At a recent homeschool convention, I had the opportunity to speak to many moms about ways to think “Outside the Books”, when it comes to our homeschooling. I wasn’t advocating never using textbooks or changing programs, but rather, helping them see that there are many ways to “show what you know”. It is also important for us to help our children see that real learning happens all the time, not just when they are filling out worksheets or sitting at our school table.

One way we have added a bit of spice to our homeschooling over the years is with a weekly Math Lab day. On one day a week I plan for us to leave the math curriculum on the shelf and do some hands-on learning with games, crafts, etc. Math Lab days are also great for using math software you have sitting around, but may never get around to using. Or how about those math games you have purchased, but usually remain on the shelf collecting dust?

Just what kinds of things can you do on Math Lab Day? I’m glad you asked!
Young children

* Counting games with candy, Legos, or anything else you might have lying around.
* “War” with a regular deck of cards or make your own deck with numbers to 100 and maybe a “wild card” or two to make things more exciting.
* If you have them, Snap Cubes (a popular manipulative) are great to play with, making “trains” of different color patterns. You start the pattern, and your child adds on to the train following the pattern. Then let them start a pattern and you finish it.
* Any board game that requires dice and counting.
* Use standard and non-standard items to measure things around the house. “Hey, Mom, did you know the cat is 50 paper clips long?”
* Kitchen – baking involves using lots of real life fractions – while you’re at it,how about sharing the “fruits” of your math lesson with a neighbor!
* Play store

Elementary thru Middle School

* Math with Literature! We love Sir Cumference, A Place for Zero, Equal Schmequal, and other titles in the math adventure series.
* Our favorite math games are S’math and Knock Out! from Muggin’s Math – we just purchased their new fraction games, too.
* Board games, including Monopoly, PayDay!, Sequence and more.
* Card games like UNO and War. A favorite is to use flashcards with math facts as our “war” deck.
* Videos: Multiplication Rock, Money Rock
* Play store and many of the other activities from the above list
* If you have any of the handheld, electronic math toys, Lab Day is a good time to make sure they are put to use
* Computer games – Money Town, Math Blaster, etc.
* Use activities from “Family Math”, “Math for Smarty Pants” or “Games for Learning Math.”
* Plan an imaginary trip and use a map to figure how many miles you will travel.
* For kids interested in the Stock Market, you can use Lab Day each week to track and check on a couple of stocks, plotting their progress on a graph.
* Visit one of the fun, free math game sites online like the Math Arcade at There are lots more free websites for online learning in my book, Using the Internet In Your Homeschool.

One other idea that we’ve implemented, not just for Lab Day, but as a way to add some more real life application to our math lessons is the “Mommy Bank”. I gave each of my kids a blank check or savings registry book. Their allowance is “direct deposited” into their Mommy Bank account. They must add the amount each week. They also deposit money received for their birthday, odd jobs, etc. When they purchase something, I pay for it and we deduct it from their account in the Mommy Bank. Of course, older children often prefer to keep their money with them, but this works well when they are younger or for those kids who are not yet ready to carry around cash.

The above lists are just a few of the things we have done on Math Lab Day over the years. Writing this article has reminded me that my own homeschooling has fallen into a bit of a rut. Sounds like tomorrow needs to be an “Outside the Book” kind of day!

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