Teaching Kids Math During Road Trips

Teaching Kids Math During Road Trips
Use maps and everyday signs and materials to teach math during road trips. Noel Hendrickson/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Taking road trips provides some great opportunities to help your kids practice math skills. All along the way, there are math games you can play to not only occupy your child, but to also practice a variety of math skills.  With a pencil, some paper and maybe even a calculator, you can take kids math on the road.

Kids Math During Pit Stops:

  • Create a chart listing the numerals and/or number words from 1 to 100. Look for signs at stores and restaurants which contain number words. For example, "Buy One, Get One Free" or "Ninety-Nine Cent Hamburgers." See who can find the most numbers words or fill their chart first.
    • Estimate the total cost of a meal by rounding up the cost of each person's meal and adding them together. When the check comes, compare the total to the estimation to see how close it was.
    • Calculate how much change you should receive when paying for items. See if your child can figure it out before the cashier and have him count the change to confirm it's correct.
    • Calculate tax on items, meals and hotel stays. Each state has a different tax rate and hotels often have a higher tax than food or gifts. Once you've found out the tax percentage, younger children can estimate based on the cost of the item. Explain that the tax represents a certain extra amount per dollar you have to pay. For instance, if the tax is 5 percent, it's a five cents per dollar. So, a ten-dollar item would be ten nickels extra or fifty cents. Older children can do the math. The equation is: (item cost x tax percentage) + item cost. In the earlier example it would look like: ($10 x .05)+ $10=$10.50

      License Plate Math:

      • Have each family member look for and choose a license plate and write it down. Remove the non-numerical symbols. Everybody compare numbers and decide whose license plate has the largest number. Extension questions: By how much? What would that number round up to? Round down to? What number is in the tens place? The hundreds? What's the largest place value on the license plate?
        • Use a simple alpha-numeric substitution code to translate the letters on license plates to numbers. The simplest code to use is that which assigns each letter of the alphabet a digit based on its position in the alphabet. (A=1, B=2, C=3...) Add your license plates to find out whose plate is worth the most.

        Map Math:

        • Before your trip begins, sit down with your child, a map and a ruler. Help him figure out the key so that he knows how many inches equals a mile. Show him where you are starting and where you wish to go. See if he can find the shortest route using the map and the key.
        • Compare your child's route with your chosen route. Ask: How do they compare in terms of distance? What the advantages to each route? Do road conditions or speed limits make a difference?

        Travel Time Math:

        • Have your child note the time you are leaving on your trip. Tell him approximately how long the trip will take and ask him to figure out what time you should arrive. Periodically during the trip, tell him what time it is and ask him to use your start time to figure out how long you have been traveling.
          • Teach older children the equation to figure out distance, rate and time questions. The algebraic equation is d = rt where  d stands for distance (number of miles), r stands for the rate of speed (speed limit), and t stands for time (hours of travel). If you know two of the following: the speed limit, how far you have (or will) travel or how long you have been (or will be) traveling, it's easy to figure out the other variable. This is helpful when your child asks how much longer it will be or how much further you have to go.

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