

Check in with your child’s understanding by exploring these questions:

What is 1 half the same as? Can they see that 1 half is the same as 2 quarters?
If you helped them to make quarters, can they apply what they learned to make eighths?

Top tip: With this activity, try making up problems like, if we took away 3 slices or 3 eighths, how many are left? Can they write down what they’ve learned in their journal?

Maths activity for children aged 8–9: making sense of mass

Following a recipe is a useful life skill, but you need an understanding of maths and measurement to follow a recipe properly. Give this everyday maths activity a go with children aged 8–9 to help them see how their maths skills can be used in real life by following a recipe at home.

Questions to help learners make sense of mass

When you’re cooking, ask your child to read the recipe out loud to you and help you measure ingredients.

  • Can they measure the ingredients in grams or kilograms?
  • Can they convert the measurements from grams to kilograms, and kilograms to grams?
  • Can they estimate masses to the nearest kilogram?
  • If you have a set of analog scales, do they know what each dash represents?
  • How can they make sure they’re measuring the mass accurately?

Maths activity for children aged 9–10: visualising volume

It’s time to think inside the box! With this everyday maths activity for children aged 9–10, ask them to look at the volume of containers you use at home. How much food can you realistically fit into that pan or plastic container?

Questions to help learners visualise volume

Find a container that’s a cube or cuboid, and ask your child to estimate the volume of the container.

  • What resources can they use to help them?
  • How many different ways can they find to calculate the volume of the container?
  • How would they estimate the volume of a rounded container like a jug or a jar?

Maths activity for children aged 10–11: converting measurements

Sometimes you’ll need to double or halve your recipes. Or maybe you’ll want to try a recipe that uses imperial measurements instead of metric. Developing the skills to adapt cooking and baking measurements is a great way for your child to practice everyday maths, like measurement conversions.

Questions to help learners convert measurements

Find a recipe you want to try with your child, and ask them the following questions:

  • How many grams are there in a kilogram?
  • Can you convert all the measurements in this recipe from grams to kilograms, or kilograms to grams?
  • How many millilitres are there in a litre?
  • Can you convert all the liquid ingredients in the recipe from millilitres to litres, or litres to millilitres?

Next, try and find a recipe that uses imperial measurements instead of metric:

  • If you tell them that 1 ounce is approximately 30 grams, can they convert all the imperial measurements to metric?
  • Talk to them about the difference between imperial and metric units. Do they know why metric units are used more often globally?

Developing everyday maths skills and learning life skills often go hand in hand. By doing these everyday maths exercises, your child will start to build a stronger connection with maths, understand why maths is important, and see how they can apply their skills in real life.

And bonus — you might also instill a love of cooking and baking in your child! What other skills can you teach them with maths in mind?

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