Real Life Story Problems

Sam is riding his bike to his grandma’s house at a rate of 6 miles an hour. If his grandmother’s house is 4 miles away, how long will it take him to get there? Real life story problem, right? Maybe, if you’re Sam. But as soon as my kids see a problem like this they always start asking questions; Did Sam stop at any red lights? Did he pop into the gas station for a soda? Did he forget something part way there and have to go back for it? I think the kids are stalling so they don’t have to finish their math, but they do have a valid point. In real life problems are rarely so cut and dry. Not only that, but who really cares how long it takes Sam to get to his grandma’s? What my kids really want to know is how many minutes until lunch time.

If we want math, or any other type of problem solving to be “real life” then it needs to be part of our actual life. There are so many wonderful ways to let children learn to problem solve. I’ve listed a few ideas, but I think it all comes down to letting kids find solutions to their own problems and being patient while they experience the trial and error that comes with that process. It is important to note that as a parent it’s necessary to gauge the difficulty of a project with the child’s ability level, so that with a little hard work and perseverance they can be successful.

Birthday Cakes: I used to spend hours trying to create the elaborate birthday cakes my kids would dream up. Then one year I realized they were plenty old enough to make the cake themselves. Now, please don’t think I’m a bad mother because my kids have to make their own cakes. They absolutely love the opportunity. They spend days planning before I take them to the store to get all their supplies, then they spend hours “building” their cake. It usually takes some adaptations and a good deal of problem solving to make their masterpiece the way they want it, but they are always so proud of their accomplishment.

Building Toys: I agonized for years over the amount of time my children spent playing with legos. I kept wishing they would do something more productive. Then I realized how much problem solving is involved in designing Lego projects. As my boys have gotten older, they have added in motors, gears, and remote controls. This problem solving activity can get pretty expensive, but we’ve discovered a great website that sells used Lego pieces for a substantial discount. BrickLink

Computer Programming: Last year we discovered a great website,Scratch, developed my programmers at MIT. It is a beginner drag and drop programming platform. It allows kids to create animation, design games and post their creations. Computer programming requires close attention to sequence for their vision to become reality. Then there are always bugs that need to be worked out of the program to make it run smoothly. As the programs they design become more and more complicated there is also a good deal of math involved.

Start up a Business:  I have a friend whose kids recently started selling candy to the construction workers that are working near their home.  It took the kids a week or so to realize that eating some of the candy along the way and then selling the candy for the same price they were buying it for, was not the way to turn a profit. Pretty soon they had spreadsheets set up, and “employees” working on commission.

Isn’t it amazing what kids will figure out when parents just take a step back and let them solve their own real life problems? Not only that, but now I have time to write instead of slaving over a birthday cake!



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- Lisa