Fun with Math: Ways to make arithmetic mean more

Ex-teacher Greg Sparks writes a column on the joys of mathematics

What is your favourite number and why?  If you stopped by a farm and counted 23 legs, what did you see?  What is the question if the answer is 42?

Try these with your child. They are fun and engaging math questions because they make you think, there are many different answers, and all the answers are right. Success is guaranteed! Your child may use pictures, numbers, words, a table, or a chart to solve them. All of their different problem solving strategies are great.

Here are a few more you can try:

How could four children share nine cookies?

Do you know anyone 1,000 days old?

How could you measure your room if you did not have a ruler or tape measure?

Jason collected 23 empty cans in three days. How many did he collect each day?

How many washing machines could fit in your classroom?

These “open ended” math problems are enjoyable for children because there are no wrong answers. Your child’s unique thinking about the math is what is important, and their solutions are equally as valuable as everyone else’s.

When a child is working on open-ended math problems, there is a great deal of math thinking going on, and often it is invisible to us. We need to make the thinking visible; so it’s important to talk with children about their strategies and solutions. Can they tell you the steps they took to get their answer? Children need the opportunity to explain and clarify their thinking to us, because talking about the math helps them understand the math.

We can develop, support and extend our children’s mathematical thinking by talking with them as they solve math problems and as they explain their work to us. All children can be successful.

Do a few open-ended problems everyday and have fun with math.


For more open-ended problems, comments or suggestions, please email me at: