Creative and magical maths activities to keep your children engaged during the summer holiday

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Creative and magical maths activities to keep your children engaged during the summer holiday

The long summer holiday gives us the perfect opportunity to play with maths and to explore some of the more creative and magical moments.

This post will give you some more ideas for activities you can do with your children to keep them engaged in and excited about maths over the summer and will also signpost websites that you can go to that are full of wonderful maths activities.

Here are a few of my favourite activities to entertain the whole family regardless of age or mathematical ability.

Magic Squares

Magic squares are fascinating. In a basic magic square, the rows, columns and two diagonals all add up to the same number. This is called the magic number and in the illustration below, the magic number is 15.

Sagrada Familia

One of my favourite magic squares can be found in Barcelona at the Sagrada Familia.

It also has many different patterns to explore. How many can you find?
The magic number here is 33, which was the age that Jesus was when he was crucified.
There are dozens of combinations of numbers that would produce a similar square, with numbers adding to 33. Can you find any?


How to construct a magic square

In the 19th century, Édourd Lucas devised the general formula for order 3 magic squares.

Consider the following table made up of numbers a, b and c:
These numbers will form a magic square as long as

  1. They are all larger than zero
  2. b must be larger than a
  3. b must not be the same value as 2 times a
  4. c-a must be bigger than both a and b

The Golden Ratio

The golden ratio, denoted by the Greek symbol ‘phi’ is a special number in Maths that is approximately equal to 1.618. It appears in many areas such as architecture, art and geometry and even in the human body.

The golden ratio is found by dividing a line into two unequal parts so that the whole length of the line divided by the longer part is equal to the longer part divided by the shorter part.

Try exploring this yourself!

As humans, we like to see objects around us that are in the golden ratio, such as picture frames. The proportions of many buildings are also designed to be in the golden ratio. We are also designed in line with the golden ratio. Have a go at this activity from

The golden ratio

Measure the following:

  1. Distance from the ground to your belly button
  2. Distance from your belly button to the top of your head
  3. Distance from the ground to your knees
  4. Distances A, B and C
  5. Length of your hand
  6. Distance from your wrist to your elbow


Now calculate the following ratios:

  1. Distance from the ground to your belly button / Distance from your belly button to the top of your head
  2. Distance from the ground to your belly button / Distance from the ground to your knees
  3. Distance C / Distance B
  4. Distance B / Distance A
  5. Distance from your wrist to your elbow / Length of your hand


Write all your results on the following table:

Can you see anything special about these ratios?

Everlasting Chocolate

The Everlasting Chocolate trick appears to make a square of chocolate appear out of nowhere. Clearly this is an attractive thought for the most reluctant mathematician. There are several youtube clips that both illustrate and explain this phenomenon.




You may well be travelling over the summer, with children asking ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Maybe you have a car journey, followed by a train journey. How long will you be travelling altogether?
This method for adding periods of time may well dazzle your children!

For example, we have a car journey of 1 hour 35 minutes followed by a train journey of 2 hours and 55 minutes. To add two periods of time together, you just write the times as three digit numbers, add them and then add 40.

1 hr and 35 mins plus 2 hrs and 55 mins
Would be
135 + 255 + 40
= 430
4 hrs and 30 minutes!

Can you figure out why it works?


Magic or Maths?

Write down any three-digit number
     Multiply it by 13
     Multiply that answer by 7
     And, finally, multiply that answer by 11

What do you notice?
Does it always work?

Mobius Strip

This is my all-time favourite activity to do with learners of any age and with the teachers that I work with too.

The Mobius strip is named after the mathematician August Mobius who invented the strip in 1858. It is curious because it only has one side and one edge. A Mobius strip is simple to construct. All you need is a long strip of paper, sticky tape and a pair of scissors.

Take the long piece of paper and put the ends together as if you were making a headband. Before you attach the two ends with tape, give one of them a twist and then stick the ends together.
Now try drawing a line along the centre of the strip. What do you notice?

You will end up back where you started, without having to take your pen off the paper. So you have drawn on both sides of the strip of paper in one go, meaning that your original strip of paper, which had two sides, now only has one side!

Now cut along the line that you have drawn. What do you think might happen?

Try it and see!

There are many other interesting things that you can do with this strip. Try making another one, but this time instead of cutting along the middle, cut a third of the way from one edge. What do you think will happen this time?

Useful Websites

Recommended Books

Can you solve my problems? by Alex Bellos
The Simpsons and their mathematical secrets by Simon Singh
How many socks make a pair by Rob Eastaway

Judy Hornigold is an editor of the Maths — No Problem! Blog.Published on Aug 25, 2017
Successful Maths Curriculum