Family at bake sale

Easy At-Home Math & Science Games


Lazy days at home give kids plenty of chances to unwind, but time out of school can cause kids to forget academics, and losses are greatest for kids who are already struggling. The good news? Fun, at-home math projects using inexpensive supplies can prevent learning loss, and you don’t have to be a mathematical genius to supervise them. Let these easy ideas inspire you.

Age Group: Preschool

Kids doing a scavenger hunt

Activity #1: Scavenger Hunt

How To: Take a hike with your child and collect items like pinecones, leaves, rocks, sticks and feathers. “Preschoolers learn best when they explore natural materials with their senses,” says Lorayne Carbon, M.Ed., Director of the Early Childhood Center at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Let kids sort and display their finds. Your child might organize objects smallest to largest or group them by texture or color. Sequencing skills take off in toddlerhood, and kids love arranging and rearranging objects.

Activity #2: Sink or Swim?

How To: Collect a box of water-safe objects from around the house, such as apples, eggs, pennies, hollow and solid toy balls, Matchbox cars and seashells. Use a large bucket of water or a backyard kiddie pool to experiment. Ask budding scientists to guess whether each object will sink or stay afloat. Record their predictions and the observed results in a simple chart to capture their learning. Take care to keep electronics and books out of reach. Your preschooler may plop your cell phone into the pool and yell “sink!” before you can rush to the rescue.

Age Group: Kindergarten to 3rd Grade

Activity #1: Measure Up

How To: Teach and reinforce measurement concepts including cups, pints, quarts and gallons at the water table or in the sand box. Provide a collection of measuring utensils of varied shapes and sizes and let kids explore how many cups are in a pint and how many pints are in a gallon. See whether tall, skinny vessels hold more than short, fat ones. When kids’ interest wanes, head back inside and show them how to build a measurement man out of colored paper. Find detailed directions at Visualization helps students remember and apply measurement concepts when they’re solving word problems at school or cooking up fun in the kitchen.

Learn With Fun Game

​Activity #2: Fish Out of Water

How To: Cut out and decorate paper fish or use goldfish-shaped snack crackers as game pieces. You’ll need 20 fish for each player. Give each child a clear glass bowl or print a game board from Each player rolls a single die on each turn. The number rolled tells the child how many fish to return to the water, and the first player to get all his fish back in the water wins the game. Make this more challenging by requiring players to get the exact number of fish remaining on their final roll (if they have only three fish left, they must roll a 3 to win). Ask the winner to count his fish for confirmation so you’re sure the winner didn’t nibble her way to victory.


Age Group: 4th to 6th Grade

Activity #1: Balloon Rocket Car Race

How To: Put engineering skills to work with some materials gleaned from the recycling bin. You’ll need plastic water or soda bottles and lids, drinking straws, wooden skewers, balloons and duct tape to make these cool rocket cars. Find detailed instructions and a video demonstration at Give kids enough materials to make several cars, using different sized balloons and smaller or larger-sized nozzles. Let them test how far their cars go on a flat surface like the driveway or sidewalk, using a tape measure and chalk to mark distances. Record results on a spreadsheet and have kids calculate the shortest and longest trials, the average length traveled, and the time it takes rocket cars to travel a set distance (kids will need a stop watch and some help to do this). Go all out and host a neighborhood rocket car derby with prizes for best design and distance.

Activity #2: Million Dollar Spending Spree

How To: Give each kid a pretend bank balance of $1 million and challenge her to spend it in a specific period of time. Kids might finance a dream vacation, build or buy a new home, or create a financial plan to address an important social issue. Set spending rules that make this project fun and challenging for your child. You might require kids to donate 10 percent to a church or charity, or set aside a certain percentage for college education costs. See teacher’s ideas at Post the rules and put kids to work. By the end of the project period, each child should produce an itemized spending plan with a photo of each item and an expense tally. The million-dollar spending spree gets kids excited about research and engaged with numbers. It also facilitates great family conversations about values and decision making.


HEIDI SMITH LUEDTKE, Ph.D., is a psychologist, former math teacher and mom of two. She shares psychology lessons for real life at

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