Reading Math – Picture Books

These are a few of my family’s favorite math-related picture books. They’re all great for cuddling up and reading math with your little ones.

      • Fraction Fun, by David A. Adler

    • Pigs Will Be Pigs, by Amy Axelrod*
    • Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish, by Emily Sper
    • Lemonade, by Rosa Drew
    •  Quail Can’t Decide, by Jacquelyn Reinach
    • Ten Black Dots, by Donald Crews
    • Quack and Count, by Keith Baker
    • 12 Ways to Get to 11, by Eve Merriam
    • Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book, by Muriel Feelings
    • The Crayola Counting Book, by Rozanne Lanczak Williams
    • Math-terpieces: The Art of Problem-Solving, by Greg Tang*
    • Ten Sly Piranhas, by William Wise
    • A Bargain for Frances, by Russell Hoban
    • The Fly On the Ceiling: A Math Myth, by Dr. Julie Glass*
    • Anno’s Magic Seeds, by Mitsumasa Anno
    • One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktaleby Demi*
    • The Greedy Triangleby Marilyn Burns
    • How Much Is a Million?by David M. Schwartz*
    • Math Curseby Jon Scieszka
    • Millions of Catsby Wanda Gág
    • The Very Hungry Caterpillarby Eric Carle
    • If You Made a Millionby David M. Schwartz*
    • The Doorbell Rangby Pat Hutchins
    • Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violinby Lloyd Moss
    • A Remainder of Oneby Elinor J. Pinczes*
    • Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jarby Masaichiro Anno
    • Perfect Squareby Michael Hall*
    • The King’s Chessboardby David Birch*
    • How Many Jelly Beans?by Andrea Menotti
    • Anno’s Counting Bookby Mitsumasa Anno
    • Over in the Meadow: An Old Nursery Counting Rhymeby Paul Galdone
    • One Hundred Hungry Antsby Elinor J. Pinczes*
    • 2 X 2 = Boo!: A Set of Spooky Multiplication Storiesby Loreen Leedy*
    • Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sundayby Judith Viorst*
    • Little Cloudby Eric Carle

*Great for all ages, including older kids

What are some of your family’s favorites? Let us know in the comments!

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Fling, Flang, Floo!

A variation of Rock, Paper, Scissors, is Fling Flang Floo. Each player takes either evens or odds. You say together “Fling, flang, floo!” and on “floo” each player puts out his hand with any number of fingers outstretched. Add up the fingers on both players’ hands and if it’s an even number or an odd number, there’s your winner.

Supporting Math Learning

Comparing how parents support learning to read versus learning math.

Why do you want your child to become proficient in reading? I have asked this question of hundreds of parents and the answers always include: “to experience the joy of reading,” “to learn to love books,” and sometimes, “to be able to function in adult life.” When I ask them how their child is motivated to learn to read and what they do to encourage it, they say, “reading aloud,” and “provide the kind of reading materials my child enjoys.”

When I ask the same questions about math, parents typically say things like: “I want my child to learn math so he can understand money, get into college, get a job, handle her finances, do well on tests.” To motivate their children, they try to find the best math books they can and they make them do their math on a regular basis.

Comparing their approach to reading with the typical approach to math, it is clear that parents don’t typically put “joy” and “mathematics” together as either goal or motivation even when they do that when it comes to reading. Why not?

You might want to stop here and think a bit about your own attitude toward math. What are your goals for your children in learning math? What do you wish for them? How do you support or encourage them? Lots of times people are really not all that clear on why they even care if their kids learn math; they’ve just accepted it that it is important, and they really can’t articulate why that is – especially beyond some pretty simple arithmetic that is used in everyday life. Few parents find math enjoyable and few feel very competent in math themselves. It’s no wonder that math is the subject homeschooling parents worry about most. And it’s no wonder that they find it hard to support mathematics learning in the same encouraging and enjoyable way they do reading.

Becoming aware of our own math hang-ups can help us set them aside so that we can appreciatively enjoy and happily support what our children bring into our lives, even when it involves math.

NIM Games

NIM Game 3-4-5

Lay out 12 coins in 3 rows. Row 1 has 3 coins in it. Row 2 has 4 coins in it. Row 3 has 5 coins in it.Players alternate turns and may, on their turn, take any number of coins but from ONE row only on that turn.

The player who takes the last coin is the winner.

Another variation of this game is to play it with rows of 1, 3, 5, and 7 coins. Same rules.

NIM Game

20 coins or other counters
2 players
all ages
strategic thinking, planning ahead

Lay out 20 coins.
Take turns picking up 1, 2, or 3. (For example, player one picks up 2 coins, player two picks up 1 coin, player 1 picks up 3 coins, player 2 picks up 3 coins, and so on.)
The player who picks up the last coin LOSES.

Don’t read this until you’ve played a while first
(Hint: if you always go second and always make sure that the total picked up in a round is 4 (they pick up 1, you pick up 3 or if they pick up 2, you pick up 2, etc) then you’ll always win. Why?)


Use fewer coins and see how the game plays out.
Make the rule that you can pick up 1 or 2 coins, not 3.
Make the winner the person who TAKES the last coin.

