Four Ways to Encourage Mathematical Thinking Outside the Classroom

Alissa Helgesen

Alissa Helgesen

Parents often ask, “How can I support my child’s mathematical thinking outside the classroom?”


Encouraging mathematical thinking with real world application is very powerful as it gives children a purpose and context for the skills and concepts they are learning in their classroom. Here are four ways you can get your kids involved in applying their math outside of the classroom.

1. Baking

Believe it or not, you can use geometry when baking! Have children roll out dough in different polygons, or use cookie cutters. Have them name the shape, point out the number of sides or vertices, bring out a ruler and figure out the perimeter or area of the shapes. Another way you can encourage the use of geometry is to roll out the cookie dough and have your child estimate how many cookie cutters they can fit and have them test it.

But don’t just stop there! Encourage them to think about how flipping, turning, or rotating the cookie cutters would allow them to get more cookies out of the same amount of dough. Challenge them to get a certain number of cookies out of a given amount of dough.

This is also a perfect time to work with fractions and ratios. Include your child in the planning stage of your baking. Tell them how many people you need to feed and ask them to manipulate the recipe to ensure that there will be enough for everyone. They might decide to half or double the recipe and will then need to figure out the new measurements for the ingredients.

2. Eating Out

When eating out ask your first or second grade children to round-up the prices on the menu to the nearest dollar to estimate the bill. Third and fourth grade students can then use this estimate to calculate the actual cost. Give them a budget and have them plan what the family can order based on the budget.

If your child is ready, let them start calculating the tip. Encourage them to find different ways to calculate 10, 15, or 20% and then explain their strategies to you. They can also take into account how the tax will affect the bill. In Connecticut the dining tax is 6% and in New York it is 8%.

3. Traveling

Share your travel plans with your child and ask them to help you make sure you arrive on time. At the very basic level for this children can use their knowledge of time to figure out when you need to leave the house, or how long it will take to arrive at your destination. If your child is ready they can take into account how speed, pit stops, and traffic will affect your plans.

4. Grocery Shopping

Give your child a budget and a grocery circular. They should make a plan and a list before going to the store. This is a perfect opportunity to show them how to compare unit prices versus retail prices. Ask your child how this will affect their choices and encourage your child to explain their planning strategy to you. They can go with you to the store and be responsible for making sure you stick to the budget. Learning how to balance a budget is a life skill that all children should learn and modeling how you use your budget is a perfect way to start this conversation.


Finding ways to apply mathematical concepts outside of the classroom that have will help to build your child’s confidence and improve their skills. Activities with real world application will also help to build excitement around the subject and encourage children to see the world through the lens of mathematics! 

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Alissa Helgesen

Alissa Helgesen

Alissa Helgesen is passionate about inquiry-based math and science education, which is why being the Lower School Math and Science coordinator is a perfect fit for her. Alissa believes in empowering students to be risk-takers in their learning and to value their thought process as much as their products. When she is not at Whitby, she can be found torturing her three children with math problems and science experiments.