## Hands-on maths; solving for the unknown tray activities

(Free printables below!)

Success in higher level maths requires mastery of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division concepts. The answers need to come quickly, without requiring mental effort to work them out, otherwise the more difficult problem solving is slowed considerably and errors result. Working through simple problems over and over cements the answers in children’s heads and helps them stay in long-term memory. Lets face it though, page after page of the same kind of problems in a maths textbook can be… well.. boring!

My solution is to gather a range of attractive materials and allow the children to complete problems repeatedly, but in a way that means they hardly notice it is the same skill over and over.

These are our ‘solving for the unknown’ trays and like the addition trays, the cards are in sets. This cards all have the same end total, for example 0+_=3, 1+_=3, 2+_=3 and 3+_=3. Containers of the same number as the answers are filled with 2 distinctly different types of materials to illustrate the problem shown on the cards. The children can start with the smaller numbers and work on them until they no longer need manipulatives and can compute them almost instantly before moving on to the larger numbers.

The materials are attractive and any cards they can already do they simply tell me the answer to and set aside so that they are not wasting time practising combinations they already know.

Not all learners love hands-on activities. My 7 year old book work lover is happily working through page after page of these same problems in her maths text. She finds manipulatives frustrating and thinks that they slow her down. When she meets a problem that she cannot do in her head or on paper, she pulls out the relevant materials and works it through until she can move on – in her book. Children have different learning styles and maths is one subject that can easily be adapted to suit.

Free printable problem cards for solving for the unknown:

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-2-3

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-4

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-5

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-6

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-7

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-8

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-9

solving-for-the-unknown-totals-of-10

## Learning Styles & hands-on learners

(Free printable vertical addition cards below.)

Catering for a variety of learning styles can sometimes be a challenge for homeschoolers. If you have a number of children you have probably worked out by now that not every curriculum works well for all students and that as wise educators we need to adjust our approach to suit the learning styles of our children. That said, I believe that ALL children must learn to sit still and concentrate as a necessary life skill, regardless of whether they find that easy or difficult. The difference is that requiring all learning to take place in the same way (bookwork for example) will make life very unpleasant for you and your hands-on kinaesthetic learners.

We have started school for the year and the past week has been full of the usual teething problems that a new year and new programme presents. I started my 3 youngest students on a completely hands-on mathematics programme this term. After trialling it for a week, my 7 year old daughter has gone back to purely bookwork, using manipulatives only when absolutely necessary to understand a concept. She loves to work in books, especially brand new ones and it was killing her to have her maths book just sitting there while she was being forced to work through problems with manipulatives when she’d much rather do it on paper or in her head. My 7 year old son has settled on a midway compromise; one day of bookwork followed by one day of hands-on experiences to back up the concept being covered.

My 4 year old does not get a choice – he will be working with concrete manipulatives because I believe that at his stage of development this is the most successful method for developing a good handle of the basic mathematical concepts and skills he needs as building blocks for higher level concepts.

So in light of all that, here are some of the hands-on trays that we are using this year for maths, with more to come in subsequent days if and when I get a chance to photograph them!

Our addition trays have 2 kinds of materials to make it visually clear that we are counting out 2 separate groups before adding/joining them together to work out how many there are altogether. The cards are in sets that only work on adding 1 number at a time, for example 0+3, 1+3, 2+3, 3+3, 4+3, 5+3, 6+3, 7+3, 8+3, 9+3 and 10+3.

I printed and laminated the cards and provided felt pens (textas) to write the answer or wooden numbers to “build” the answer for those who prefer not to have to write. (For free printable vertical addition cards click here.)

I also added several types of containers so that the materials could be set out in pairs to contain them and illustrate the problem being worked on. These included stiff cardboard cupcake liners, disposable tinfoil pie tins and these white dishes.

These hands-on Montessori style trays complement the Math-U-See curriculum that we choose to use in the early years and provide the extra practise needed by some in order to grasp the new concepts.

## Christmas in our house

Today’s post is a pot pouri of what we have been up to in the lead-up to Christmas, plus a couple of photos from friends who are also endeavouring to make this period special for their children. I have to admit we are shamefully behind in our Jesse tree readings so they will be stretching out after Christmas day this year, as will the opening and reading of our Christmas book count-down. The many special events we have been attending have made a big dent in our regular routine.

Some of those special events have been acting in the walking nativity “Road to Bethlehem” and the end of year choir and dance concerts.

The Blessing Buddies make their daily appearance. We baked, wrapped and delivered biscuits (cookies) to all the pastors and church workers and gave a gift to our lovely piano teacher.

Special toddler Christmas activities to keep our little one happily busy while the older children work on Christmas crafts.

Lots of special Christmas cooking, which for toddlers translates to simply tasting every ingredient and licking every scoop and spoon used in the process while occasionally actually tipping in an ingredient or two.

My friend Rachel’s nativity and Christmas exploring tray for her youngest and the first of her drawstring bags she is sewing for her Christmas book countdown.