Getting Past Your Own Math Anxiety

If parents can examine and work through their own anxiety related to math and recognize it’s  source, they can get over it at least enough to not pass it on to their children. It very likely can be traced back to a particular incident that happened to you in school. Did you miss school because of chicken pox and come back to discover the class had moved on without you? Did you feel lost and confused and just never could catch up? Was there a subject that confused you and you always felt “dumb in math” after that? The culprit is most often either fractions or algebra. You very possibly really do not want to even think about your own feelings about math. Avoidance is the most common result of math anxiety. You may think you aren’t even math-anxious, but math just never really comes up in your life. Those are the thoughts of a math-anxious person, though. Math is everywhere and there is no chance at all that you’re not living a life immersed in mathematics. You may not want to see it, because you associate it with shame, fear, and misery, but you are living in a mathematical world.

An example of mathematical thinking that you almost certainly engage in on a regular basis:

You’re at the grocery store, cart loaded, and you’re ready to check out. What do you do? You eyeball the lines at each checkstand, noting how many people are in each of the lines. You also note how full each of their carts is. You notice that some checkstands have baggers helping out while others don’t. You might even notice the rate of speed the checkers seem to be working. You quickly take in all that (mathematical) information, estimate the effects of all those variables in your head, and choose the line you think will move the fastest.  This is not just mathematics; this is sophisticated and complex mathematics that includes solving systems of simultaneous equations and incorporating probability-of-error estimates. Yet you do it almost effortlessly.

So, I hope you realize by now that you’re clearly a math genius. (As long as we don’t put it all down on paper, right?) Seriously, you HAVE a “math brain.” I could give you many other examples of how you do higher-order mathematical thinking all the time in your daily life.  The fact that you doubt your own math ability, that you think of yourself as “not good in math,” is a result of what was done to you in the name of teaching. You should be royally pissed off that it was done to you, but what’s the point of stewing in those juices now? You’re a parent and your children need you to move on! You can do it.

Start with thinking hard and maybe writng/blogging/talking to someone else about your own school-math experiences. Sharing these experiences with others very very often releases us from the old emotions, the fears, the shame, the self-doubts, that we’ve buried for years. Turns out you were NOT the only one feeling this way and turns out it wasn’t your fault at all, it was the teaching methods! They messed with you!

So – share and express and that’ll help you recover. You’ll still have a lot of negativity associated with math, it might not turn you into a math-lover, but letting go of the old baggage will free you for the next step.

Enjoy math with, for, and through your children. Yes, you get a second chance. Don’t let on to them that you’re anxious about it. Act like anything involving numbers, measurement, patterns, or anything else “math-like,” is just about the most fun and interesting thing you can imagine.

Many parents with a bit (or a lot) of math anxiety don’t even realize how they stiffen up and withdraw when their children innocently draw their attention to something math related. Make a conscious effort to do the opposite. Smile warmly when your child asks a question that just might involve some math. Touch, hug, cuddle! Read math-related stories for fun, just like you read any other stories. There are lots of them, but you just might be avoiding them (maybe not even noticing as your eyes skim past any book that looks like it might contain some math).

Play a lot of games. Don’t say, “I don’t like games,” because that is very likely your math anxiety talking. There are lots of different kinds of games and saying, “I don’t like games” is a bit like saying, “I don’t like music.” Seriously? You don’t like any of it? Games are, by nature, fun. The point is to have a good time. So they are very conducive to experiencinig some math in a friendly, warm, happy atmosphere. This is good for YOU (well, for your kids, too, but they aren’t the ones with the problem).

Use a little self-discipline. Recognize your own urge to avoid math and replace it with a conscious decision to have some fun with it, instead. You might need to work on being aware of the math that is everywhere, for a while (don’t point it out to the kids). This is part of your recovery and eventually you won’t need to think of math as a separate thing, it will just be part of the world, interconnected with everything else.

Again, I want to repeat that it seems to REALLY help people to share the stories of their own negative math experiences.  If you’d like to share yours in the comments to this post, you’re welcome to do so.

My Math-Related Goals for My Children

When we first started homeschooling, all I knew was that I didn’t want to do to my children what school did to almost everyone – create math anxiety.  Most people in this country have some degree of math anxiety – anything from a little math avoidance to outright break-out-in-a-cold-sweat phobia. Clearly, school-math isn’t working out very well for most people.  So – what to do?

My first and overriding principle was to try to at least do no harm. It would be better for them to end up not knowing any math, but free enough of anxiety to be able and willing to learn it.

So – here were my three goals for my kids:

(1) not create math anxiety in them,
(2) support any interest and talent they may express in advanced mathematics,
(3) help them be able to use math in real ways in their own lives.

Math Anxiety Test

This is clearly not intended to be scientific or diagnostic – but will, I hope, help you think. It is a variation of a math anxiety test intended for college students that I found on the website.

Rate your answers from 1 to 5; add them up and check your score below.

(1) = Disagree, (5) = Agree.

1. It makes me cringe to think I might have to go to a math class.
2. I am uneasy about doing math in front of other people.
3. I am afraid I won’t be able to answer my child’s math questions.
4. I try to avoid situations where I might have to do math.
5. I understand the math now, but I worry that I won’t when my child gets older.1
6. I tend to zone out when the subject of math comes up.
7. I fear math tests more than any other kind.
8. I don’t like to have to think about math. 1 2 3
9. Sometimes I think I understand it, but later I don’t. . 1 2 3 4 5
10. I’m afraid I won’t be able to homeschool my older child because I’m not good in math. 1 2 3 4 5


40-50 Sure thing, you have math anxiety. You don’t have to live with it forever, though.
30-39 No doubt! You’re still fearful about math. You CAN get over it.
20-29 On the fence!.
10-19 Wow!

Math anxiety is a negative emotional reaction to mathematics which causes resistance, avoidance, stress, and even panic. It is possible to avoid passing math anxiety on to your kids and even to get over it yourself.

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