Mathematize Your Home: Jellybeans—[Math] Tricks for Treats

Jellybeans are among the yummiest and very effective Math manipulatives

Jellybeans are among the yummiest and very effective Math manipulatives

In the HP household (that’s ours), we usually ration out desserts, treats, and other sweets. We once received a huge jar of jellybeans as a gift—and it lasted for months! After a proper meal, the kids would get, at most, only 10 jellybeans.

Since our jar had 49 flavors and then some, each bean had to be contemplated on before it joined the magical Pile of Ten. Red cinnamon ones—the sizzling cinnamon ones in particular—were deemed too ‘spicy’ and were dropped back in the jar for Mama B. Bubblegum and cotton candy were difficult to tell apart in their pinkness, but either was welcome in the pile. Black licorice ones never even made it out of the jar.

Jellybean picking was a serious matter that took a long time. So long that I would sometimes tell the girls, you have 30 seconds left before I close the jar—how many more jellybeans do you need to get? The girls would quickly reply, “Just three more!” or “I need to get five more.” And just like that, without any overt effort on my part, the girls learn basic Math.

Jellybeans worked wonders teaching my kids number skills when they were young. Obviously, 10 was a number they knew very well. Before they started counting on their own, I’d tell them, “OK, you can have six jellybeans.” (or 10 Nips, or two M&Ms, five Skittles, eight nuts…) Then we’d count them out together, “One, two, three, four, five, six…” Eventually, they learned to count on their own.

Then we moved on to simple addition and subtraction. “Oh, you already have four. How many more can you have to make six?” And then we’d count some more. Sometimes, I’d say, “Oops. That’s too many. How many do you need to put back?”

Computing for things has become a regular part of our daily life. Except we’ve now moved on to higher stakes. “You girls can split one hour of screen time—how many minutes do you each get?” “I owe you three weeks of allowance. How much do I need to give you?” “Let’s double the recipe. How many more cups of flour do you need?”  “Nope. You can’t have your own Facebook account until you’re 13. How many more years is that?”

It’s been a natural, gentle way to learn I think. No flashcards, no worksheets. No technical terms. And, hello, jellybeans. It’s also been a fun way learn. The great thing is—it’s already a part of what most parents do, incorporating number skills in everyday life.

The trick is to be more deliberate, more aware of the opportunities to practice Math skills without making it into such a dreadful chore or drill.

Happy math days ahead!

A version of this article is included in the There's a Math Teacher in The House newsletter, to which I have started contributing to. This newsletter is published twice a month by MATH-Inic, a system that teaches mental Math techniques that will help make Math fun, fast, and easy. The newsletter contains tips on how to promote Math in your home; techniques to speed up calculations (useful for competitions!); and fun things you can do with numbers. Sign up here to receive the free There's a Math Teacher in The House newsletter and other updates from MATH-Inic


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