Books are incredibly effective tools for teaching. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers certainly understand that fact as it pertains to subjects like history and science. But, did you know the math and literature connection can be just as powerful?
Why Math and Literature?
There are many reasons math and literature pair so well together:
- Books introduce math concepts in a non-threatening way and build interest.
- Good stories make math come alive and children find that math isn’t boring or inaccessible.
- Mathematics within stories provides context that illuminates the meaning of otherwise abstract concepts. This is especially helpful for struggling learners.
- Oftentimes, literature connects math to real life. This gives meaning to “why” math is important.
- Books build connections to math for linguistic learners who tend to think in words.
- Books connect math to other subject areas, which helps children innately learn that all subjects are intertwined.
- Some books offer sneaky ways to review math facts.
- Gifted mathematicians can benefit from literature connections, especially when books present concepts in new ways or dive deeper than the student has been before.
- Some books are excellent at presenting math as critical thinking. These are especially useful considering math textbooks aren’t the best at presenting logical thinking ideas.
Selecting Good Math Books
As with all my other discussions about choosing books for your homeschool, I’m going to stand firm that it’s important to choose living books for math. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of math twaddle out there.
What is a living math book? It will typically have an engaging story line, but it will always be worth your time spent reading. It will present math concepts clearly (and soundly) without spewing them out as mere facts. It will present nourishing ideas about math that are likely to be savored much longer than the book is in hand.
There is one other consideration beyond choosing living books. You will also want to make sure the stories are presenting “ability appropriate” math concepts. There’s no harm in reading math literature for the pure joy of it. However, if you plan to use the books to help teach math, the “instruction” will need to be in line with your child’s current understanding.
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For example, if your child is just beginning to understand geometrical shapes, you’ll more likely prefer to read The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns rather than The Sword and the Cone by Cindy Neuschwander. The first covers the concepts of 2-D shapes and how they vary from one another, while the second covers in-depth facets of 3-D shapes.
Examples of Living Math Books
By far, those are not the only examples of amazing literature for math! Here’s a very small sampling of some of my favorites. I’ve tried to choose examples that cover a variety of math concepts to show you just how many topics can be reinforced through books.
How to Use Math Living Books
I’ve provided a set of ideas for using literature alongside math lessons in Loving Living Math.
But let me share a quick example of how I might use Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs to teach a math lesson:
This story is a unique version of your typical Jack in the Beanstalk story. The boy, Jim, finds a giant who is somewhat depressed and Jim sets out to help the giant through a series of events that involve measuring the giant’s face for glasses, measuring his mouth for false teeth, and more.
The perfect follow-up activity to this book, then, is measuring real body parts.
I’ve done this activity two different ways in the past:
- Give students a tape measure with inches on one side and centimeters on the other. They measure various body parts twice (once in inches and once in centimeters) and note both measurements on a simple chart they create. Children love comparing measurements between themselves and others. This activity allows for length, width, and circumference measurements.
- Trace each child’s body on butcher paper. They measure the various body parts from the drawing and write their data directly on the paper. While children really love measuring their life-sized bodies on paper, this activity only allows for length and width measurements.
As you can tell, this lesson provides real-life practice in measuring. It gives meaning and purpose to the lesson, as well as teaches a great deal about the differences in inches/centimeters and making comparisons. And, it’s fun!
My friend, Bethany, from Math Geek Mama has developed some really fun curriculum to go along with my two favorite math book series! The Warlord’s Series Extension Lessons & Games and the Sir Cumference Lesson Bundle will give you print-and-go lessons to use after reading several books from either series.
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