## Knock & run nativity

One of the traditions we enjoy is to bless a neighbour or friend with a knock and run nativity. Each day in the lead up to Christmas, a piece of the nativity is secretly delivered to their door. The first day comes with an instruction poem (free printable below) letting them know what to expect and asking them to leave out the bag/basket each day for us to deliver the pieces into.

The Blessing Buddies idea for the day was to get started on delivering our nativity; a wooden version that we picked up from Target this year. We chose a bag with handles so we can hook it over our neighbour’s gatepost as we can’t actually access their front door without them knowing we are there.

The children love running across each day to leave the next piece without being discovered and we get to share the Christmas story with someone who may never have heard it before. Each piece comes with a bible verse that tells the relevant section of the Christmas story with a short description of the role that each particular piece plays.

If you do not live close enough to deliver a piece each day, I have an instruction poem for an all at once delivery here  that allows you to make one single delivery with all the pieces numbered and instructs the recipient to unwrap one piece each day in the lead-up to the 25th of December.

Click below for a FREE PRINTABLE of the scrolls that you can attach to your own knock and run nativity pieces with 2 copies of the instruction poem – one for bags and one for baskets.

FREE PRINTABLEknock-and-run-12-days-of-nativity-poem-scrolls

## Blessing Buddies and “What’s in the Box?” for holiday routines

Our little one is enjoying the new and exciting Christmas tray activities that have been arriving each day with the Blessing Buddies. Even during the holiday period, a flexible routine is essential for toddlers. While we break out of our usual day-to-day activities, I still try to make sure that my 2-year-old has some structure to her day and she enjoys doing her table activities after breakfast while her siblings work on their crafts and gifts throughout December.

This tinker tray of loose parts was a hit today as she used it to decorate the felt Christmas tree. After decorating our actual Christmas tree recently she understood exactly what this concept was all about. Of course they don’t all end up back in the tray quite the same way at the end!

Gingerbread men “cookies” to decorate plus a Christmas tree ice block sorting tray to use with the oversized tweezers or spoon. We will make gingerbread biscuits some time soon so this will make more sense to her after that experience.

While not too Christmassy, she loves these mini erasers so I have made them available for decorating the coloured rice Christmas tree, again with oversized tweezers to help with hand strength for pencil grip later on.

The Blessing Buddies have decided it’s too difficult to bring a new activity each day with so many nighttime commitments at the moment so for today’s blessing they set up a “What’s in the Box?” cupboard instead. They will add some new activities to it during December but  it gives the children more time to play with and enjoy the special Christmas activities (plus it takes the pressure off me to remember to hide a new one each night!) The other children like to use some of the same activities for table time as well.

So “What’s in the Cupboard?”

The craft at the moment is hand-sewing designs onto plain red tea-towels from Ikea which we will use as gifts. Even our 4 year old is managing a decent running stitch.

## Blessing Buddies and “What’s in the Box?” continues

The Blessing Buddies have continued to focus on blessing some of the ladies from our church who are coming for a special Christmas high tea tomorrow. They have had the children making craft gifts, decorating and setting up the room and making the house look presentable for the coming visitors.

Our 3rd “What’s in the Box?” toddler activity for this year is some rainbow coloured metal jingle bells that combine beautifully with these magnetic construction tiles for a new dimension to the children’s play. My 2 year old is just getting the hang of constructing with these blocks so I think she will like this one.

## Christmas traditions in someone else’s house

My friend Kristy is at it again with amazing Christmas activities and traditions for her children. Here is a pictorial compilation that may spark a few ideas for your own family.

Truth in the Tinsel” is another bible based advent count-down to Christmas that is used in the same way as a Jesse Tree count-down. Kristy got together with some friends and did a symbol swap so they each ended up with one complete set for the days of December.

Her daughter is loving decorating the felt Christmas tree each morning before breakfast and her MIL is knitting this amazing wool nativity piece by piece for them.

Kristy’s knock and run nativity is wrapped, labelled and ready to go. Both of us chose the same wooden nativity from Target this year as a fairly inexpensive way to bless a friend/neighbour and share the true story of Christmas with someone who may not have heard it before.

While not necessarily Christmas, this pizza shop invitation to play was so inviting that I want to have a go!

Kristy is super organised and makes up all kinds of amazing sensory tubs and activities for her little ones to enjoy. A little bit of preparation makes for some peaceful times ahead. Thanks for letting me share your ideas Kristy.

Now, all my other wonderful friends/readers who are busy making amazing traditions happen this Christmas at your house – how about some pics to share on my blog? We all feel inspired when we get to take a peak into what others are doing to make this Christmas season meaningful and special.

## The Blessing Buddies have arrived

The first of December is an exciting day in our house as so many special Christmas traditions get started. The Blessing Buddies arrived with their daily act of kindness to help us focus on blessing others throughout the Christmas season, we began our Jesse Tree readings and started our sugar-free advent calendar jigsaw puzzle.

