Ah, Thanksgiving. The word summons visions of perfectly roasted turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes with melted butter, pumpkin pie topped with pillows of whipped cream, and … math. Math?!? Yes, that’s right! Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to help your child strengthen math skills, all in the guise of delicious fun! What better incentive to practice skills like budgeting, counting and fractions than to eat your math problem when you’re done?

Before the big day

This year, try including your child in the meal planning. There are many math skills that can be taught while planning, and your child will have the satisfaction of knowing that he contributed to the meal in an important way.

Counting – Younger children can find lots of things to count at Thanksgiving, for example, the number of guests, or how many forks, knives and spoons will be needed. An older child can be shown how multiplication can be used to quickly determine the total number of plates or glasses.

Geometry – As you determine which serving platters and bowls will be used, talk with your child about the shapes of the various dishes. A typical table usually contains many – oval platters, bowls with circular bottoms, cylindrical water glasses and square napkins. See how many your child can name.

For older children, ask them to fold napkins into interesting designs to decorate the table. Online instructions will have them working with a number of geometric concepts, such as symmetry and spatial reasoning.

Patterns – You can teach or reinforce the concept of patterns by having your child identify patterns that may exist in your tablecloth or placemats. Or, you can have your child create two or three types of name cards and place them in a pattern around the table.

Money – Planning the Thanksgiving meal is a perfect way to practice budgeting and other money concepts. After discussing what will be served and how many guests will attend, give older children a specific dollar amount and provide them with several grocery store advertisements. Ask them to plan how the money should be spent.

If budgeting the entire meal is too overwhelming, ask your child to help decide how much turkey will be needed. A general guideline is 1.5 pounds of turkey per person. Children can practice adding decimals to arrive at the total number of pounds needed, or older kids can practice their multiplication skills. Take it a step further and have them calculate the total cost of the turkey based on the price per pound at your local store.

Measurement – As you prepare some of your dishes ahead of time, involve your child in the cooking process. You can discuss concepts such as how two half-cups make a whole, or how to use teaspoons and tablespoons, ounces and pints.

Fractions – The cooking and baking process is full of fractions! Have your child roll up her sleeves and help you in the kitchen. As you work, she can experience fractions firsthand, such as measuring a 1/4 cup and 1/2 pound.


On the big day

Time – Thanksgiving is great for working with time! You can talk with little ones about simple concepts such as morning, when the preparation begins, and afternoon, when the guests arrive. If age appropriate, share specific times that certain things will occur, and ask your child to keep you on track by alerting you when the clock reaches those points.

Older kids can be involved in helping plan the cooking schedule. How much time will the turkey need to cook if it takes 20 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey or 25 minutes per pound for a stuffed turkey? Take it a step further and have your child determine what time the turkey should go into the oven to be ready on time. Now you’ve introduced elapsed time! Pies and side dishes are another place to practice elapsed time. If a pie needs to bake for one hour, what time should it go into the oven?

Fractions – There is nothing worse than not having enough pie for everyone at the table! Ask your child to work out how many pieces of pie will be needed and how the pie should be cut so everyone ends the meal with a sweet treat. Point out how each piece is a fraction of the whole pie, and show your child how to label the fraction.

Temperature – Identifying temperature is especially important for food safety. Demonstrate how a thermometer works, then have your child read it when you place it into hot food.

With a little bit of patience, you can make this Thanksgiving not only delicious, but fun and educational, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

By Alison Bogle an Austin based-freelance writer and mother of three. 

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