Tricks and Treats

The candy countdown is on!  In mere hours the children of America will be squealing with delight as they dump the sugary contents of their trick-or-treat bags onto living room floors everywhere.  Besides creating tummy aches and the need for more toothpaste, what else can all that Halloween candy do for us?  Help us learn math, of course!

For the “newer” mathematicians, try these tricks:

- Separate candy into like groups (suckers, candy bars, Tootsie Rolls, etc.).  The criteria can change and so can the groups.  You can also separate by flavor, brand and size.

- Count the numbers in each group and say which has more or less than another.


- Create simple patterns with the different kinds of candy.  With smaller colored candies, you make a pattern (red, blue, orange, red, blue, orange) and then have your child continue it.  Do a pattern of sucker, sucker, gum, candy bar and keep it going until all of those types of candies are included in a long line.

-Describe the basic shape of the candies.  Are they round, square, long, wide?

For the next level of thinking:

- Talk about 2 and 3 dimensional shapes.  Candy is perfect for introducing or reinforcing cylinders, cubes, cones, spheres, discs, etc.

- Practice basic addition and subtraction with the children’s candy.  For younger children, “3 Snickers plus 4 Milky Way equals how many candy bars?”  For older children, “Sister has 23 candy bars and Brother has 27.  How many candy bars are in the house?”  Then, “How many more candy bars does Brother have than Sister?”

- Make a pretend price list for the various candies (gum costs 15 cents, Tootsie Rolls are 5 cents, etc.).  Make random piles of the different candies mixed together and have the children figure out how much their pile would cost.  You can also tell them they have X amount of money and have them decide what candy they could afford with it.

- Make fractions come alive with Halloween candy by asking all sorts of questions.  What fraction of your candy is in suckers?  What is the fraction of your candy bars that contain nuts?  What is the fraction of your candy bars that don’t?  What is the fraction of your candy bars that were made by Nestle?   What is the fraction of red suckers?


Try these math tricks with the more experienced learners:

- Convert the candy fractions to decimals and percentages.

- Read package details and discuss calorie counts and candy weight.  Figure out how many ounces are in each mini candy bar and then how many you’d need to eat to equal a pound.  Compare the calories of the different candies, the weights and sizes, and then discuss why a smaller piece of candy might contain more calories than a larger one.

- Again with the package labels, determine which candies contain the most sugar.  Actually measure the amounts in teaspoons, tablespoons, and even cups, comparing the candy to the more visual sugar measurement.  Figure out how many suckers equal a full cup of sugar, etc.

This list is just the beginning.  I’m sure you can think of more ways to introduce, practice and/or reinforce mathematical concepts.  So instead of groaning at the sight of all that candy when your youngsters come home, squeal in delight with them and get thinking!