The children come out first thing each morning and hunt through the house to locate the Buddies and read the little note that will tell them what blessing we will work on for the day. Today we are working on a craft gift to give to the ladies from our church who are coming over for a Christmas high tea on the weekend. The whole event is about blessing others so it fits right in.

We choose not to do Santa (see why here) so we are careful not to replace one lot of pretend with another – the children all understand that they do not really move around by themselves but enjoy the experience nonetheless. This year the Buddies abseiled down from the roof vent instead of arriving in their usual suitcase on the doorstep.

The Buddies bought some epsom salt snow and special Blessing Buddy Christmas trees (LED light-up plastic trees) for the children to play with since we don’t get real snow here in Australia and left them where our nativity pieces can be easily added to the play.

Our first “What’s in the box?” activity also arrived and although it wasn’t in the official red sparkly box due to it’s size, this Christmas sensory play tub was a hit with the younger ones.

We have several different Christmas advent traditions running throughout December, one of which is opening the little numbered boxes on our wooden stable. Magnetic figures are added to the stable scene each day to tell the Christmas story and traditionally there would be a treat of some kind for each child. In order to cut down the junk over this period we have opted for non-food related fillers for a while now. Last year I purchased a secondhand random assortment of Lego bricks. I had my eldest son make little things from the blocks for each child each day. There were miniature birdhouses, cars, furniture and all kinds of things to open. They loved it, but we don’t have the benefit of another pile of cheap Lego bricks to use so I am going to borrow a great suggestion from one of my readers Kath, who commented on my Christ Centred Christmas Traditions  post to say that she has purchased a 260 piece jigsaw puzzle for her advent calendar. She has split it up into 25 piles of pieces and each day the children will add them on to eventually complete the full puzzle.

I have whipped out and bought a puzzle so we can do the same thing as I think it is a wonderful idea. I first made the puzzle which took both my husband and I over an hour (did I mention I hate doing puzzles?) then took out groups of around 10 pieces. I wanted each day’s pieces to be able to join up to form a section of the puzzle, rather than a random assortment that may not join together for quite some time. This puzzle is very detailed and shows many scenes from the biblical story of the first Christmas so I wanted to place the sections in the order that they occurred to slowly build on to the story. I also numbered the back of each set so that I NEVER have to do this jigsaw again because as I said, I detest doing jigsaw puzzles.

The piles of pieces are safely behind each little wooden door, ready to build on to our masterpiece each morning and should provide some Christmas fun. Thanks Kath for the great idea.

## Jesse Tree Symbols; Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

We use a Jesse tree of some sort to count down to Christmas each year. Every day there is a section of the bible to read and a corresponding symbol to add to our tree, beginning with the creation of the world and moving on through some of the main events of the bible to finish on Christmas day with the birth of Jesus.

We started with traditional Jesse tree symbols (ideas for symbols here) to go with scrolls of bible verses, reading from the scroll each day and unwrapping the corresponding symbol. Another year we used clear glass jewels with Jesse tree symbol pictures behind them to make a magnetic Jesse tree (free printable here) and another year we counted down throughout December with the names of Jesus as our symbols. Other times we have used books like “The Jesse Tree” by Geraldine McCaughrean and “Grandpa’s Box” by Starr Meade.

This year we are reading a section a day from Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” and using her free printable symbols as well as our own that we have collected from previous years. I usually wrap the symbols because this makes it all the more exciting and the children take turns to open each one. This time I have sewed up some drawstring bags because wrapping them takes ages and from now on I’ll never have to do it again!

Here are our symbols to match the readings in Ann’s book:

1. Jesse tree – stump of Jesse prophesy (Place where love grows)
2. The world/planets/solar system – creation of the world (Created by love)
3. Apple – snake in the Garden of Eden (God is looking for you)
4. 3 birds that Noah sent out from the ark – Noah’s Ark (God’s tears)
5. Tent – Abraham follows God’s call (Count the stars)
6. As many descendants as the stars – Elizabeth’s baby (The gift of laughter)
7. Ram – Sacrifice of Isaac (Here I am)
10. Mini photo frames with the 10 commandments (Ten love rules)
11. Red rope – Rahab (The red rope)
12. Wheat – Ruth (The little things)
13. Crown – Samuel (Looking at things inside out)
14. Candle – Isaiah predicts a light in the darkness (A candle in the darkness)
15. Fire – Elijah calls down fire (Bowing down)
16. Whale – Jonah (Turning around)
17. Cottage – Bethlehem prophesy (A true fairy tale)
18. Shoe and “E” keyring – Esther (A bridge to the king)
19. Tower – Habakkuk (Watch and wait)
20. Angel & heart – Zechariah & Elizabeth (God remembers)
21. Fish – John the Baptist (Thunder in the dessert)
22. Heart with wedding rings – Mary (Wide-awake dreams)
23. Tools – Joseph (He can’t stay away)
24. Mary holding a baby – birth of Jesus (Kneel at the manger)
25. Star – leading to the manger (Never-ending Christmas)