Math with Living Books

Mathematics is so much more than counting; it is the study of quantity, shape, space and change. It involves seeing patterns and logical thinking.

Surely math is all around us. Surely I can teach quantity, shape, space, change and reason using family life, just as I do for language, history, Bible and Character etc, and yet, I struggled to find connections with these concepts and everyday activities and to explain them to my children. I could talk about the prices at the grocery store and measurement while cooking but that was about the limit of my inspired thinking!

That is, until I discovered Living Math. This website presents math concepts in literature - now books I can connect to!

train tracks gave math conversation on positional wordsInsects gave math examples of grouping



Here are some of the books that we have used:

Seven Blind Mice (Reading Railroad) – to learn colours, days of the week, ordinal numbers (plus a great moral lesson of gathering all the facts and not presuming)

Measuring Penny – Every aspect of measuring is mentioned in this book – height, length, width, informal measures, formal measures, inches, centimeters, volume, estimation, measuring time, distance, money and so forth. We spent a long time in this book!

Greedy Triangle (Scholastic Bookshelf) – shapes (plus a moral lesson of being content with who God made you!)

One Hundred Hungry Ants – grouping, sets, number factors, multiplication

A Remainder of One - remainders, odd / even numbers, number factors

Grandfather Tang's Story (Dragonfly Books) – tangrams, shapes, patterns, puzzles (plus some lessons about China along the way)

Grapes Of Math (bkshelf) (Scholastic Bookshelf) – (middle elementary) number strategies, number problems

The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat – (middle to adult) We have been introduced to numbers and shapes beyond number facts and basic geometry. It has been fun to discuss and learn these things over the dinner table.

Mathematicians Are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians (Mathematicians Are People, Too) - (middle to adult) We have enjoyed the biographical account of mathematical men, and as we read of their life, their stories we have learnt of the concepts they discovered.


Though we don't totally rely on living books to teach these skills and concepts to our children my eyes have been opened to a much broader application of quantity, shape, space and change - I now see opportunities of everyday life to talk about these things with my children and each new picture books shows me something more!


How I teach using Living Books

There are two aspects for this:
  1. It opens my eyes to applications that I can then talk about as I live life with my kids – I look for specific applications to point out to my children for the week we study with this book.
  2. I use the book as the basis of a lesson, to teach a concept, for a week, or however long it is needed.

Using a Picture Book for a Lesson:

  1. I read the story; we enjoy it for the story sake.
  2. I ask them to tell me what they have learnt. We discuss what they see/understand and how that concept is used in our life. The benefits of this is two fold
    • It is a narration – they are cementing their understanding as they verbalise it to me
    • It shows me what they do and don’t understand, giving me direction for my teaching efforts. No point spending a week on something they understand.

  3. When I am clear on what still needs to be taught, the next day when we read the book again, I will have some manipulatives to play around with.
    • For Seven Blind Mice Daniel reconstructed the story connecting a coloured mouse to a day of the week, and to an object and arranged them in first, second, third etc order. This worked on his memory, his fine motor skills as well as becoming familiar with the days of the week, ordinal numbers and colours.
    • For Grandfather Tang’s Story – we played with our own set of Tangrams while we read the story subsequent days. By the end of the week Daniel was making his own animals
    • For the Remainder of One – Daniel used Math blocks to rearrange “ants” into the same patterns / lines / groups as in the story. He could “see” where this story was going and what would work and what would have a remainder.

  4. By the end of the week, we tend to move on. I find if we stay too long on one concept even the manipulatives doesn’t hold Daniel’s attention. If I don’t feel the concept is totally understood we visit it again with either a different book or come back another week. Sometimes we do a worksheet, or mini-book fold (notebooking or lapbooking) to record the math concept that we have learnt. This tends to be very language based – often in the form of a narration. The other way is drawing a picture and labeling the concept shown.


Live life with your kids!



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